As Joe Cross’s documentary film “Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead” picks up steam in 2012, I thought it might be a good idea to revisit juice fasting or, more accurately, the wisdom and safety of losing weight and/or detoxing one’s body through prolonged periods of a “juice-only” diet. What appears to be a harmless way to drop a few pounds may not seem so after you read this column.
Cross is an Australian business man who was grossly overweight and gobbling myriad pills to help keep himself alive. He decided to take drastic measures to reclaim his life and went on a 60-day juice-only fast to try to gain some control over his health.
It worked — he lost more than 100 pounds and was able to cut back drastically on his daily prescription pill regiment. Cross was so inspired by his own success that he took a camera and a generator-powered juicer across the United States and filmed the documentary “Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead,” going to truck stops, ballgames and beer joints looking for obese men to discuss their weight problems on camera.
The juice diet touted by the film is just one of a number of super-restrictive eating plans that are hotter than ever thanks to being linked with slim and trim celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie. Experts, however, say there is little evidence that regimens such as Cross’s and Master Cleanse — which is a starvation diet whose adherents swallow nothing but a concoction of lemon juice, mixed with maple syrup, water and cayenne pepper as well as salt water and a laxative tea for 10 days — do anything more than lead to unpleasant and unhealthy side effects and rarely long-term weight loss.
The preponderance of new do-it-yourself fasting DVDs and books has nutritional experts sounding the alarm. Vitamin deficiencies, muscle breakdown and blood-sugar problems — not to mention frequent liquid bowel movements — are some of the unpleasant and potentially dangerous side-effects of such plans, which are skimpy of solid foods and often call for the use of laxatives.
“Long-term fasts lead to muscle breakdown and a shortage of many needed nutrients,” says Lona Sandon, a Dallas dietician and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. “Depriving the body of the vitamins and minerals we get from food can actually weaken the body’s ability to fight infections and inflammations.”
Experts are also concerned because juice fasts significantly increase your intake of sugar upsetting the body’s natural balance of blood sugar, potassium and sodium levels creating potentially harmful conditions for diabetics and people with heart or kidney disease. Pregnant women, children, teens and those with digestive conditions should also steer clear of such diets and fasts.
As for the detoxifying claims of juice fasts, many gastrointestinal experts say there is no need for an extreme diet to cleanse our insides. Dr. Nasir Moloo, a gastroenterologist with Capitol Gastroenterology Consultants Medical Group in Sacramento, Calif., says, “Your body does a perfectly good job of getting rid of toxins on its own.”
“While there are medical conditions that interfere with organ function and prevent the body from clearing toxins, healthy people already have a built-in detoxification system — the liver, kidneys, lungs and skin,” says Moloo.
Here’s an alternative to juice fasting and starvation diets — cut back on high-fat foods, eat in moderation, consume more fruits and vegetables and exercise. It may not seem as glamorous as starving yourself like a celebrity but it’s certainly more attractive than rushing to the bathroom all day.