Juice bars are everywhere these days, as well as people who are talking about their latest fast, juice cleanse, or detox. So what’s the difference between fasting, juicing, and detoxing anyway? Are they all just fads? Do any of them really work? And are they actually healthy for you or not?
Let’s take a look.
Fasting involves abstaining from food, usually for a period of 12 hours or more, and has been around for a long time. It’s likely that our hunter-gatherer ancestors fasted on occasion whenever they had an unsuccessful hunt, or couldn’t find any nuts and seeds to eat. Fasting can also have a spiritual component to it, and is integral to many religions, such as the Jewish tradition of Yom Kippur, or the Islamic tradition of fasting during Ramadan. It’s also used prior to some surgeries and medical tests.
A number of dietary plans focus on detoxing the body of toxins. These plans include elimination diets, herbal supplements, juice cleanses, and enemas. Detoxing dates back to at least the ancient Hindus, Egyptians, and Greeks who all used certain foods and herbs to purify and detoxify the body. Today there are many different detox diet plans. However, not all of them are backed by sound science. Be sure to find a plan that is based on scientific research.
Juicing or juice cleansing is a form of detoxing or fasting where only juices, water, and herbal teas are consumed for several days. These have become very popular recently. One benefit of juicing is to get more fruits and veggies into your diet. The downside is that many juice cleanses are made up predominately of fruit juices, which can spike your blood sugar. Also, eating your produce in juice form rather than consuming the whole fruit or vegetable means you lose a lot of the pulp and fiber, along with some of their vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.
Effective or Just Fads?
While fasting and detoxing have been around in some fashion for millenniums, juice cleanses are a relatively new kid in town and it remains to be seen whether it's a passing fad.
With regard to juicing or juice cleanses—though it’s likely fine for a day or two—there are a few things to watch out for. It’s possible that juice can cause some gastric upset. This could be caused by sorbitol, an indigestible plant sugar, or even food-borne illnesses from unpasteurized juice. Your blood sugar could spike if your juice contains a lot of fruit and potentially increase your risk of diabetes. And there is also potential for consuming too much vitamin K and vitamin A.
What Do the Experts Have to Say?
Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D., advocates fasting one day a week to rest your digestive system. It also helps to give your entire body a rest. He recommends drinking between eight to 12 8-ounce glasses of unsweetened herbal tea and water daily. He also cautions that fasting isn’t for everyone, including those who are pregnant, nursing, or diabetic.
It’s never a good idea to fast as a means of weight loss. And people who are very thin and susceptible to cold, such as those with predominately Vata dosha or those with Renards Syndrome may have a harder time with fasting. This is because during fasting, the body sends blood to the fat cells (adipose tissue), to help burn fat as fuel. These leaves less blood flowing to the extremities, and can make fingers and toes feel cold.
In his book A Deepak Chopra Companion: Illuminations on Health and Human Consciousness, Dr. Deepak Chopra discusses fasting as related to the Ayurvedic doshas. He says that “Kapha types should probably fast and only drink hot water, juice, and herbal teas. Pitta types would fast less frequently, and Vata types probably not at all.”
Although our bodies evolved with fasting as part of our history, you should check with your doctor before starting a fast, especially if you have any health concerns.
When it comes to detoxing, Dr. Valencia Porter, M.D., talks about what to look for in a whole-foods detox plan in her article The Healthy Way to Detox. This includes high-quality protein, adequate amounts of nutrients, cruciferous vegetables, antioxidant-rich foods, and plenty of pure water.
As Dr. Porter noted in her article, doing a detox that is too extreme can lead to health problems. Many medical professionals also believe that the body detoxes itself via the liver, lungs, and skin, and that a dietary detox isn’t necessary.
Dr. Mark Hyman, M.D., also supports doing a whole-foods detox diet, eliminating all processed foods, sugar, grains, and alcohol from your diet for 10 days, or longer depending on how you feel. You may find you feel much lighter, more energetic, and healthier after a week or two without processed food and simple carbohydrates weighing your body down. And as an added bonus, you may also lose a few pounds.
With all three of these approaches—fasting, juicing, or detoxing—there are reports of people feeling more energetic, lighter, and overall healthier; however, there are also reports of people who experience medical complications. Every body is different and what may work for one person won’t necessarily work for the next. Headaches, fatigue, and gastric distress are common symptoms, but they can be avoided if you are smart and deliberate in your approach.
Be sure to talk with your healthcare provider before starting a new dietary plan. And listen to your body as you begin your detox, cleanse, or fast. Rest, relax, and give your whole body a break; don’t expect it to function at full tilt on little or no food.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.