Getting the dirt on cleanses

Juice cleansing is an increasingly popular way to get healthy in the New Year. But is it as safe and effective as some proponents claim?

According to many juice cleanse claims, people on the diet will give their digestive systems a break, experience decreased bloating, increased energy and clearer skin. However, many health experts advise caution.
According to many juice cleanse claims, people on the diet will give their digestive systems a break, experience decreased bloating, increased energy and clearer skin. However, many health experts advise caution.
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It’s that time of the year again—everyone’s trying to follow their New Years resolutions, most commonly staying on a health kick after holiday indulgences.

Many seem to be following in the footsteps of celebrities and health companies with the latest health trend: cleansing.

One popular cleanse, juice cleansing, usually involves drinking a number of different combinations of fruit and vegetable juices for three to 10 days, according to justcleansing.com.

Many health companies are catching on to this trend fast, providing health-conscious consumers with claims such as weight loss, detoxification and increased energy levels.

With so many different cleanses and claims, how do you actually know what works and what’s worth it? Intrigued and bloated from the holidays myself, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

The mission: Go on a juice cleanse for two days.

Justcleansing.com recommends switching to a diet of strictly fruits and vegetables a few days before the start of the cleanse so that it will be more comfortable switching to an all-liquid diet. My diet leading up to my cleanse: a long stint at an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant, beer and nachos. Oops.

Day 1: I made four juice recipes that I found on justcleansing.com. Each is approximately 100 to 200 calories.

“Vegetable Super Juice”: One whole cucumber, four sticks of celery, two to four handfuls of spinach, eight lettuce leaves and water.

“Blood Builder”: two bunches of grapes, six oranges, eight lemons, 1/4 cup honey and water.

“Ginger/Lemon Cleanse”: 1-inch slice fresh ginger root, one lemon, six carrots with tops, one apple and water.

“Stomach Cleanser”: one bunch of grapes, one basket of strawberries, three apples, four sprigs of fresh mint and water.

I drank a large glass of juice every few hours, which ended up being around five to six times a day. Some weren’t great tasting, but I sucked it up. The “Blood Builder” tasted the best, since I could taste the added honey. The worst was probably the “Vegetable Super Juice”—I definitely wasn’t used to having vegetables in juice form. I was feeling hunger pains by dinnertime; I already missed solid food. I drank lots of water with the juices to try and fill myself up more.

Day 2: I woke up hungry and immediately went to make juices (the same recipes as the day before). I wasn’t as hungry by dinner as I was the day before, but I still made sure to drink lots of water so hunger wouldn’t creep up on me later.

The verdict: By Day 3, I didn’t feel any more or less energetic or refreshed, but I did feel less bloated. Would I do it again? I’m undecided; maybe in the future if I ever need to fit into a tight dress for a day! Maybe I needed to do it longer than two days, but I would definitely miss solid food too much.

Rebecca Malen is the President of Total Cleanse, a company that manufactures and distributes juice cleanses throughout Ontario.

“Right now the juice cleanse is very popular,” she said. “It doesn’t take a huge commitment because you only have to go on it for three, five [or] seven days. It’s easy to fit into your everyday lifestyle.”

Celebrity participation has also influenced the growing popularity of juice cleanses.

“[But] overall people realize that it feels really good at the end of the day,” she said, adding that juice cleanses are particularly useful after eating a lot during a holiday or vacation.

It also helps motivate people to continue a healthy diet, she said.

Other benefits of a juice cleanse include decreased bloating, increased energy levels, better breath and clearer skin, Malen said.

In terms of concerns about hunger on an all juice diet, she said a surprising amount of people don’t feel deprived.

“During the first day it’s sometimes difficult for people,” she said, often because of the slight decrease in calories of juice cleanses and not eating solid foods.

However, Malen said juice cleanses such as Total Cleanse are still safe, unlike other cleanses that provide very few calories and nutrients.

For example, the Total Cleanse program consists of drinking six juices every two to three hours. Each juice contains slightly under 200 calories, which equals around 1000 or so calories in a day, in comparison to the average recommended intake of 2000 calories per day on a regular diet.

“It’s not an extremely low calorie cleanse ... you are getting a lot of nutrients,” she said, because of the vegetables and fruits being consumed.

“It’s just about giving your body a break and giving it time to rebuild itself,” she said, adding that the digestive system also gets a break.

Lee Fisher-Goodchild, coordinator of Health Education and Health Promotion at Queen’s, said people should still be careful when deciding to do a juice cleanse.

“You’re obviously missing lots of other nutrients. You’re missing things like fibre and protein and healthy fats,” Fisher-Goodchild said.

“To do anything like that for a long period of time can lead to problems.”

She said she also questions the claims made by many juice cleanses about ridding the body of toxins and helping the digestive system.

“If you look at how your whole digestive system works, it’s really effective at doing that job itself. The liver is really what has a huge role in removing the toxins from the things we’ve eaten,” she said.

“There haven’t been any good studies that show cleanses improve upon that process,” she said, although cleanses do allow solid foods to move through the digestive system.

“Some people like the way that feels, to empty out their intestines ... [but] they really don’t need a break.”

Additionally, Fisher-Goodchild said juice cleanses tend not to have much success in weight control.

“If your caloric intake goes way down, your body actually works to hold on to the calories ... [your] metabolism slows down,” she said, adding that you may lose water weight, but your body will end up going into starvation mode.

However, Fisher-Goodchild said that if people want to participate in juice cleanses, they shouldn’t experience any problems as long as the cleanse is short, such as a period of 24 hours.

People should also watch out for cleanses on the market that contain different sorts of supplements, she said, and that people should consult with a physician or someone who has a knowledge of their different properties.

“There are lots of [health] stores that promote lots of products ... ultimately they are promoting a product to make money. If that’s my source of information, I tend to be really sceptical about it until I can validate it somehow,” she said. “They’re putting lots of things in these products that we really don’t know.”

So what’s a good way to go about getting the “cleanse” experience?

Fisher-Goodchild said she recommends going a period of time without ingesting any processed chemicals, especially if someone is looking to rid their body of toxins.

This includes eating a diet of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lots of water, lean meats, beans, legumes and nuts. She also recommends cutting out all sources of refined and processed foods, sources of caffeine, alcohol, added salt and sugar.

“It’s incredibly hard to keep it up ... it does mean having to turn away from a lot of the foods you typically eat.”

Elise Gordezky, ArtSci ’12, said she went on a similar cleanse to Fisher-Goodchild’s recommendation last year for a period of six weeks.

“I went on a cleanse because I felt that I’d consumed a lot of crappy food as well as alcohol in my first two years of university,” she said. “I was often tired and stressed and had headaches.”

“My mom had done a number of cleanses so I thought I’d give one a try to rid my system of all the [unhealthy foods] it took in and hopefully I’d feel better.”

Gordezky said she ate lots of vegetables, eggs, mostly organic white meat and whole grains. She said she eliminated all processed food and sugar, everything containing yeast or flour, milk products, starchy vegetables, coffee, black tea and alcohol.

“I had to buy and prepare all my own food,” she said. “The idea is to maintain a lot of what you did during the diet to stay healthy.”

She said after the cleanse, she noticed her headaches were gone, she had more energy and an improved mood.

“It’s a really challenging cleanse, especially when you’re around people [who] aren’t on it,” she said, adding that she would recommend people to choose their time wisely if they want to start.

Would she do it again?

“I felt really healthy afterward and think it’s an important thing to do once in a while.”

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