It’s that time of year when it seems like everyone we know is re-committing to a healthy lifestyle, right? From juice cleanses to raw food diets, all one has to do is log onto any one of the popular news sites and one will undoubtedly find blog posts written by “health coaches”, yoga instructors, massage therapists, and journalists, promoting juice cleanses, “detox” diets, or some other equally trendy diet as a way to get healthy for the new year. It drives me nuts. I’ve made it no secret that people who proclaim juice cleanses are healthy annoy the shit out of me. The idea that drinking juice for 3 days, or 5 days, or even 2 weeks, will undo a year of poor eating, lack of exercise, and an ignorance of other kinds of self-care is absurd.
Let’s look at a really popular cleanse, The Blueprint Cleanse. Their marketing is amazing: super savvy website, great logo, attractive founders, high quality (so they claim) ingredients. Plus, it seems promising socas it was developed by someone who calls themself a “Certified Nutrition Consultant” (CNC). Seems promising, so curious about my competition, I wanted to learn more about what it takes to be a CNC. Digging deeper I learned that you have to pass a test by The American Association of Nutrition Consultants. Additionally, to be a CNC one needs only a high school diploma or GED. They ask that you purchase a handful of books, as their exam is based on those books (none of the books are medically based, I might add). To become certified, all one has to do is pass that one exam (which they send you after you register on their website). Then, this organization gives you ONE FULL YEAR to take the exam, but will grant up to a 3 year extension… I guess, if you are a slow reader?
Ok, so let me get this straight: I decide I want to be a nutrition consultant so I send away for the exam. I order the books, and then simply go through the exam, open book format, to fill in the answers, and if that was done within the every generous 3 year time frame, this organization would send me a certificate I could hang on my wall? Thus, fooling the lay public into thinking that I was a legitimate healthcare practitioner? Makes me wonder why I spent 2 years in graduate school (on top of a 4 year undergrad degree) and then a 10month long clinical internship that exposed me to more than just turning the pages in a book, followed by a timed, no-notes allowed, computer based test administered in a controlled testing center.
Do I sound bitter? I’m not. I know that I have the experience and the educational pedigree to not only help people to live healthier lives, but also to smell a rat before I see one. These alternative certification agencies are akin to putting an 8 year old in the driver’s seat. That’s not to say that some people who are “certified nutrition consultants” aren’t qualified to dispense nutrition guidance, but using the creator of the BluePrint Cleanse as our example, some are most certainly not*.
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: I wouldn’t seek out a CNC (or a holistic health coach, but that’s a whole other blog post) for nutrition advice and neither should you. Clearly, the difference with someone who is a “certified nutrition consultant” and someone who is a Registered Dietitian, can be HUGE.
But I digress….Let’s get into why I am not a fan of a typical juice cleanse, using the Blueprint Cleanse as an example. They put the nutrition information on their website, with a full list of ingredients, so, personal lack of respect for the founder aside, it made it easy for me to objectively go through the good and bad of their program.
Knowing that many juice cleanses are akin to drinking flat coke 6 times a day due to the high sugar content (differences in vitamins and minerals aside), I wanted to pick their version of the cleanse that was the cleanest. My starting definition of “clean” when talking about a juice cleanse is defined as limited fruit juices, with an emphasis on green juices). I say “starting” because by the end of that, you will see that my definition of “clean” will have changed!
“Again, this is not a diet, however we know what you’re going to ask next. So yes, this is the Cleanse level that contains the least amount of EVERYTHING. You get the picture.” –Blueprint Cleanse website
During one day of the most minimal level of BluePrint Cleanse, one will be consuming 4 green juices, 1 spicy lemonade, and one cashew milk. The stats for the green juice and cashew milk are below. (Please note: I have taken the liberty to highlight what I find to be the most concerning aspects of this cleanse (and every other juice cleanse I reviewed before posting this blog). The following images are screen shots from a lecture on Fasting that I give at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health).
- Very Low Fiber
- MASSIVE amounts of sugar
- Very low calorie
- Awesome ingredients. Love that they are using organic produce.
- Contains some healthy fat
- Contains some protein
Breaking It Down
Not enough fiber. This level of the cleanse, while high in green juice content (yay disease fighting antioxidants and phytochemicals), contains less than half the minimum amount of fiber encouraged for optimum gastrointestinal function. Fiber generally adds bulk to stool so fiber is crucial to one’s ability to clear toxins out of one’s body (Our GI tract is one of two main routes of detoxification out of our bodies. The urinary tract being the other. Yes our skin will help a bit, but it’s hardly comparable to the role the GI and urinary tract play.)
Too much sugar, not enough other stuff. As you can see, it doesn’t matter if they are green juices, the juice still has sugar…and it lacks enough fiber (not to mention protein, and fat, too) to dull the insulin response in our bodies. When our brain gets the message that we are eating something sweet, it sends a message to the pancreas (provided we have a working pancreas) to release insulin. Insulin’s main role in our body is essentially to roam around and take the sugar in the blood and put it into cells for storage. As insulin is scavenging, our blood sugar levels will drop, and drop quickly, since there is inadequate fiber, protein, and fat to blunt the insulin response. This ends up causing many to feel light headed, shaky, hungry, and yes, bitchy, so many will reach for a snack. In a healthy individual, it takes ~4 hours for insulin to reset itself completely, so people are reaching for food before the insulin has reset itself. This is an issue because SO LONG AS INSULIN IS IN OUR BLOODSTREAM OUR BODIES CANNOT UTILIZE OUR COPIOUS ENERGY RESERVES FOR FUEL. If we eat within the 4 hour window, any calories we take in WILL BE STORED AS FAT. Not to mention, the more our pancreas has to work, and the more often it has to work, the more tired it may become (think about this cycle over decades of use). No wonder so many people are walking around with insulin resistance, blood sugar issues, and broken metabolisms due to dysfunctional pancreases! In a juice cleanse, they suggest people drink 6 juices over the course of a day- Let’s say, conservatively, that people have 15 hour days, they are averaging a juice every 2-3 hours. Welcome to the blood sugar roller coaster!
