Why Juice Cleanses Don't Work

Juice Cleanse Girl

We have arrived at peak juicing craziness in Vancouver.

Yelp indicates there are 121 juice bars in Vancouver. That’s one every square kilometre. That’s more than our number of Starbucks locations.

There's not necessarily anything wrong with juice. Juice is convenient, can taste great, and is packed with a ton of fruits and vegetables. As a snack on the go, I approve.

However, people aren’t just snacking on juice. Juices transformed into the latest diet craze, juice cleansing. And cleanses just don't work.

What is a Juice Cleanse?


A juice cleanse is a 1-day, 3-day, 5-day, or 7-day program in which a person forgoes all other solid food and just drinks juice. Usually this is ordered through a juicery on a prescribed program. The goals of doing this cleanse are twofold:

  • Weight loss. Like any diet program, the idea is to restrict calorie intake to shed weight quickly.
  • Detoxification. Cleanses are based on an ancient theory that suggests we need to prompt our body to cleanse ourselves of residual feces and toxins found in the intestine.

This is a glamorous idea. Not only can you lose weight, but you can flush your body of any built-up unhealthy residue. Perfect after a lazy holiday season or before a hot summer, right? Unfortunately, the weight loss and detoxification claims made on many of these juices are unproven, and in many cases, false. Before embarking on a juice cleanse, you should understand exactly how they contribute to your health goals.

Unfortunately, the weight loss and detoxification claims made on many of these juices are unproven, and in many cases, false. Before embarking on a juice cleanse, you should understand exactly how they contribute to your health goals.

The Weight Loss Myth

Weight Loss Smoothie

When starting a juice cleanse, people generally report a dramatic initial weight loss. However, this can be largely attributed to starvation and a loss of body water. When the body is starved, it turns to stored muscle and liver glycogen for useable energy.

Glycogen, the body’s primary form of carbohydrate, is used up within a few hours, or days, depending on your level of activity. The body stores water with glycogen, so when glycogen is transformed to glucose for energy, the body sheds water. The initial weight loss is a result of changing glycogen levels, not body composition change.

If prolonged, cleanses with a fasting component also results in a slowing of the metabolism.  So it actually becomes harder to keep excess weight off when the cleanse is done.

The Detoxification Myth

Detox Smoothie

The biggest misconception around juice cleansing is that the body requires a drastic process like this to detoxify. Our bodies are perfectly capable of performing the detoxification process themselves.

There are two major detoxification systems, the antioxidation system and the liver. Our bodies naturally detoxify by eliminating or neutralizing toxins via the liver, kidneys and lungs; eliminating unwanted particles via urine and sweat. The body takes care of this process perfectly efficiently on its own, as long as you have the proper balanced diet.

So what is that balanced diet?

Although the fruits and vegetables in juices contain many antioxidizing components, research has shown that they don’t provide all the nutrients needed. Grains, proteins, herbs, and teas contain biologically active compounds that are crucial to the body’s detoxification process:

  • Grains are loaded with compounds that function as antioxidants such as trace minerals, phenolic compounds, and phytoestrogens.
  • Protein provides essential amino acids the body is not able to produce itself for tissue repair.  
  • Herbs are rich in phytochemicals that have the potential to protect against chronic diseases.
  • Teas, such as green tea, have been shown to contain many polyphenolic compounds that may reduce the risk of a variety of illnesses.

By restricting your diet from the items above (such as in a juice cleanse), you are actually hurting the detoxification process. The bottom line is that science has produced insufficient evidence to prove the case for cleanses as a positive way to detoxify the body.

Building Your Own Health Plan

Healthy Smoothie

Many people want to lose weight or improve their body’s detoxification process. I’d like to propose some alternative ways to do so that actually improve your health. First, when choosing a regimen, there are a few things to consider:

  1. Does the plan claim you will lose more than 2 lbs per week? 
  2. Does the plan tout a pill or supplement as being the main factor in your success? 
  3. Does the program require you to buy their food and beverages in order to be successful?
  4. Can you see yourself eating this way for the rest of your life? Following a stringent and restrictive plan typically leads to short-term weight loss and rebound weight gain.

If the answer is yes to any of the above, you may want to reconsider.

With that in mind, here are some natural ways you can improve weight loss and the body’s detox process:

    • Drink lots of fluids - water, weak teas, herbal teas, vegetable soups and juices.
    • Eat tons of fruits and vegetables – be sure to wash and peel those that need peeling.
    • Eat small amounts of fish, chicken, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds.
    • Occasionally eat red meat or leave it out for 2 weeks.
    • Use limited amounts of olive oil, canola oil, avocado and flax seed oil, and eliminate use of butter and creams.

    And lastly, of course, have yourself a smoothie. Smoothies are a great way to achieve a lot of the nutrition goals listed above without sacrificing time or taste. And The Good Stuff has some of the best smoothies around.

    You don’t have to starve yourself to eat well. If you focus on nourishing yourself instead of eliminating the bad stuff, you’ll be able to achieve the goals you want in the long term.