In college, I pledged to spend three days Master Cleansing, subsisting on only lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and maple syrup. Thirty-six hours later, I remembered that pizza exists. I’ve since resisted the celebrity campaigns by the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Salma Hayek to counteract my alcohol and 3 a.m. Taco Cabana consumption with a juice cleanse—a fad diet targeted at women who are afraid of their bathing suits.
Still, the juice cleanse lobby asserts enough pseudoscience to inspire some serious hippie appeal. I headed to Jenny Leman, a dietician at Austin health club BodyBusiness, to serve me some scientific real talk. “Your colon has been evolving for thousands of years,” she told me. “It’s completely capable of detoxing itself.” Side effects of extreme regimens like the Master Cleanse—headaches, sweats, and vomiting—are easily mistaken for a productive expulsion of noxious contaminants, but are more likely signs that your body is in distress.
“In general, the medical world frowns on cleanses and views them as a way-too-hippie, naturopathic way of doing something that doesn’t make sense,” Leman says. But if you’re set on joining the liquid lobby, “there are ways to do it where it’s not the worst thing in the world.”
Start with a newer generation of post-Master cleanses, which are intentionally more balanced to provide actual nutrients instead of forcing the body into an unhealthy state of ketosis. Leman’s three basic pillars of a not-the-worst-thing-in-the-world cleanse:
1 Your daily juicing should include all three macronutrients: carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables; protein from nut milks, chia seeds, or ground flax powder; and fats like avocado, olives, and nut butters or oils.
2 Make sure every color is represented in your produce selection. Plants are grouped into families based on their antioxidant and micronutrient content, and nature has gone to the trouble of arranging them by color for us. A balanced cleanse should pick from the whole spectrum.
3 Make a point to include fiber. When you remove the pulp from fruits and veggies, 100 percent of the fiber goes with it. That defeats the entire purpose of a cleanse if you’re looking to actually expel things. To take care of this, I just left one juice a day unfiltered. I learned pretty quickly that unstrained fruit juices are far more palatable than chunky leafy greens or root vegetables. By day three, I got strategic: I’d juice spinach completely, then add blueberries with all their pulp.
Traditional juice cleanses also purge your wallet. Juicing delivery services, which bring you all the liquids you’ll need for a three-to-seven day digestive vacation, cost upwards of $50 a day. State-of-the-art juicers are priced in the hundreds. I decided I could DIY my cleanse for just a $10 daily investment.
First, I hit the produce section and picked up 20 pounds of carrots, celery, strawberries, avocados, mangos, kale, spinach, beets, turnips, blueberries, blackberries, apples, oranges, and cucumbers. It’s tempting to go fruit-heavy beause of sweet deliciousness, but too much of a disparity will get you a serious spike in blood sugar that will only bring memories of pizza floating back. Along with a quart each of coconut and almond milks, I spent about $30 on juicing materials that lasted me almost exactly three days.
Then, I headed to the hardware store and dropped $1.98 on a two-pack of nylon paint strainers. I simply blended my produce in a little water, poured it through the strainer bag, and squeezed the pulp like I was milking a cow. It’s cheap, effective, and easier to clean up than the real deal. The argument against this method is that the water the blender needs to get things moving dilutes and weakens the final product. I remain unconvinced that a few ounces of water can be a bad thing.
Finally, I kept a small chart pinned to the wall to ensure I hit all my colors and macros each day. I worked without a set schedule or menu: I juiced when I got hungry and made up combinations on the fly. This time around, I made it all three days, if begrudgingly. Juice got boring. But I was never hungry and I never felt bad. In fact, I felt good, though probably not any better than I would have if I’d eaten nothing but raw fruits and vegetables for three days. Then again, it’s easier to drink 12 ounces of juice than it is to chomp through three carrots, six radishes, and an apple every meal. I even lost a couple of pounds—then gained them right back the second I ate a real meal.
Ultimately, the only benefit I could measure was exactly what Leman said it would be: “This is more of a mental restart,” she says. Afterward, “you’ll find yourself more capable of recommitting to a better lifestyle.” More capable, yes—but I still chose to break my cleanse at a mall food court.
I doubt I’ll ever bother to do a complete cleanse again, but I can certainly see myself juicing more frequently in my daily life—especially with this gem, which quickly became my breakfast staple.
The Iron Maiden
4-6 ounces coconut milk
1 bunch of kale
2 dried dates, seeded
Pour just enough coconut milk into the blender to cover the blade. Tear off the kale leaves and pack them tightly in the blender. Add the banana and dates. Blend until smooth, then strain.