Juice fasts, sometimes called juice therapy, are short-term dietary practices—typically one to three days in length—during which a person voluntarily consumes only fruit, vegetable, or other plant juices; their extracts; or fruit teas.
A juice fast can be done for several reasons: to cleanse the body of heavy metals and other chemical toxins; as a practice related to Ayurvedic medicine; as the first step in the treatment of colitis, arthritis, depression, cancer, HIV infection, or other diseases; for weight reduction; as part of a vegetarian, fruitarian, or vegan lifestyle; or as a part of a general program of eliminating other unhealthy habits such as smoking, drinking large amounts of alcohol or caffeinated beverages, and overeating. Some people drink large amounts of freshly extracted fruit or vegetable juices as part of their regular diet without necessarily fasting, a practice known as ‘‘juicing.’’
Many people who undergo juice fasts combine them with massage therapy or the use of laxatives and enemas to completely relax the body and cleanse the digestive tract.
Most practitioners of juice fasting recommend restricting it to the warmer months of the year, or traveling to a spa in a warm climate for a wintertime juice fast. Most people undergo juice fasting only once or twice a year; however, some undergo a one-day juice fast every week, or a two-day fast once a month.
Beginning 7 to 10 days before the fast, the person should reduce intake of or eliminate entirely all stimulants (coffee, tea, cocoa, and cola drinks), alcoholic beverages, animal meats, fish, eggs and dairy products, sugar, and wheat. The diet during this preparation period should consist entirely of organic fruits, vegetables, and beans.
Making and consuming the juice
The dieter is instructed to drink between 32 and 64 ounces of juice per day, with 6 glasses of warm filtered water in addition. Some therapists recommend one or more cups of herbal tea each day in addition to the juice and water. The juice should be made in a juicer from fresh organic produce; prepackaged juices should not be used, because they are pasteurized to retard spoilage. The heat required for pasteurization destroys some of the vitamins and enzymes in the fruit. If organic fruits and vegetables are unavailable, ordinary supermarket produce may be used, provided it is peeled or washed in a special produce cleaner (available at health food stores) to remove pesticide residue. A combination of fruits and vegetables is recommended rather than fruit or vegetable juice alone.
The juice should be consumed within half an hour of processing in the juicer because the natural enzymes in the fruits or vegetables begin to break down the other nutrients in the juice after that time. It should not be refrigerated.
There are a number of recipe books for combining fruit and vegetable juices to make the fast as tasty as possible. Fruits and vegetables that are commonly recommended in these books for juicing include:
- Greens: parsley, beet greens, kale, chard, celery, spinach, dandelion greens
- Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts
- Root vegetables: carrots, beets, sweet potatoes
- Fruits: grapes, apples, watermelon, pineapple, cranberries, strawberries, peaches, some citrus fruits
- Herbs: fennel, yucca, spearmint, peppermint, basil, ginger, garlic
- Wheatgrass and bean sprouts
- Aloe vera gel: sometimes taken orally as part of a juice fast for treatment of arthritis
An important part of juice fasting is the use of laxatives or enemas to cleanse the lower digestive tract because the juice will not supply enough fiber to keep the bowels moving. Since many practitioners believe that juice fasts are necessary to detoxify the body, the removal of wastes is considered essential to prevent the toxins in the digestive tract from being reabsorbed into the bloodstream. Some juice therapists recommend mixtures of slippery elm or other herbs to cleanse the colon; others prefer saltwater laxatives, enemas, or colonics for cleansing the bowel. A colonic is a procedure in which a large amount of water, sometimes as much as 20 gallons, is infused into the colon through the rectum a few pints at a time. It differs from an enema in that much more fluid is used, and a colonic is infused into the colon, whereas an enema infuses water or a cleansing solution into the rectum only. Mainstream physicians do not recommend colonics on the grounds that they are unnecessary, based on a nineteenth- century misunderstanding of the process of digestion, and very often uncomfortable for the patient. In some cases, they pose serious risks to health.
Breaking the fast
People should not return to solid foods immediately at the end of a juice fast, because the intestines need time to readjust to grains and other solid foods. One sequence of breaking the juice fast through a gradual return to a full diet is as follows:
- Day 1: Two pieces of fruit, each divided in half.
- Day 2: Steamed non-starchy vegetables, such as spinach or zucchini.
- Day 3: Green salads and brown rice. Rice and other solid foods should be thoroughly chewed to assist digestion.
- Day 4: Organic yogurt and eggs.
- Day 5: Chicken, fish, red meat (if a normal part of the
diet), or tofu.
- Day 6: Beans and grains other than rice.
- Day 7: All other foods.
As has been mentioned, people may undergo juice fasting for one or more of the following reasons:
Spiritual or religious practice
Some people find a juice fast to be useful as part of a general religious or spiritual retreat. The first stage of an Ayurvedic pancha karma includes extra time given to meditation and nature walks as well as gradual exclusion of stimulants and solid foods from the diet. Those who undertake a juice fast in order to wean themselves from smoking, drugs, or a food addiction are also often looking for spiritual as well as physical release from the habit they are struggling to break. Many people report relief from emotional stress as a side benefit of juice fasting.
