Cleanse with Caution

Welcome to December, where we find ourselves on the other side of Thanksgiving and it’s officially acceptable to get excited about the holiday season. People bring in holiday treats to the office on a daily basis “just because” and it’s easy to lose sight of health and fitness goals. Our healthy habits that we’ve spent all year incorporating into our daily lives tend to unravel away as we allow ourselves to indulge in party after party, and treat after treat. Many people turn into panic mode at this time of year as they see the numbers on the scale slowly begin to creep up. A quick fix that many people turn to is the juice cleanse. Juice cleanses are often marketed as a tool to jumpstart weight loss, promote health, and rid the body of all things evil (cough sugar cookies cough).

But are cleanses even that good for you? Are they even safe? Do they actually work? There’s a lot of information out there, and I looked at two different articles that promoted opposite sides of the juice cleanse. I think after reading both, the information is still just as jumbled.

The Real Reasons Juice Cleanses Can Get Your Health Back on Track

Summary Points:

  • This article was written by a doctor, so it’s probably a respectable resource.
  • Drinking juices allows the gut to rest and not work as hard, so phytonutrients can be absorbed more easily.
  • Cleanses rest the liver, which is often overloaded with toxins, so much so that it can’t keep up with how much junk we put into our body.
  • Cleanses do the thinking for us, we don’t have a choice in what to eat so it breaks the habit of making unhealthy choices.
  • Cleanses jumpstart weight loss by curbing the appetite and providing a naturally hypocaloric diet, so your body will “naturally start losing weight.”
  • Juicing ensures proper hydration, allowing metabolic and bodily functions to carry out more efficiently.

OK, OK, but what about the opposite side of juice cleansing. Why is it so polarizing and why do so many people advise against it?

4 Myths About Juice Cleansing

Summary Points:

  • Cleanses and juicing programs that last 3-5 days (the typical length) are expensive.
  • There’s no scientific evidence backing long-term health benefits claims made by juicing companies.
  • A healthy set of lungs and kidneys, as well as liver and GI tract are in a constant state of cleansing and detoxifying the body, so why do you need juice to do what your body already does naturally?
    • In regards to the “overtoxifying” point made in the previous article above, if your liver was not able to handle the overload of toxins you ingest, well, you would likely be dead by now.
  • The weight loss from juice cleanses is likely from water elimination, as the body burns through its glucose stores for energy, it pulls water out with it.
  • The lack of calories leads to irritability, shakiness, headaches, as well as constipation from a lack of fiber.
  • The “glow” many people experience from a cleanse may just be psychological.
  • The weight loss is unsustainable, rendering juice cleanses a “quick fix.”

So what’s the verdict? Both articles bring out excellent points, though on opposite sides of one another. I’m leaning clearly towards the second article, which also happens to be backed by a dietitian. I just simply don’t see how cleanses can really detoxify your body and jump start healthy weight loss.

From what I learned throughout graduate school and my dietetic internship, providing an inadequate amount of calories can put your body in starvation mode, encouraging it to hold on to as much fat as possible (your long-term energy storage) while expelling protein, causing you to lose muscle mass. Additionally, your liver and kidneys are natural detoxifying agents; providing them with easy-to digest juice is not going to lighten their workload any more. If anything an abundance of these nutrients is only going to be expelled in the urine (except for the fat soluble vitamins: A, D, E, and K). Additionally, the juices eliminate the pulp and skins of the fruits, which contain all the fiber. The fiber slows down the absorption of the good nutrients and allows the GI tract more time to get all of those nutrients into the bloodstream. Fiber also slows down sugar absorption, so taking these juices that are naturally high in sugars while eliminating the fiber can lead to blood sugar spikes and subsequent crashes. Not good. This may not be the case in juices that are made mainly of vegetables (with one or two fruits to flavor it, like lemon and an apple), but still, these mainly-veggie juices may lack adequate fiber.

My personal advice: If you find that you’re slipping off track during this time of year, don’t be so hard on yourself. Allow yourself the treats and holiday cookies, just don’t go overboard. Instead of eating 5 cookies in the office, try to only eat 2. Make sure the rest of the meals you eat throughout the day are in line with your personal health goals. If you want to keep your weight down, load up on healthy fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins like you normally do. Continue to fit in exercise into your daily routine. When at a party, try to be mindful by savoring every flavor and don’t show up hungry, so you’re the one making the choices, not your grumbling stomach. If you still want to try a juice cleanse, that’s fine, just try to eat at least 1 meal per day that consists of healthy, real, non-pulverized fruits and vegetables with protein.

