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Juice cleansing is a hit, but is it truly healthy?

Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)


The thought of consuming nothing but the juice of green leafy vegetables for five days terrified Jamie Hickok, but she couldn't ignore the promise of more energy, weight loss and a glowing complexion.

"The first day I was like, 'Oh, dear God,' because the green juice tastes like what you smell when the lawn has been mowed," Hickok said. "Now I call it liquid gold."

Since Hickok's first "cleanse" in April, the 37-year-old Minneapolis woman has sipped many gallons of "liquid gold."

Pulverizing stalks of kale and bunches of spinach into juice is nothing new. Remember Jack LaLanne's infomercials? But juicing is seeing a resurgence.

Green smoothies are the new Starbucks for celebrities in New York and Los Angeles, where juice bars are a dime a dozen. Wall Street investors are pouring money into companies that promise to take the guesswork out of juice detox programs. New businesses hawk fresh-pressed nectars by the bottle. For many, juicing is the diet du jour.

Yet some health experts aren't convinced.

"The intense interest around juicing is concerning," said Cassie Bjork, a registered dietitian ( "There are a lot of good nutrients in the juice, but the problem is, it's not balanced."

But supporters are legion, pushing the practice into the mainstream.

"It's blown up," said Arturo Miles, who oversees the Juice Bar at the Wedge Community Co-op in Minneapolis. "People want to detox, prevent cancer, and juicing is a fast way to absorb nutrients."

While the juicing industry's worth is hard to gauge, sales are surging. More than $215 million worth of home juice extractors were sold in 2012, up 71 percent over the year before, according to market-research firm NPD Group. BluePrint Juice Co. grosses more than $20 million a year by delivering prepackaged juices to your doorstep. Individual bottles cost between $8 and $10 at stores such as Whole Foods.

Who's juicing? Everyone from parents who sneak carrots into their kids' apple juice to those who undergo juice-only detoxes for several days at a time. Proponents claim that when juice is extracted from fruits and vegetables _ leaving behind the fibrous pulp _ the vitamins, minerals and enzymes are more quickly absorbed. Juicing fanatics claim the benefits include weight loss, elimination of toxins, clearer skin and increased energy.

Juicing can be a good way to get fruits and vegetables into a diet, but there's no sound scientific evidence that it's any healthier than eating whole fruits and vegetables, said Jennifer Nelson, director of clinical nutrition for the Mayo Clinic.

Other nutritionists worry that juicing is being promoted as a quick way to lose weight.

Juicing too much can send a rush of sugar into the bloodstream, Bjork said, which spikes blood-sugar levels and is destructive to metabolism. Vegetable-only juicing is a lot better, but Bjork still prefers a balanced smoothie with a healthy fat, like avocado.

Skepticism aside, juicing fans continue to replace certain meals _ especially breakfast _ with green juice.


The facts of juicing

Claim: The body absorbs more nutrients from juice.

Fact: The theory is that fiber, often filtered out of juice, is too taxing on the digestive system, and that fiber impairs digestion of fruit and vegetable nutrients. The opposite is true. The digestive system needs fiber to function properly and to remain healthy.

Claim: Juices help cleanse toxins from the body.

Fact: No convincing evidence supports this claim. The liver and kidneys efficiently process and eliminate toxins.

Claim: Juicing helps with weight loss.

Fact: Weight loss (or gain) is about calories consumed and burned. Homemade juices can have high amounts of natural sugars and surprisingly high calorie counts.

Claim: Juicing is economical.

Fact: Juicing machines cost $30 to $300. For frequent juice drinkers, the cost of juicing at home may be lower over time than purchasing 100 percent juice. However, grocery costs can easily increase because of the volume of produce needed to make juice. The most economical approach may be to consume whole fruits and vegetables.

_Source: Mayo Clinic Health Letter, February 2011.


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