The holidays aren’t even over yet and you’re already feeling bloated and sluggish. Time for a mid-season detox? While a quick clean out might seem like the cure for your waistline woes, it’s unlikely to help – and could even hurt. Before you jump into that juice fast or cleanse, here are the facts behind the hype:
Your body is already detoxing for you: The latest diet books won’t tell you this, but your body has its own perfect detoxification system. Round-the-clock, your liver and kidneys work together to purge impurities. When you eat or breathe toxins from food or the air, your liver gets down to business, dismantling them ASAP. Next, your kidneys take over by flushing toxic byproducts out of your body. It’s quick, it’s effective and there’s no special diet required.
You’ll feel lousy: Some of today’s most popular cleanses are the nutritional equivalent of a couple tablespoons of sugar and a squirt of lemon juice swirled into a glass of water. Not only are these devoid of the basic nutrients you need to make it through your busy day, they’re dangerously low in calories. That practically guarantees a raging headache (and the serious need for a nap) by early afternoon. Juice fasts aren’t a whole lot better. Plying your body with fruit juice is the blood sugar equivalent to chugging soda all day long. Not exactly the best way to get your vitamins and minerals. And forget about getting the protein you need to build antibodies to fight off winter ills and maintain calorie-burning muscle. While lower sugar vegetable juice is slightly better pick, it’s still not sufficient to sustain you throughout the day.
You’ll wrestle with rebound hunger: Existing on nothing but juice the day of your office party might seem like a great idea, but it’s actually one of the worst things you can do. As soon as you start to sip that first cocktail it’s going to go straight to your head – pronto. That doesn’t just make you more likely to say or do all kinds of things you’ll regret, it also lowers your resistance, making you more likely to wolf down an entire plate of cheese puffs. End result? You end up inhaling more than if you had eaten sensibly throughout the day.
Real food is more effective: Juice cleanses do have one upside, they provide plenty of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. But then again, so do whole fruits and vegetables. Plus, real produce contains fiber that keeps you feeling full, makes your digestive system happy, and slows the release of sugar into your system so your blood sugar – and energy level – stay on an even keel.
Bottom line: While a juice fast or a cleanse can provide a psychological boost, they are just too low in calories to sustain you even for a short time. Especially during the most hectic time of year. A better bet: load up on whole fruits and vegetables at every meal and snack. They’re packed with nutrients, are naturally low-cal, and are exceptionally filling. You’ll have less room for the bad stuff - and you’ll get all the energizing nutrients you need to make merry.
Karen Ansel, M.S., R.D., C.D.N. is a nutrition consultant, journalist and author specializing in nutrition. She is a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a contributing editor for Woman’s Day magazine. Her work has been published in magazines such as Cooking Light, EatingWell, Prevention, Fitness, Women’s Health, Woman’s Day and Oprah.