When it rains it pours. I’ve been getting all manner of questions about “juice fasting” “juice cleanses” or whatever else, both here in the gym and from far away. This post may be a long one, but I’m going to, firmly, explain the real situation of the juice-thing. First, let’s define what we are talking about. I refuse to call it fasting or cleansing or detoxing. I will call it doing a “juice-thing”. By this, I mean that for a period of days you only ingest juice and that juice is a combination of fruits and vegetables. People have it in their mind (due to a plethora of partially informed internet gurus) that forsaking fats and proteins for a number of days is good for them. They believe it detoxes or cleanses them. In my discussion of this juice-thing I am going to begin with the following platform: you are already a person who eats clean and primarily Paleo. If you eat gluten-containing grains and processed foods and processed dairy then you need more than a few days of juice to fix you up.
First let’s look at why many people think doing a juice-thing is a health revelation.
1. The majority of people raving about how great they feel after doing a juice-thing, regularly eat things that should not be in their body because they are inflammatory and gut irritating. Spaghetti, oatmeal, soy-containing protein-bars and your kid’s leftover Christmas candy all fall into this category. In that case it isn’t the juice that fixed you up, it is the cessation of placing inappropriate things into your digestive tract that fixed you up.
2. When you fail to place the number of calories and nutrients that you require to maintain life into your body (this is what happens when you do a juice-thing), then your body begins to run on adrenaline/cortisol. This is the “high” that actually accompanies stages of starvation. Runner’s high, starving high. These are states of endogenous euphoria produced by your body to get you through a crisis. I’m not arguing that you don’t feel “light and energetic and clear-headed and wonderful”. I’m telling you that this feeling is you, in metabolic danger mode. This is you after you pushed past those hours where you were really hungry and tired and cranky. Those were the hours when your brain was telling you to find food. You weren’t a good listener, so now your brain is in coping mode. Do this too often, coupled with intense physical activity, and you will develop yourself a nice little case of adrenal fatigue.
3. The clearing out of the large intestine. Otherwise known as juice-thing induced colon cleansing or taking a lot of poops. Yes, Elvis died with like 24lbs of stuff in his intestine. You might have several pounds of stuff in your intestines. You might be a pill-popping, fried-food eating alcoholic or you might not eat enough fruits and vegetables or get enough magnesium or have the correct populations of micro organisms in your gut (officially known as dysbiosis). If you fall into the Elvis category I would not suggest a juice-thing, I’d suggest new managers and a trip to rehab. If you simply eat a very poorly constructed, half-hearted Paleo diet, then I still don’t suggest a Juice-thing. I suggest fixing up your nutrition. Have a go at some fruits and vegetables, besides the salsa on your meat. Get some magnesium into yourself and include a boatload of lacto-fermented, micro-organism-rich foods EVERY DAY. These include things like real saurkraut, kimchi, kombucha and perhaps, if it works for you, some kefir. If your life has been plagued with doses of antibiotics then you might need some pharmaceutical-grade probiotics for a month or two.
4. Weight loss. Severe calorie restriction coupled with cessation of inflammatory foods in the body will completely and absolutely lead to weight loss. Of course, as soon as you finish your Juice-thing and go back to your old ways…. right.
OK, so those are the reasons that most people are positive their Juice-thing was brilliant. Another one is this myth that a juice-thing will “detoxify” you. I am a scientist so I have a specific definition of “detoxify”. Detoxify means to remove toxins from the body. Toxins are anything toxic to the human body. These include the solvents and metals we surround ourselves with on a daily basis. These do not include the dietary macronutrients called fat or protein. If real toxins concern you, quit using ANY and ALL chemicals on your body. If you use a soap, lotion, household cleanser, pesticide or drink out of plastic water bottles, that you wouldn’t eat, you are toxifying yourself. It is absolutely within our power to reduce the number of ways we “toxify” ourself. A few days of kale juice will not get you out of years of lipstick and lotion. Here is why:
The liver is our primary detoxification organ (although all the processes in the body are involved, but I’m writing a blog post not a book). Our lungs, gut and blood transport toxins to the liver. In Phase I of the detoxification process, enzymes from a group called cytochrome P450 mixed-function oxidases create compounds called biotransformed intermediates. These cytochrome P450 enzymes help latch the toxins onto molecules that can begin the process of eliminating the toxins. Our intermediate, transformed toxins are either fat-soluble (meaning they will be excreted via bile in our poop) or water soluble (meaning they can be excreted through the kidneys in our urine). There are at least eight phases of the Phase II detoxification process which have to happen next. This Phase II process is how we get the biotransformed intermediates to forms we can poop out or pee out. The most important nutrients for the eight phases of the Phase II process are glycine, glutamine, taurine, methionine, cysteine and glutathione. In case you aren’t clear…these are amino acids. Proteins. These are not juice. Without ENORMOUS supplies of these amino acids you CANNOT complete the Phase II detoxification process. What happens in a poorly designed, unsupported juice-thing is that you mobilize your body fat (because you are not supplying enough calories). Your clever body has safely hidden away excess toxins in your body fat. By mobilizing your body fat you re-introduce your toxins to the body and then you DEPRIVE it of the very nutrients it needs to get rid of these things!!! A proper cleanse is not a juice-thing. It is a period of time without putting crap in your body WHILE taking in copious amounts of B vitamins, minerals and amino acids to complete the detoxification process. A juice-thing is a half way cleanse that can do more harm than good if someone actually does have stores of toxins in their body.
Finally, the lamest juice-things I see people do are what I like to call the “72 hour intravenous sugar project”. Three days of fruit juice is nothing but straight sugar mainlined to your blood stream. Say hello to majorly screwing up your blood sugar management.
Now, let’s be positive. There are some ways to include juices in your life that are beneficial. Here they are:
1. Use a VitaMix and make it mostly green vegetables. This is gross to most people because it doesn’t remove the fiber, so it is like drinking a vegetable milkshake. A juicer removes the fiber. A VitaMix does not. For real health add some herbs or verdolagas and some good fat. Parsley, cilantro, dill, mint, basil, watercress and sorrel are all powerful nutrient boosts.
2. Use your juices for workout nutrition. A completely green one (like super-fab CrossFitter Andre drinks after workouts) will re-alkalinize the body and add good minerals and nutrients. A juice with fruit in it, during a long workout or post workout can add necessary carbohydrates that you have depleted.
3. If you are a person who seriously has control issues with food (and I am not talking about lazy or undisciplined, I’m talking about real serious issues) then using a prescription like juices with small amounts of protein can be productive. In this case, they will be primarily vegetable juices with olive oil or avocado or macadamia nuts for fat. Under guidance please.
4. Fast, unhealthy weight loss. Also known as cutting weight for a weight class sport. No more commentary needed here. Even with this one our athletes use BCAA supplementation and a prescribed number of ounces of plain chicken breast every few hours.
In summary, fruits and vegetables are good. Just like they are. They don’t need you to screw them up in a machine. Often times the skin and seeds and pith and pulp is the most nutritious part anyway. Instead of juicing just bring yourself a giant basket full of fresh produce and stuff it in all day.
If you want a healthy gut, don’t eat foods that irritate it and keep your gut microbes alive and well.
If you want to be as free of toxins as possible, minimize their introduction in your body and keep a steady supply of proteins going in.
On a side note, many many of you drink alcohol on some type of recurring basis. If you actually care about the toxicity of your liver, stop drinking and never ever take acetaminophen. A lifetime of juice-things won’t be enough of an apology to your liver for alcohol and acetaminophen.