Many people turn to juice fasts for quick weight loss. However, during a juice fast, if a person drinks an abundance of calories from the fruit and vegetable juices, they will not lose weight. Most experts recommend a combination of reducing calories, choosing healthy and nutritious foods, and engaging in regular physical activity as the best method of weight loss.
Naturopaths frequently recommend juice fasting as a way of ridding the body of various toxins, which they identify as coming from several sources:
- Heavy metals. These include such substances as cadmium, arsenic, nickel, aluminum, chromium, mercury, vanadium, strontium, antimony, cobalt, and lead, which are used in various manufacturing processes
and some medical procedures and are also present in batteries, electronic equipment, coins, cookware, food containers, and other common household items.
- Toxic chemicals taken directly into the digestive tract, through alcoholic beverages, pesticide residues on supermarket produce, additives in processed foods, or drugs of abuse, or chemicals taken into the respiratory tract through breathing household solvents (nail polish remover, spot or stain removers containing benzene, etc.).
- Toxins in the digestive tract produced by yeast and other microorganisms. Ridding the body of this group of toxins is frequently cited as a reason for combining laxatives or enemas with a juice fast. Again, it should be noted that mainstream physicians dispute the notion that normal digestion produces toxic substances in the colon that must be removed by a laxative or enema.
- Ammonia, urea, and other breakdown products of protein metabolism. Naturopaths often recommend a vegetarian lifestyle as well as periodic juice fasts in order to minimize the production of these byproducts of meat and dairy product consumption.
- Treatment of specific illnesses. Juice fasting is sometimes recommended by nonmedical professionals for the treatment of specific diseases and disorders, most commonly arthritis, autoimmune disorders, and depression, but it has also been claimed to be an effective treatment for severe infections (including AIDS), multiple sclerosis, and cancer. One theory that is sometimes advanced to explain the healing power of juice fasting is that the energy that the body would normally use digesting heavy or highprotein meals is instead directed to its natural selfhealing capacity. The medical profession does not recommend juice fasting as a means of disease treatment, especially for such chronic conditions.
The benefits of juice fasting may include immediate weight loss in some people. Mainstream medical research also indicates that juice fasts are useful in providing a period of rest for the digestive tract for patients with irritable bowel syndrome or other functional disorders of the intestines. Juice fasts have sometimes been helpful in identifying food allergies. As solid foods are gradually reintroduced after the fast, some people discover that they have a previously unsuspected allergy to one or more foods. Some people also feel that they broke free of their cravings for certain foods during the period of abstinence from those foods. Enlightenment through fasts is sometimes claimed to occur for those who fast for spiritual reasons.
In general, anyone considering a juice fast should consult a health professional beforehand. Some groups of people, however, should not undertake a juice fast:
- pregnant or lactating women
- people with diabetes, hypoglycemia, anorexia or bulimia nervosa, kidney or liver disease, gout, asthma, impaired immune function, epilepsy, cancer, terminal illness, active infections, AIDS, anemia, malnutrition, or ulcerative colitis
- people who are underweight
- people who have increased energy needs, such as those who have recently undergone surgery or treatment for severe burns. People taking prescription medications should consult their primary care physician before a juice fast, as the bioavailability of some drugs is affected by fasting. In addition, grapefruit, apple, orange, pomegranate, and other juices should not be used for a juice fast because the juices of these fruits may increase the blood levels of prescription medications in the body.
Juice fasts should not be extended beyond three or four days without medical supervision, as longer fasts can lead to poor intake of nutrients such as protein and calcium and could lead to deficiencies or toxic levels of some vitamins/minerals. In addition, anyone who feels faint or dizzy, develops an abnormal heart rhythm, feels nauseated or vomits, or has signs of low blood pressure, should discontinue the fast and consult their doctor at once.
On the economic side, juice fasting is a potentially expensive form of dietary therapy. Readers interested in juice fasts at home or in juicing as a dietary addition should be prepared to pay between $60 and $200 for a
juicer or juice extractor—although some deluxe models are marketed for as much as $2,000. The chief difference is that juice extractors remove the fruit or vegetable pulp from the juice (and are difficult to clean), while juicers generally leave the pulp in the juice. In addition to the cost of the machine and the fruits or vegetables to be juiced, people on a juice fast will usually need to purchase laxatives or enemas for cleansing the bowel.
For a child, undergoing a juice fast for longer than 1–3 days can result in negative health consequences and even death. An infant should never be placed on a fast of any type for any length of time. The major risks to health from juice fasts include metabolic crises in patients with undiagnosed diabetes or hypoglycemia; dizziness or fainting due to sudden lowering of blood pressure; diarrhea, which may result in dehydration and an imbalance of electrolytes in the body; and protein or calcium deficiencies, which may occur from unsupervised long-term juice fasts. Minor side effects include headaches, fatigue, constipation, acne, bad breath, and increased body odor. Juice fasters who undergo colonics are at risk of contracting an infection from improperly sterilized colonic equipment; of serious illness or death from electrolyte imbalances in the blood; or of serious illness or death resulting from perforation of the intestinal wall by improperly inserted equipment. Colonics can also worsen the symptoms of ulcerative colitis.