Last Chance Foods: To Cleanse or Not to Cleanse?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Mention the words “cleanse” or “detox,” and many people are likely to react with passion. There are those who swear by it, and many who consider it a sham. The start of the year seems to amplify the conversation, with the list of what people are not eating growing as long and specific as a tally of out-of-season produce.

Last Chance Foods is primarily a segment about healthy and seasonal eating, but January seemed the right time to address the inescapable buzz around cleanses. First of all, the semantics: a “cleanse” can mean everything from the (in)famous liquids-only Master Cleanse to a raw foods–only regimen. “Detox” might be used in reference to laxative-based teas or to refraining from alcohol. These loaded words call for clarification.

To tackle the touchy topic of cleanses, Last Chance Foods spoke with Dr. Alejandro Junger, a cardiologist and the creator of Clean, a 21-day cleanse. The program involves drinking shakes for breakfast and dinner, with a lunch of solid, cleanse-acceptable foods. All Things Considered host Amy Eddings tried the Clean program and says she had a positive experience.

On the other side of the debate is Samantha Heller, a registered dietitian and clinical nutritionist. She asserts that extreme, juice-only cleanses are unhealthy. “It scares the heck out of your body,” says Heller. “Your body thinks it’s starving, so it goes into starvation survival mode and you don’t want your body to have to do that.”

Junger’s program is less extreme because it does allow for solid foods and a full meal every day. Heller explains why she believes people feel better after going through similar cleanse programs. “Any time you shift to a healthier diet, you will feel better,” she says. “So it’s not necessarily the cleansing and the detoxing part of it — which doesn’t actually happen — it’s the dietary shift. Our bodies detox every second of every day. Our bodies are brilliant at it.” Instead, Heller emphasizes that people should focus instead on eating well and exercising.

Junger agrees that humans have built-in systems for detoxing — he cites the elimination of CO2 through breathing as a basic example — but he maintains that those systems sometimes need a boost. “Cleansing and detox programs [are] when somebody creates the conditions for these systems and organs to work harmoniously and efficiently,” he says. “Now, basically what this does [is] it restores your body’s natural ability to heal itself.”

Junger describes fatigue and bloating as signs that a cleanse may be beneficial. “People get what I call ‘puffy’ by retaining so much mucus and water,” he says. Cleanses can also be used to discover food sensitivities through a means of elimination and observation. When reintroducing foods post-cleanse, it’s possible to pinpoint items that upset digestion or cause symptoms like bloating.

While Heller admits that it’s useful to identify food sensitivities, she also voices another criticism of cleanses: the cost. “Cleanses in general, people spend so much money,” she says. “[For the Clean program] in particular, I saw one of the starter programs was $425. You would be so much better off spending that money [on] joining a gym, buying fresh vegetables, buying some beans, buying some cookbooks, maybe even seeing a registered dietitian to help you create a healthier lifestyle plan. And you would still have money left over.”

Junger disagrees and points out that he also wrote a book instructing people on how to make the foods and shakes themselves. Eddings adds that she completed the program without buying the supplements. “The reason I came up with products was not because I wanted to sell something,” Junger says. “It was because I had so many patients that didn’t have the time to go and buy their foods and choose the right vegetables and fruits and juice and... They just didn’t have the time to do it.” He adds that the cost of his program is not necessarily more expensive than 21 days worth of organic fruits and vegetables for breakfast and dinner.

Ultimately, individuals will always disagree on the best ways to maintain healthy lifestyles. Whether cleanses are a part of those efforts or not remains a matter of personal preference. Regardless, at the start of the year and at the end of a discussion on cleanses, it seems worthwhile to reiterate the words made famous by food writer Michael Pollan: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”


Samantha Heller and Dr. Alejandro Junger

Hosted by:

Amy Eddings


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Comments [15]


A friend recommended the Lady Soma Detox since it was using all natural ingredients and I was really impressed. I did the Detox in 7 days.

This was a lot easier than other cleanses mostly because you're not starving the whole time. I even had energy to work out.

I emailed the company about suggestions and a rep got back to me the same day with a lot of great suggestions. Really nice woman and nice company.

I felt really cleansed after the first 3 days and the "cleansing" part sort of slowed down after that, so doing just 3 days is probably enough for most people.

I lost 8 pounds by the 6th day and I've only gained back 1 pound. Great product!

Sep. 07 2013 10:11 AM
Ali from canada

Juice cleansing actually does the opposite if scaring the body. It provides it with an overload of MICRO nutrients which it is most likely lacking and allows the organs to fully cleanse themselves. Juice diet or cleanse is an effective way to clean the body of toxins, lose weight and revive the bodies ability to absorb food.
Eat clean and be aware of what you put into your body

Nov. 04 2012 11:23 PM
Amy Eddings

Hey, everyone, thank you for your comments. Our goal was to put together a piece on the controversial subject of detoxes. We presented Dr. Junger’s and Samantha Heller’s differing viewpoints, with the goal of showing both sides of the issue. I felt it was important for me to be honest and disclose that I had followed Dr. Junger’s tips for a cleanse. Clearly, from your remarks, it ended up coming across as an endorsement. I regret that, as I do not endorse Dr. Junger’s product

Jan. 26 2012 03:30 PM

Contrary to the above comments, I have to say, this segment really piqued my interest. I tuned in about 1/4 of the way into the story, and actually followed up by listening to the ramainder online. I found the subject matter entirely relevant "to cleanse or not to cleanse?" The writer, in the allocated time span was merely pointing out what could be the two ends of the Cleanse spectrum. The Master Cleanse offers a 10 day liquid diet, Dr. Junger's plan happenesto involve the use of a well thought out food plan. Thank you for looking at the subject. After wanting to do it for a while, I am on a cleanse now.

