Friday 22 June 2018

Dr Nina Byrnes: The perils of juicing and its impact on your health

Juice is no substitute for eating a balanced, healthy diet
Juice is no substitute for eating a balanced, healthy diet

Nina Byrnes

Advice from our GP on the benefits of juicing and on whether or not a three-day juice fast will cause any damage.

Q. 2017 is the year that I want to turn my health around. I got a juicer for Christmas and I have been looking into the area of juice fasts. I know there is no proof that it will detox my system, but I like the idea of it for starting off my health regime. A friend of mine did a three-day fast and reported great results. This year she plans on doing it for seven days. I have read that this can be dangerous. What do you think? Would a three-day juice fast cause any damage?

Dr Nina replies: Juicing has become very popular in recent years and as the New Year starts I'm sure there are many people hoping they can juice their way to a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately it's not that easy or simple. I am a big fan of anything that makes people consume more fruits and vegetables, but it is important to be fully armed with the facts before commencing any new diet regimen.

Juice cleanse fasts typically involve drinking juice for several days a week in the hope of somehow 'detoxing' the system. Fans of these cleanses claim they increase the consumption of vitamins and minerals, that they allow the liver and kidneys to cleanse themselves, and that they will assist in weight loss.

It is true that consuming juice may increase a person's intake of vitamins and minerals - but only if these were lacking in the diet in the first place. Fruits and vegetable should be fresh, as those that are left lying around may contain fewer nutrients than we think. Juicing does not provide any more nutrients than eating foods whole, and in fact may remove some of the fibre and nutrients that whole foods contain.

Unpasteurised fruit juices can grow bacteria very quickly so juicing for the day is not a plan. Once a juice is prepared, it should be consumed pretty much straight away. Juicing is not for everyone. It releases sugars from food, which can cause dangerous sugar peaks in those with diabetes. Those with kidney problems, general nutritional deficiencies and those undergoing chemotherapy should not juice fast. The lack of protein and altered sugar and mineral status can make this dangerous.

Juicing fasts may reduce your daily calorie intake, which can lead to some weight loss, but it is likely this will be regained quickly. Any diet that radically cuts calorie intake will also lead to reduced metabolism and yo-yo dieting can have a prolonged negative effect on the body's ability to burn energy efficiently, making future weight loss more difficult.

The lack of protein and fats means your body may ultimately start using muscle mass for energy, which is not healthy weight loss. The longer that fast, the more likely this is to happen.

Juicing does not detox the body. The fact is that our liver and kidneys detox the system on a daily basis. A juice boost will not improve this in any way.

There is no reason to believe that juicing makes you feel any better. Those who report feeling better have normally made radical changes to their diet and it is most likely the elimination of processed junk food rather than the addition of juice that makes them feel less sluggish. Eating a balanced, nutritious diet will likely provide the same benefit. There may be a placebo mental boost to feeling we are being "good".

It is unlikely that a brief juice diet will do you harm, but the health benefits are not proven. There really is no substitute for eating a balanced, healthy diet including all food groups on a regular basis. Moderation in all things, including juicing, is the best option.

What is gout and who is at risk from attacks?

Gout causes sudden, severe attacks of pain, swelling and redness in a joint. It affects up to one in 40 adults, with men being more commonly affected than women. There is a family history of the condition in about one in five people.

During an attack a joint may become suddenly very swollen red-hot and the pain is intense and severe. In most people with gout, the kidneys don’t clear enough uric acid allowing it to build up in the blood. Drinking too much alcohol can cause uric acid levels to raise, while foods such as red meat, offal, poultry and certain fish containing high levels of purines can also increase levels. This is why this condition has been associated with over-indulgence. We now also know that obesity, kidney damage, high blood pressure, diabetes, certain medications and blood and bone marrow disorders also increase the risk. And drinking just two fructose-sweetened drinks a day can increase the risk of gout by up to 85pc.

Medication can manage attacks, but lifestyle management is also very important in reducing the risk of gout attacks. It is important to stay well hydrated, drinking at least two litres water daily. Keep alcohol to a minimum. Eat a varied, healthy diet and try to avoid foods that may be high in purines such as red meats, offal and seafood.

Low-fat dairy options seem to provide some protection and can be a good alternative source of protein. One study did suggest that those who have decent levels of vitamin C have a reduced risk of gout. Subsequent research didn’t back this up, but it does serve as a reminder that a generally healthy diet that is high in wholegrain, fruit and veg and low in rich, processed food may help reduce the risk of the gouty attacks returning.

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