A cleanse is a simple fix. You’ve been doing so well all year, so why change what you’re doing now? Keep working at building up your healthy habits, because that is what’s going to give you the long-term benefits.

What are your thoughts on juice cleanses? Have you ever done one? What was your experience? Sound off in the comments!

And happy eating!!

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The Fascinating World of Farmers’ Markets

This past week I took the day off and wandered down to the amazing Union Square Greenmarket – a large farmers’ market that offers seasonal and regional fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, and baked goods from 140 vendors. This market is humongous and full of produce, and I love that I get to see what familiar foods are SUPPOSED to look like, as opposed to the uniformed, shiny, waxy looking produce that you see in supermarkets. The stuff you find at the farmers’ market is the real deal, truly dirt candy, that you can buy and eat in the way that nature intended. However, I’ll admit, the market is also brimming with foods that I have never seen before, and that I may not know what it is or how to eat it. That being said, it’s still really fun to go in and explore the different stalls and learn about different fruits and vegetables that I don’t get to see every day.

Look at that BUTTernut squash (I bought this at a farmers’ market almost a year ago and still find this hysterical)

So, the farmers’ market can be really great, and even though I love food and like to think I’m an adventurous eater, I tend to get very overwhelmed when I browse through the seemingly endless maze of stalls. These are my personal tips for navigating a large farmers’ market, and how to experience it in the best possible way:

1) Go in with a plan

If I go to the farmers’ market without a list, there is a 100% chance I will end up with a million things that I will never actually eat or cook, and will just sit in my refrigerator slowly rotting. Go in with a recipe or a shopping list and only buy a reasonable amount of each food (i.e. 1 bulb of garlic, 2 onions, 2 tomatoes, 1 carton of berries, 1 loaf of bread, etc. etc., etc.) so that it doesn’t spoil and you don’t waste your money. I find that the foods at the farmers’ market spoil a lot more quickly than they do when bought from the supermarket.

2) But don’t be afraid to browse

Farmers’ markets are a great way to kill some time. Look at the flowers, the weird looking plants, the freshly baked goods and jams, and wander the rows and rows of fresh produce. It’s visually pleasing and mentally relaxing.

3) Try something new

Don’t be afraid to try a vegetable, fruit, or herb that you’ve never tried before. I went with a coworker once and she bought kohlrabi – a vegetable that I have never heard of before and was too afraid to buy. We make many regrettable choices in life, and not buying that exotic kohlrabi is one of mine (am I a food geek? Yes, this last sentence absolutely proves that I am).

4) And stick to your staples.

I always buy the same produce at the grocery store: onions, carrots, celery, spinach, grape tomatoes, a few apples, bananas, and garlic. All of these are common staples at the farmers’ market, and are offered in different varieties and strains to help me switch up my daily flavors. Think orange and yellow tomatoes, different varieties of lettuce, colorful purple carrots, etc.  They’re also sold at a much cheaper price than at the supermarket. The food at the farmers’ market is likely better than organic foods and are a fraction of the price.

5) Touch everything (ew). 

Make sure what you’re buying is in good condition and ripe (or not yet ripe, depending on the food). Don’t be afraid to really feel what your food is supposed to feel like in its most natural state.

6) Wash everything (ok, good). 

I mean, just reread number 5. This one should be self-explanatory.

7) Talk to the vendors

There’s no better way to learn about about the food you eat than to talk to the source directly. Sometimes I feel that living in the middle of the city where takeout rules what’s for dinner and there’s not a tree in sight makes me feel detached from nature and wholesome foods. Interacting with who is tending to your food and getting to know more about where your food comes from gives you a deeper appreciation for what you’re eating, which in my opinion makes the whole cooking and eating experience all the richer.

So, this past weekend when I went to the market, I went in with a recipe in mind: this Butternut Squash Gruyere soup from one of my favorite food blogs: How Sweet Eats. I can’t even begin to tell you how rewarding it was to buy all of the ingredients (except for the butter, oil, spices, cheese, and chicken stock) from local farmers. I even think it made the soup taste more velvety, wholesome, and nourishing. So go online or to pinterest and find a recipe that looks good and go. OR, take one of your go-to dinner recipes and switch it up by buying the ingredients locally, see how the flavors change or if it makes you feel any differently!

To find a local farmers’ market near your area in the US, click here.

Check out the recipe for the soup HERE.

Note: I excluded the coconut milk to cut back the calories and used only about 2 oz of cheese as opposed to 6 oz because I honestly did not want to sit there and grate 6 oz of cheese (so time consuming!). The soup still came out absolutely wonderfully and the chickpeas on top added an awesome spicy crunch. This soup also tastes amazing when topped with walnuts and gorgonzola. Enjoy!!