Juicing's all the rage, but are you cleansing the right way?
From locker room chatter to health blogs, cleansing is the wellness buzzword du jour. But how healthy is it, really? Dr. Jeffrey Morrison, an Environmental Medicine specialist, Equinox Health Advisory Board member and the author of Cleanse Your Body Clear Your Mind, explains the difference between fasting and detoxing — and how to begin clearing your body of chemicals the right way.
Q: What is a cleanse, exactly?
Broadly speaking, a cleanse is when an individual takes the opportunity to modify his/her meal plan by restricting specific macro-nutrients for a period of time with the goal of detoxifying the body. They’ve become a lot more popular recently because of celebrity endorsements, and there are many different kinds — from the Master Cleanse to juice fasts to detox diets.
Q: It seems like everybody and their mother is cleansing lately. What’s going on?
I think it’s in vogue because people are becoming acutely aware of the toxicity in our environment. They may have heard statistics like the fact that 25 percent of New Yorkers have elevated levels of mercury in their blood from eating too much sushi, or be concerned about preservatives in skincare products that impact our hormone systems. They’re also concerned about increased risk for certain health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, or blood pressure problems. People want to clean up both their lives and their bodies.
Q: But can you do that by, say, drinking juice for three days?
Any time a person stops eating, the body inevitably has a greater capacity to focus on internal cleaning. It’s sort of like taking your Saturday off and just focusing on purging your closet. But if you don’t get enough protein, then the major detoxification pathways no longer have enough fuel to work properly. Especially if a person wants to do a cleansing program and continue to work out, they have to have protein in the diet. Otherwise, it just doesn’t work.
Q: So what’s the healthiest way to cleanse?
I’m a big advocate of detox diets, which, unlike more strict cleanses, don’t require fasting — and have long-term health benefits. Basically, we eliminate food groups that cause major inflammation in the body: focus on lean protein sources (fish, turkey, eggs), lots of vegetables, some fruit, and perhaps a protein shake as a meal replacement to help enhance the process. And avoid sugar, salt, red meat, bread products, grains, beans, nuts, seeds, alcohol, and soda.
Q: Why focus on inflammation?
Our bodies are not designed to handle an ever-increasing toxic load, and to make matters worse industrial food processing removes the natural anti-inflammatory properties we’d otherwise get from food. Inflammation, pain, and swelling are your body’s way of telling you that you have a sensitivity to something; a detox diet allows you to identify that sensitivity and make a lifestyle change to treat it once and for all.
Q: Can you give us an example?
Sure. There are certain vegetables called night-shade vegetables — tomatoes, white potatoes, peppers, eggplant — that can cause arthritis inflammation. If your joint pain goes away after a month of avoiding those foods, you have a pretty good sense that it’s caused by something that you eat. After a detox diet, you can reintroduce the food and see if symptoms return. Then you know for sure.
Q: And let’s be honest: Lots of people try cleansing because they want to slim down. Is it an effective way to jumpstart weight loss?
There’s no question. I did a study wherein patients lost an average of nine pounds in four weeks. But they also felt 60 percent better — which is the amazing thing about detox diets. Your eyes get brighter, your face won’t be as puffy, your skin gets clearer, you feel sharper … when done right, it should be a lifestyle change, not a fad diet.
Q: But of course it’s not for everybody. Who really shouldn’t try a cleanse?
Pregnant women, definitely. The placenta is a major route of detoxification, so whatever toxins the mother is mobilizing will get transferred to the fetus. Anyone with a major health problem really has to work with a healthcare provider. And I wouldn’t recommend it for children under the age of 18.
Q: If you could dispel two myths once and for all, what would they be?
People think detoxing is difficult. But detox does not (and should not) mean deprive. The other thing is that we tend to assume we’re immortal for a large part of our lives — but the reality is, a body works like a machine. If it’s not taken care of, it breaks down. So people have to recognize that we have a certain lifespan and it can be a great, healthy life or it can be one filled with health problems.
Considering a detox? For more information, go to morrisonhealth.com.