The health and wellness industry in Canada is thriving. With it comes a multitude of creative products, designed to draw in today’s health-conscious consumer. One particular area of interest is juicing, often in the form of short-term cleanses that promise to reset our bodies to optimum health. Online media giants like InStyle Magazine advertise “Hollywood’s Top Juice Fasts,” where attractively packaged detox programs tout cold-pressed juices as the new health essential. They are believed to promote weight loss, boost immunity, eradicate toxins, and more. But how many of these claims are supported by science? Read on to get the skinny on what’s fact and what’s fiction.
Perhaps one of the most misunderstood aspects of the juicing trend is the idea that a juice “cleanse” can detoxify your body from harmful environmental toxins, while simultaneously giving your digestive system a much-needed break. What many advocates fail to mention is that there is no scientific evidence to back up these claims; in fact, many doctors and nutritionists warn against following a strict juice diet, even if it’s only temporary. The reason? Juicing alone does not meet all the nutritional needs your body requires to perform optimally, and it doesn’t force out toxic substances at an accelerated rate. When it comes to detoxifying, our bodies are well-equipped to remove toxins on their own, and they’re doing so continuously through our livers, kidneys and gastrointestinal tracts. Health professionals also maintain that our digestive system only requires rest following surgery; otherwise, it doesn’t need breaks for us to remain healthy.
Technically, yes, but don’t expect all that weight loss to last. When we begin any type of fast, our bodies produce energy by burning off stores of glucose, called glycogen. The process results in the loss of water weight, and can eventually result in the loss of muscle or even bone mass depending on the length of the fast. While it might seem promising at first, the lost water weight often reappears as soon as we start eating regularly once again. There are also other factors to consider when using juicing as part of a weight-loss regime. Juices that are composed primarily of fruits and sweeter root vegetables like carrots, beets and squash have concentrated levels of sugar and can be higher in calories than we think. This might actually contribute to weight gain and could even be dangerous for diabetics. There is also the risk of overcompensating by eating more carbohydrates and convenient, fatty foods when we experience hunger due to the lack of protein, fats and fibre in an all-juice diet.
There can be, but that largely depends on what you’re juicing and whether or not you’re balancing your diet. During a strict juice fast, it’s common to experience fatigue, headaches, mood swings and changes in bowel function—symptoms that juice cleanse advocates often point to as evidence that flushed-out toxins are being eliminated from the body. In reality, these symptoms are usually linked to the body’s response to a deficient diet. Our bodies use fats and proteins to build neurotransmitters in the brain and tissues throughout the body. A diet deficient in these may result in depression, irritability and low energy levels. Brain cells rely heavily on glucose for energy; burning through glycogen stores can affect brain function and cause dizziness or trouble focussing. Sodium deficiency often results in light-headedness and headaches, which can also be intensified by caffeine withdrawal. Lastly, juicing strips away the insoluble fibre found in the skin and flesh of fruits and vegetables. This can impact the digestive system and lead to constipation.
Consuming juice alone won’t provide all the necessary building blocks for a healthy body, but it can certainly be a beneficial addition to any nutrition plan. The Canada Food Guide recommends 7-8 servings of fruits and vegetables per day for women aged 19-50, and 8-10 servings for men in the same age group. People with hectic schedules can benefit from the nutrients that juicing adds to their diets when they don’t have time for regular meals. Similarly, picky eaters might find it’s easier to incorporate these essential foods in juice form. The important thing is to be consuming lots of fruits and vegetables, which are packed with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Juices can provide many of these vital nutrients, and might even have more in-depth and long-term benefits than we know. Recent studies suggest that juicing can increase the number of healthy bacteria in the gut, which is important for immune health. Beet juice has been linked to lower blood pressure levels, and carrot juice can help reduce white blood cell damage in smokers. Kale juice is believed to improve cholesterol levels, and citrus-based juices may even reduce the risk of heart disease.
As with any eating plan, balance is key. Juicing critics often denounce the practice by pointing to fibre and protein deficiencies, but it’s easy to supplement your juices to make them heartier and more nutritious. Fibre promotes bowel regularity, lowers cholesterol levels and helps us feel full. Increase your fibre intake by mixing juices with flax seed, psyllium husk or hemp seed. Add leftover juicing pulp to soups and stews, turn it into homemade vegetable patties, or dehydrate it into crackers. Protein is vital for energy, hormonal balance, tissue repair and immune system function, so try to incorporate nut milks, flax or protein powder into your juicing routine. Make sure you’re not overloading your body with sugar by juicing only fruits and sweet root vegetables–don’t forget those leafy greens! Try experimenting with fresh veggies and herbs you might not eat regularly, like fennel and mint. Consider also that some of the essential vitamins you’re ingesting require the presence of fat to be properly absorbed by the body, so include healthy sources like avocados, almonds, olive oil and coconut oil in your diet as well. Remember that juicing should be used to supplement, not replace, a diet rich in plant-based products, whole grains and healthy sources of fat and protein. Add to that a regular exercise and sleep schedule, and you’ll have all the ingredients for a healthy lifestyle.
Most Canadians eat only half the recommended daily amount of fibre. Women need 25 grams of fibre every day, while men need 38 grams. Good sources of fibre include fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes like beans and lentils, and whole grains like barley, oats and brown rice.
The first juicing machine was invented in the 1930s by a man called Dr. Norman Walker. He credited his longevity to a diet full of fresh juices and raw foods. His juicing legacy continues today. A modern Norwalk juicer retails for up to $3000.00 (CAN).