Tried and Tested: Essentially's juice cleanse

We try out a five-day juice cleanse that promises to give the digestive system a break – and kick-start a healthy lifestyle.

A selection of Essentially's fresh juices. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
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Does anyone really want to cleanse?

Not really – like most good intentions, the ideal is always preferable to the act of doing.

Does anyone feel the need to cleanse? Now that’s a whole other question. You see, moderation doesn’t exist unless you make it a point, especially in the UAE where unless you regularly go to the gym, your daily exercise revolves around walking from the car to your desk, to dinner and back again.

Fortunately, I had the recent opportunity to repent and try a juice cleanse from Essentially, a five-day programme of meal-replacement fruit and vegetable juices to give my digestive system a break and hopefully kick-start a healthier lifestyle.

Why juice?

Purists would argue that the body is a great self-healing tool that shouldn’t be interfered with. But since most of us tend not to treat it particularly well, Essentially claims we need a helping hand.

Cleansing has become something of a trend in the past few years – who could forget Beyoncé’s Master Cleanse, which involved a syrupy brown drink with cayenne pepper and lemon that allowed her to drop 14 pounds in 10 days?

And, of course, there’s the ever-virtuous Gwyneth Paltrow singing the praises of her juicing company Organic Avenue. With the promise of regulating blood pressure, healthier hair and nails and a boost of the immune system, who could resist?

The juice master

Essentially is the UAE’s first provider of 100 per cent raw, organic, vegan and fresh juices that promise to revitalise the system and keep live enzymes intact for an extended period, which is said to be imperative in preserving minerals.

How it works

Juices are made by using a bespoke 9-tonne hydraulic press that carefully extracts every drop from the best organic produce. Essentially claims its way provides three to five times the vitamin and mineral goodness that comes from a standard juicer.

The juices

My three-day supply of 18 juices arrived the night before my cleanse begins. Because they’re unpasteurised, they need to be kept refrigerated. There are six juices in total: each juice nicely labelled in the order that it needs to be consumed.

I started the day with the palatable green juice (celery, cucumber, spinach and ginger) then moved on to the perfectly sweetened pineapple, apple and mint juice.

The third was back to another green juice, followed by a spicy lemonade, which has a good solid dose of cayenne pepper – in case you needed a bit of a kick.

Juice 5 (red roots) was a real struggle – like drinking from a muddy puddle – but the last of the day (cashew milk) felt like a well-earned ice cream.

If you want (or are some kind of sadist), there are additional packages to the cleanse plan (available in one-, three- and five-day options), that promise to aid weight loss.

My experience

In some ways, the second day of my cleanse was easier; however, my cravings for food were not. I went to bed at 8pm, partly out of exhaustion and partly out of necessity – I couldn’t bear to be awake another long hour without eating.

By day three, the screaming headaches were all but gone, but the sight and smell of food became almost obsessive. My concentration levels were almost comical (I forgot the end of my sentence in a lunchtime meeting) and the nearby microwave, with its alluring lunchtime "ding", felt like it had been put there as some sort of test. The next two days could be summed up thus: strange bursts of high energy (what I imagine a diabetic feels like when things are not going so well); hunger; "OK, I can do this"; more hunger; "This is truly the worst idea I have ever had."

The verdict

It’s hard, but it gets easier – and admittedly I looked and felt better by the end. Somehow you start to enjoy the light, floaty feeling, the lack of choice in your daily routine – the freedom of daily cravings we are normally such slaves to.

The juices, although repetitive after a period of time, are very tasty – and just when you feel like packing it all in and taking a big old bite of something good, you receive a supportive email that plays on your conscience. I played solely by the rules (a new thing for me), which in itself is a good thing for the body and mind and a good lesson on self-determination and dedication.

Top tips

Five reasons not to make juices a routine part of your diet, according to the integrative physician Dr Robin Friedlander

1. Juices leave you hungry

Solids take almost twice as long as liquids to leave your stomach, meaning if you’re having a drink for a meal, you’ll be leaving your belly hurting for something to chew on.

2. Fat is back

Juices generally don’t contain fat or protein, both of which stimulate your brain to control hunger pangs when they reach your small intestine.

3. Constipation

You need fibre for your gut to move and not get stuck. I once had a patient who had been put on a liquid diet in the hospital after surgery and had got confused after discharge and never stopped putting all his meals in a blender. No laxative was strong enough for him. You need fibre to induce proper peristalsis – the waves of contraction of your intestinal muscles that move food along. Juicing pulverises all that fibre, rendering it useless.

4. You will miss out on the good germs

Fermentation is the key to health. It happens in the large intestine thanks to plant fibre and the helpful bacteria that like to eat it. If you don’t give the bugs in your colon the complex carbs and fermentable plant fibres they like to munch on, you miss out on the golden by-product of bacterial digestion: the short-chain fatty acids that nourish and protect the gut barrier and reduce inflammation.

5. Detox more than your bloodstream

Toxic residue builds up in the tissues as a result of eating unhealthy foods. Many people use juicing to detox, but while a one-day juice fast might kick-start your kidneys to clean out your plasma, a longer-term, healthy detox that includes eating whole, fibrous foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, like quinoa and farro, will pull deeply embedded toxins out of your body.

In short, eat real whole food, and don’t drink your calories. You don’t need fancy drinks to be healthy.

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