What is the opposite of a Bacon cheesesteak? It's a question the remorseful and the portly have asked themselves for years, usually around the time they finish the last bite. The answer to many Americans these days seems to be a big, bitter glass of raw-vegetable juice. And then another. And then another.
It's unclear whether juice cleansing will go down as a fad, like the macrobiotic regimens of the '70s or the Atkins mania of the early aughts, but the trend shows no sign of slowing. At any given moment, half of Hollywood seems to be on a juice fast. Meredith Vieira just finished her first one. Fashion blogs were recently abuzz with the news that designer Jason Wu ate a cookie during his monthlong cleanse. At least five new juice-centric diet books have hit the market since early December, including nutritionist Cherie Calbom's latest ode to juicing, The Juice Lady's Weekend Weight-Loss Diet, and Jason Manheim's The Healthy Green Drink Diet.
Even Starbucks is positioning itself to cash in on the next great beverage craze. After buying high-end juicemaker Evolution Fresh in November for $30 million, the Frappuccino purveyor plans to open its first juice bar this spring and build a national chain. And it's doing this at a time when you can't go near a fresh juice without being promised some form of ritual purification--or, as Evolution labeled its sweet-greens-and-lemon blend, a Daily Detox.
The basic idea behind a juice cleanse is seductively simple: Our bodies are walking Superfund sites, desperately in need of purging. And what could be purer than unadulterated fruit and vegetable juices? So for some set period, that's all you consume. The natural qualities of the juices help various organs expunge these impurities, resulting in a lighter, happier, healthier you.
"What's healthier than fresh juice?" asks Zoe Sakoutis, founder of BluePrintCleanse, a New York City--based company that is part of the $1.6 billion superpremium-juice market that Starbucks is muscling into. BluePrint says it has more than 50,000 customers paying $65 for a daily array of six kinds of fresh juices. Rival Organic Avenue reported $10 million in sales in 2010. Michelle Hall of San Francisco's Living Greens, which supplements its cleanse regimens with potassium broth (yum!), acknowledges there might be some criticism from experts. But in her experience, "when we juice, we feel better, we look better, we eat and sleep better and overall we just live better."
The only problem is that there is almost no medical evidence that juice is anything other than innocuous, and the universal opinion of modern medicine is that your liver and kidneys are, when functioning, quite efficient at detoxification. Plus, the weight that comes off so easily during a juice fast tends to be water--the kind of weight you gain back after a single meatball sandwich. When you stop eating or severely cut your calorie intake, your cells burn glycogen, a kind of semiliquid energy reserve. When it goes, so does the water in your body, but both are quickly replenished when you start consuming things other than juices.