Dieticians and health experts just can’t seem to agree on the validity of juice cleanses.

Juicing advocates, like natural health therapist Eudisha Balikarani, manager of Namasté Wellness Retreats in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, say juicing allows you to take in a far higher concentration of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, enzymes and other nutrients in one go. “When you eat fruit and vegetables, the bulky fibre fills you up,” she says. “It’s difficult to eat more than two fruits at a time, but easy to drink the juice of six in a single glass, and it’s readily digested.”

She, and many who juice, suggest periodic juice fasts – having nothing but juice for several days to ‘detox’. They say this rids your body of toxins, gives your digestive system a rest, neutralises acidity, and not only helps you lose weight, but has many health benefits too.

Registered dietitians, however, tend to disagree. “Your digestive system is designed to handle fibre and effectively extract nutrients from a variety of foods, including whole fruits and vegetables,” says Durban dietician Hlanzeka Mpanza, a nutritionist at Unilever.

With juice, she adds, you miss out on the many benefits of that fibre: better appetite control because you feel fuller longer, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, improved insulin sensitivity (which helps control blood sugar levels), fewer digestive problems, and reduced risk of obesity and cardiovascular diseases. “Too much even of a good thing is not good,” Mpanza says. “When juiced, fruits can be a concentrated source of sugar compared to vegetables. Drinking lots of pure fruit juice can cause a spike in your blood sugar, which may lead to excessive weight gain – a lifestyle risk for diabetes.”

Some dietitians also caution that taking in the high concentrations of certain vitamins in pure juices may not be a good idea over time.

Excess water-soluble vitamins (vitamins C and B) are simply excreted when you pee, but fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) accumulate in your fat cells, says Katherine Zeratsky, a specialist in nutrition and healthy eating at the Mayo Clinic in the US. ‘There’s no sound scientific evidence that extracted juices are healthier than the juice you get by eating the fruit or vegetable itself,” she says. Mpanza adds that we eat food for reasons beyond health and nutrition.

“Although having a juice is perfectly fine for supplementing healthy diets, having small nutritious meals instead of only juices adds the enjoyment of texture, provides social occasions with loved ones, and helps us eat mindfully. “Juice sometimes has as many, if not more, calories than most meals, but because we drink it quite quickly, some people may lose consciousness of how much they are actually consuming.”

How to juice right

Juicing is a simple way to incorporate more veggies and fruits in your diet, just don’t let it replace eating them too, for important fibre, says Mpanza. If you’re going to juice:

• Include different types and colours of fruits and vegetables, as all have different nutrients.

• Do not strain the juice. “Have the fruit pulp in your drink as well, although studies suggest this is still not as good as the fibre you get when eating whole fruits and vegetables,” she says.

• Make fresh juice each time and drink it straight away – unless it’s pasturised, bacteria can grow rapidly in your juice and trigger food poisoning.

• Wash the fruit and veggies very well to get rid of bacteria on the peel and any residues of chemicals or pesticides. (Try growing your own, organically, so you know what’s on your ingredients.)

• To keep sugar levels low, aim to juice mainly veggies and add just only much fruit as you need for some sweetness and flavour.