Almost 20 percent of adults who want to lose or maintain weight have tried a “cleanse.” Adults ages 18 to 34 are the biggest cleanse users, with men edging out women, according to market research firm Mintel. And it costs bottled juice cleanse buyers more than $200 million each year.
On a cleanse, you replace solid food with fruit and vegetable juices (and sometimes nut milks) for one day to a week or longer. Although weight loss is one reason people try cleanses, certain manufacturers say their products will “reset your body,” “eliminate toxins,” and more.
And cleanses come complete with healthy-sounding names such as Glow and Purify. That’s heady stuff for any juice.
To find out whether they live up to the hype, in September 2015, Consumer Reports ordered a three-day program from four brands: BluePrint’s Renovation Cleanse, Suja’s Original Fresh Start, Pressed Juicery’s Cleanse 1, and Organic Avenue’s Love Deep (currently unavailable, but sellers say it will be available again soon); each costs around $200. After evaluating ingredients, reviewing medical research, and talking to experts, Consumer Reports put those health claims into perspective.
Claim: Removes toxins. Reality: Our bodies make toxins — like urea (a compound produced when we digest protein) and lactic acid (which our muscles makeduring strenuous exercise). “But we don’t need help removing them,” says Dr. Orlando Gutierrez, a nephrologist and associate professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “The kidneys and liver are the body’s natural detoxers.”
Claim: Rests your digestive system. Reality: “Unless you have a condition such as inflammatory bowel disease or Crohn’s disease, it’s not necessary to rest your digestive system,” says Dr. Arthur Heller, a gastroenterologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. In fact, many cleanses are very low in fiber, a component that helps your digestive system run smoothly.
Claim: Takes off weight. Reality: None of the cleanses that were looked at promised you’d drop pounds, but that’s an important reason many people try one, Consumer Reports registered dietitian Amy Keating said. And you probably will lose weight because the three-day programs range from just 735 to 1,520 calories per day. But the majority of that will be water weight, which will probably come back if you return to eating your typical diet.
Claim: Reduces your dependence on unhealthy, processed foods. Reality: Cleanses can make you temporarily feel healthier, “not because they contain something miraculous, but because if you follow the program, you’ll be eliminating not-so-good-for-you foods from your diet for that stretch of time,” Keating says. If you’re healthy and aren’t pregnant or breast-feeding, doing one of the cleanses for up to three days probably won’t harm you. But longer isn’t wise because you won’t get the nutrients your body needs.
Consumer Reports also looked at the distribution of calories in these products. On average, it found, these cleanses are too high in carbohydrates — especially sugars — and too low in fiber and protein.
The recommended daily distribution of calories includes 50 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent fat, and 20 percent protein, along with 25 grams of fiber for a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet. The beginner cleanse’s average daily distribution of calories, meanwhile, contained 77 percent carbohydrates, with approximately 80 percent of total carbohydrates primarily from naturally occurring sugars, 16 percent fat, and 7 percent protein, with 14 grams of fiber.