Are juice cleanses finally uncool?

For years, juice cleanses have promised all kinds of miracles, from detoxing to energy boosting, and above all weight loss. But now there may be reason to think this trend has reached its expiration date.

Eater is reporting that Organic Avenue will close all of its storefront shops after today, with no word on the future of its delivery services. Another trendy NYC juice shop, Heartbeet Juicery, is also closing its doors. Earlier this year, Racked laid out the failure of several brands’ efforts to break into the juice business, including Starbucks on the big-name side of the spectrum and Vital Juice on the smaller side.

Organic Avenue with its raw and vegan juices, and competitor BluePrint, were among the leaders in the the juicing trend, helping to push both juicing cleanses and green juice into the mainstream. But as the market for juices expanded, these trendy bottles have made their way to grocery store shelves, where they’ve come under harsher nutritional skepticism. Organic Avenue might simply have lost out as the marketplace for juice hit saturation, but the trend may also be losing ground as it fails to live up to its extraordinary claims.

Despite all the health promises, there have been few credible studies to back them up. A search for “juice cleanse” in PubMed, a public tool that indexes medical studies, will return zero results. In fact, the idea that drinking organic or raw or vegan juices can rid your bodies of toxins is a fundamental misunderstanding of how the body actually works. Your body already has means of removing toxins, which work the same whether or not you drink juice (although preliminary research suggests eating organic may cut down on your exposure).

And as a weight loss strategy, drinking juice is no more effective than other meal replacement plans. You may lose weight while you follow the program, but when you return to eating normally, you’ll just put that weight back on. And if you consume only juice for more than a few days, dietitians say you may run the risk of nutritional deficiencies. At the same time, juice isn’t usually low in calories, so adding a juice on top of one's normal caloric consumption may lead to weight gain.

There’s a darker side to the juice cleanse trend, as expensive juice bars cater to wealthy and likely already fit consumers. If one has the attitude that thinner is always better, a juice cleanse can become a socially acceptable form of eating disorder. A few years ago, I met up with the owner of a raw vegan juice bar in Manhattan for an interview. After answering my questions, he offered to give me a free month-long juicing plan, promising that I’d lose at least 15 pounds—although my weight was already on the low side of what’s considered healthy on the Body Mass Index. I declined, obviously, but the experience was unsettling. Good health wasn't the only thing being marketed.

There is a way in which juicing is emblematic of the American diet itself, with the contradiction of a fast-food loving nation that also places a high value on thinness. If the obsession with dieting is an attempt make up for unhealthy eating, then the juice cleanse is one of the most extreme forms of dietary repentance. Its logic dictates that if we subsist on juice for five days, we'll be absolved of our food sins. With the ritualistic and almost spiritual aspects of the juice cleanse, coupled with the lack of supporting science, you’re probably just as well off giving up meat for Lent or unleavened bread for Passover—at least you wouldn’t have the pretext of better health.

Juicing, but not cleansing, may have a role to play in a healthy diet. It’s a convenient way for people to get several servings of fruits or veggies in one glass. It’s great for people who need to limit their intake of fiber, or for people who have certain nutritional deficiencies. And cleanses may have helped boost the profile of organic foods—and more environmentally friendly farming practices.

The juice industry may have tried to expand too quickly and may recover, or it may have really passed its peak. But if we really want to have better health, revving up the juicer isn’t going to be the only answer. We’d better find something good to eat too.

Tags: Health | Organic Agriculture

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