The Juice on Juicing

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About a year ago I received a call from my dear friend Allison, “You won’t believe what I did and please don’t scold me.” I could sense a measure of stress in her voice.

Turns out Allison decided to jump on the juice cleanse “fad-wagon” and signed up for one of those hip and trendy NYC cleanses. The problem, Allison is hypoglycemic (has a long history of low blood sugar) and is prone to migraines. Knowing this, she opted to dine on some vegetables along with the juice but as the first day progressed so did the migraine, vomiting and dehydration. Quite a pickle Allison was in!

As this particular cleanse company did not have a “1-800-PLS-HELP” hotline with a health professional guiding the ill-fated customer, Allison spoke to a receptionist who said, “Sorry we can’t help you. Go to the Emergency Room.” So, that’s when she called me.

It is important to understand that when cleansing, you can experience mild to severe symptoms including decreased energy, headaches, nausea, rashes, altered bowel movements and miscellaneous discomforts. So this process should NEVER be taken lightly.

If Allison’s health history was reviewed by a health professional prior to signing up for this cleanse she could have avoided the inevitable—her blood sugar dropping dramatically (drinking just juice throughout the day—even with a few veggies in between—lends itself to a rapid rise then fall in blood sugar, even if the juice is healthy). Anyone with any medical nutrition expertise would never have put my friend on a juice-centric cleanse! In the end, we are responsible for our own health but often we get sucked into the fad without forethought.

Food is medicine and if not administered responsibly, it can hurt. And many of these juice cleanses are not administered with the support of credible health professionals thus I hold these companies responsible on many levels. They are “bottom line businesses”. According to Environmental Nutrition, juicing is on the fast-track from fad to full-on health craze. But as healthy as these juicy concoctions may seem, there’s a tall order of hype muddling science with slick marketing. In fact, despite what you may hear or read, there is no scientific evidence supporting the health benefits of juice cleansing.

What is Cleansing?

It is a way to detoxify the body of “dangerous” toxins (but it is not for weight loss). As it is more restrictive than a typical “diet”, it is not intended as a long-term dietary change rather a brief period (3-14 days). The toxins I am talking about are:

Endogenous Toxins

Toxins generated internally as end products of metabolism or hormones, bacterial byproducts and other complex molecules

Exogenous Toxins

  1. Substances in the foods we choose such as:
  2. Pesticides/herbicides
  3. Genetically modified organisms
  4. Artificial sweeteners
  5. Artificial flavorings
  6. Food dyes
  7. Chemical preservatives
  8. Allergenic foods (case specific)
  9. By-products of cooking food improperly (such as Advanced Glycation End Products—AGEs)
  10. Over-consumption of foods (sugar and alcohol)
  11. Pharmaceuticals
  12. Environmental toxins (ie. smoke)

How Does Detoxification Work?

Believe it or not, our body has a very powerful detox system that works really well if you simply remove the shit show (processed foods with “toxic” ingredients) from your diet. Detoxification occurs largely in the liver but also in the GI tract, lymphatic system, the urinary system, lungs, respiratory system and the skin. Toxins are turned into an unstable intermediate molecule (called a free radical) then this free radical is converted into a more stable water-soluble molecule and can then be excreted through urine, bile and feces. To support this very powerful built-in detox machine, you can simply cleanse with a whole foods diet comprised of fresh fruits and vegetables, herbs, spices, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds (all naturally containing high amounts of fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals). Water, lots of it, is also essential. And supplementation, if very specifically prescribed by a credible health professional, can be helpful.

What is Healthy Cleansing?

Though, much of the medical community dismisses the idea cleansing as a baseless fad and potentially harmful, I believe it has its place if done properly.

My take:

  1. Always seek guidance from a credible medical or nutrition professional when cleansing
  2. Reveal your complete medical history (not a stone unturned) when talking to the health professional
  3. Limit physical activity and stress
  4. Always ease your way into a cleanse and out of a cleanse (you don’t want to go from eating steak and potatoes one day to all vegetables, grains and beans the
  5. Go with a food-based cleanse (primarily plant-centric, perhaps a little fish) combined with lots of water, healthy juices and supplementation if deemed necessary as stated above.
  6. Eliminate all processed foods (especially those with “toxic” ingredients) from your diet

As for Allison, she is off the juice cleanse “fad-wagon”. Unfortunately she had to learn the hard way. She never made it to the ER as she was able to get some water down, then some plain basics like salty crackers helping to replenish her electrolytes (critical for metabolic function and lost when dehydrated). It took her a few days to recover and while she was focusing on that, I made a few phone calls to this cleansing company—do what you do, but please do it responsibly!!!

PS. Love this from The Huffington Post on juice cleanes

PPS. And, here are some yummy cleansing recipes!

Cucumber Mint Salad

SERVINGS: 8

INGREDIENTS:

- 4 large cucumbers, peeled, de-seeded and thinly sliced
- 1/2 bunch mint, rough chop
- 1/2 cup lemon juice, fresh
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- fresh ground pepper, to taste

METHOD:

Add all ingredients to a bowl and toss.

Macrobiotic Minestrone

SERVINGS: 8

INGREDIENTS:

- 1 1/2 cups mung beans, dried and split
- 8 cups water
- 1 strip  kombu
- 1 tablespoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 4 cloves garlic, rough chopped
- 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 1 leek, thinly sliced
- 2 carrots, 1/4 moons
- 2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup string beans, cut into 1/2" pieces
- 1 tablespoon tamari, or to taste
- 2 tablespoons gomasio
- 1/2  cup flat leaf parsley, rough chopped

METHOD:

Combine all ingredients in large pot and cook, partially covered, for 30-40 minutes on medium low.

Recipes © 2012 Stefanie Sacks