Low calorie diets will slow down your metabolism. The low calorie plan will cause temporary weight loss…but it may also cause stubborn, hard to lose weight (at worst) and metabolic dysfunction (at best) down the line. We all need calories to not only maintain our weight, but to carry out a variety of body functions (everything from blinking our eyes to breathing.
“The preponderance of evidence would suggest that the biological response to weight loss involves comprehensive, persistent, and redundant adaptations in energy homeostasis and that these adaptations underlie the high recidivism rate in obesity therapeutics. To be successful in the long term, our strategies for preventing weight regain may need to be just as comprehensive, persistent, and redundant, as the biological adaptations they are attempting to counter.”**
In other words, FAD DIETS (inc. cleanses) DON’T WORK FOR LONG TERM WEIGHT LOSS.
Additionally, a cleanse that is too restrictive means that you may be compromising one or both of your liver’s detoxification pathways due to the lack of specific nutrients required to drive the detoxification process (sulfur, amino acids (the building blocks of protein), glutathione, phytochemicals, antioxidants, and minerals like selenium and zinc, just to name a few) . Yes the juice contains some of these things, but not enough. Ironic that one is juice cleansing hoping to detox when in reality it may be handicapping one’s body long term to be able to detoxify once one ultimately returns to their prior habits. Let’s just call juice cleanses a “detox before the retox”, shall we?
The Better Solution
Some people want to do a cleanse to hit a “restart” button… and I think it’s an OK thing to do, but as anyone who follows me on Facebook knows, I believe there is a better way. Why does one need to do something so radical? And do something that contains SO MUCH SUGAR? Why not focus on eating real, whole foods? Instead of undertaking a high sugar juice cleanse, let’s all make a commitment to eating a plant-centered (note that I did not say plant-only) diet 85% of the time, leaving room for your favorite sweet treat, an exquisite plate of barbeque or a vintage glass of wine every so often?
What I mean when I say “plant-centered”
½ your plate vegetables
¼ plate high quality protein
(vegetable protein sources include legumes, nuts and seeds, and organic tofu; animal sources would include organic, free-roaming chicken and turkey, 100% grass-fed and pastured beef and lamb, and high quality wild and sustainably caught fish; and if you like pork, pastured pork is best.)
¼ plate starchy vegetables and, if tolerated, minimal grains***
(regular and sweet potatoes, winter squashes, turnips, rutabagas, beets, parsnips)
also, think of a bulls-eye in the middle of the plate that is reserved for a healthy fat allotment (olive oil, coconut oil, flax oil (which should NEVER be heated, by the way), walnut oil, grape seed oil, avocadoes).
I damn well guarantee you that if you eat like this the majority of the time, you won’t have a need to “cleanse”. You will be feeding your body optimally every day, giving it whole foods that support your body’s ability to detox naturally. It will not set you off to ride the blood sugar roller coaster. These whole foods are not only rich in phytochemicals, antioxidants, and vitamins and minerals, but also are foods that haven’t been modified and repackaged to be sold in a shelf stable box.
Of course, the good things about the Blue Print Cleanse (organic, some protein and some fat) are also components of the above way of eating.
If this is pretty close to how you eat most of the time and you are looking for the next step, how about trying to go grain-free and mostly vegan for 3-5 days? Focus on eating lots of vegetables (both starchy and non-starchy), legumes and nuts and seeds (if you can tolerate them), fruit, and mineral rich bone-broth? Some people, especially people who do not tolerate nuts and/or legumes, find that they function better with a small amount of high quality animal protein, like a white fish or piece of organic, free-roaming chicken, so if that is you, I won’t judge. In fact, this is how I eat most of the time, leaving some room for coconut milk ice cream, dark chocolate, and a glass or two of wine every now and then!
One should ultimately have at least 4 hours between meals…and omit snacking. Our “snack” should come from our liver, the source of a sugar storage molecule called “glycogen.” This allows our insulin and other hunger/satiety signals to be reset, lessening the stress on our pancreas and allowing our body to utilize some of the stored fuel it contains.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that radically changing one’s diet over night is not recommended. Before transitioning to the above way of eating, I would encourage one to do it in a step-wise manner, perhaps following the outline below.
1. omit alcohol and caffeine; replace morning coffee with a mug of hot water, the juice of one lemon and 1 tsp of fresh grated ginger root
2. omit packaged and processed grain based products; replace with starchy veg and whole grains if not omitting grains
3. omit foods with added sugar (breads, sweets, yogurt, etc)
4. increase the servings of vegetables consumed to fill half your plate
6. reduce the amount of animal protein to 4-5 oz per meal
*I looked up her educational training at the Ann Wigmore Institute. It is a 1 or 2 week program. Need I say more?
**PS Mclean, A Bergouignan, MA Cornier, Jackman MR. Biology’s response to dieting: the impetus for weight regain. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2011 September; 301(3): R581–R600.
***if you want more information about why I am an advocate for a minimal grain diet or if you want a more personalized solution, please feel free to contact me here!