Juice cleanse programmes are touted as an easy way to kick-start a healthy eating lifestyle. You replace solid food with fruit and vegetable juice (and sometimes nut milk). Most companies offer a one-, three- or five-day cleanse. On each cleanse day, you drink six 500ml juices in a specified order.
A juice cleanse takes the hassle out of juicing plus the products can be delivered to your door. But at $200+ for 3 days, are these pricey programmes worth it?
Well and Good Juice said a juice cleanse will “assist your natural detoxification path-ways to flush out toxins”. Green Roots Organics claimed you can “drink yourself clean”. Pure Health Delivered (PHD) said its cleanses are designed to “give your digestive system a break from processed foods”. Little Bird Organics also said its cleanse will give your digestive system a rest.
However, none of the companies provided us with evidence to back up their claims. We asked a medical expert and nutrition expert if doing a juice cleanse will really give your health a noticeable boost.
No need to cleanse
Rob Walker, professor of medicine and renal specialist at Dunedin School of Medicine, says the short answer is we don’t have to cleanse or detoxify.
“Our bodies are well-equipped with self-cleansing mechanisms and detoxification occurs on a continual basis in the body,” he says. The gut absorbs nutrients arising from normal digestion and these nutrients are transported to the liver via the blood stream, where further metabolism takes place, he explains. Both the gut and the liver break down unwanted and potentially damaging compounds, which the kidneys eliminate.
Professor Walker also says there’s no evidence to suggest you need to “rest” your digestive system. “The digestive system is constantly active and will handle what you eat anyway – regardless of whether it’s in liquid or solid form.”
Any nutritional benefits?
PHD and Well and Good Juice both say a juice cleanse is a good way to kick-start a healthy eating routine. But Otago University senior research fellow in human nutrition Dr Lisa Te Morenga has her doubts.
She’s concerned the message of “cleansing” could give the wrong idea about how people should maintain a healthy diet.
She also says there’s more benefit from eating fruit and vegetables whole. “Juicing strips [them] of some important nutrients, like dietary fibre, which as well as having health benefits, such as bowel regularity, helps you feel fuller for longer.”
Although a short-term juice cleanse won’t be harmful for most people, Dr Te Morenga isn’t aware of evidence showing any benefit either.
“Most of the evidence is anecdotal although there is the placebo effect, which can be a powerful influence. The placebo effect means people can expect to feel better simply because they’re following a special diet or taking control of bad eating habits.”
Dr Te Morenga says because of the high price of these programmes you’re better spending the money on seeing a registered dietitian and getting a long-term eating and physical activity plan.
Another important point is juice cleanses aren’t suitable for everyone. Children, teenagers, the elderly, and pregnant or breastfeeding women shouldn’t do a juice cleanse. These groups have nutritional needs that only drinking juice won’t deliver.
If you have specific dietary requirements or a chronic illness, or if you’re on any medication, get medical advice before starting a juice cleanse.
Cost vs payoff
We compared six three-day juice cleanses, which all included a nut milk drink to end the day. Nut milk is higher in kilojoules, protein and fat than a vegetable or fruit juice. The Little Bird Organics Total Wellness Cleanse comes with a salad. Pure Health Delivered has this as an option on its cleanse.
The cleanses we looked at cost from $180 to $270 – and that’s before adding delivery. Depending where you live you’ll pay up to $30 for a drop-off.
For the hefty price tag of cleanses, you still won’t be getting an optimal diet.
This makes them an expensive way to get your fruit and vegetables. In comparison, Otago University’s 2016 annual Food Cost Survey estimated it costs $64 a week for a man and $55 for a woman to meet their dietary needs buying basic foods. A diet with a greater variety of meat, fish, produce and some convenience foods costs $100 for a man and $85 for a woman.
For the hefty price tag of cleanses, you still won’t be getting an optimal diet. An average adult should consume 8700 kilojoules per day but, even with the addition of the higher-kilojoule nut milk drink, these cleanses fall short. The PHD ResetMe Cleanse with Cashew Dream has 5301 kilojoules per day – that’s only 60% of energy requirements.
Juice cleanses also lack protein – the three products we could compare had between 25g and 40g protein a day but men should eat 64g and women 46g. If you opt for a cleanse programme without the nut milk drink, you’ll be getting even less energy and protein.
Juice cleanses are also relatively high in naturally occurring sugars with about 50% of their daily kilojoules coming from sugars.
Most programmes have pre- and post-cleanse eating advice. This advocates drinking lots of water, eating fruit and vegetables, and keeping alcohol, saturated and trans fats and refined sugars to a minimum. However, simply following these recommendations – without shelling out for a high-priced juice cleanse – is likely to make you feel healthier.
PHD, Nomad Nutrition and The Design Juicery were the only companies to provide nutrition information. According to the Food Standards Code, a food is exempt from providing nutrition information when it’s ordered by the buyer, and delivered packaged and ready-to-eat or drink.
Little Bird Organics told us this information is not available, and Well and Good Juice and Green Roots Organics did not provide data. We think companies selling a product designed to improve your health should provide this information to consumers.
By Belinda Castles
Research and Testing Writer