Jan. 24 2012 04:33 PM
BR from Brooklyn

This was one of the most unbalanced pieces I have heard on NPR in a long time. It was an infomercial. The personal tie in with the host ("in my experience with your cleanse," etc) was unreal. It is one thing for an interviewer to be interested in cleanses generally and then seek out any other cleanse system purveyors to discuss. How about actually just speaking with a holistic practitioner or another nutritionist with a different view rather than someone selling it? For heavens' sake. I was embarrassed and I will not be sending money to NPR if I hear an infomercial again.

Jan. 22 2012 08:19 PM
G from NYC from NY, NY

If you scan Dr Junger's book, Clean. You'll get lots of your questions answered. The cleanse is a jump start to an overall healthier life. A friend of mine works with him at Lenox Hill Hospital and says he is the real deal. Based on the recommendation, I met Dr Junger where he practices at the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in NYC and his practices have made an enormous improvement on my health. So, even if you disagree with the initial impression, look deeper into what he advises and you might change your views.

Jan. 22 2012 11:04 AM

I agree with all the previous comments that this was a shoddy, unscientific piece of "journalism."

The thing that irked me the most was that Dr. Junger was allowed to respond to Ms. Heller and make disgusting comments like: "To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. So a dietary specialist, or a dietician, would talk and see only the benefits of the diet shift itself."

Setting aside the fact that this kind of petty ad hominem is better left to daytime talk shows, or worse, I just wonder to what extent Ms. Heller would have been able to tee off on the substance of Dr. Junger's "explanation" of his cleanse. “Work harmoniously and efficiently,” “restores your body’s natural ability to heal itself,” “tired...bloated...puffy,” “retaining so
much mucus and water”? I can't believe I heard this dreck on WNYC.

Jan. 21 2012 02:30 PM
fkuiii from NYC

It is piling on to agree with virtually all the previous comments that I have read, but I was so astonished by the shoddiness of the program that I cannot restrain myself. To present a product, especially a controversial health care one, by showcasing its seller, then have the moderator endorse it ("positive experience," didn't push the supplements, etc.) is remarkably bad journalism or even entertainment. One comment compared it to Fox. I disagree. I have never seen Fox this bad (maybe I should watch more). It was more like the shopping channel, but without the great nail jobs.

Jan. 21 2012 02:18 PM
Chaiist from Passaic, NJ

Unlike some of the people who commented on this segment, I was not surprised to hear that the host was currently doing a cleanse. I do feel that Public Radio has gradually and subtly become more commercial without airing commercials per se. What really surprised ME was that the cleanse proponent was a cardiologist. On the other hand, I was quite pleased that the "opposing side" was represented by a dietitian. Health fads and quackeries have probably been around as long as human beings have existed. The best one can do is to continually and calmly give voice to Reason.

Jan. 21 2012 11:36 AM
Michele Jacobson from New Jersey/Vermont

As a nutritionist I listened with interest to the story on cleansing and was extremely satisfied with the opposing dietician's viewpoint. I was also surprised to hear that Ms. Eddings had been on this cleanse. What I was not prepared for was to see that the points of view posted here are all in accord with each other as far as regarding "the cleanse" as quackery -- what a relief! Sometimes all I seem to hear is "What do you think of a cleanse?" ... the answer is "Not much." People are so desperate for a quick fix when the answer is wholesome eating on a long term basis.

Michele Jacobson, C.C.N.

Jan. 20 2012 10:49 PM

Sense about Science on the great “detox” scam:

Jan. 20 2012 08:07 PM
spacemanaki from Brooklyn

I was extremely disappointed to hear this segment on WNYC. It's downright irresponsible that you gave airtime to Dr Junger, who is selling a product and making claims that are not backed by peer reviewed studies. When science based reporting is under assault by the likes of Fox news, I expect much, much better from WNYC.

I'll be canceling my monthly sustainer subscription.

Jan. 20 2012 08:03 PM
Drmack from New York

This article falls outside the acceptable norms of journalism as it uses only n of 1 experience, testimonial and fails to draw on believable expertise. The issue of cleansing is an empirical one, which can only legitimately be addressed with data and credible theory. The relevant theory would have to do with changing or disrupting the microbiome of the GI tract. Relevant data would include controlled studies concerning well being, specific symptom reduction, toxicity and the like. Instead, Dr. Junger makes unsubstantiated, self serving claims concerning the most common symptoms in the US population. In general, such broad claims are characteristic of marketeers and quacks and not of scientific practitioners.

Jan. 20 2012 08:01 PM
emjayay from Brooklyn

Dr. Junger offered no scientific evidence whatsover for his program. One clue is his claim about "retaining mucus". What does that mean? You have hay fever or what? You have lymph in your tissues? What do you want to be, a raisin or what? Want to know why people are "puffy"? Too much salt. I bet his program has little or no salt. Hence, depuffied.

He offered no scientific evidence because there is none. It's New Agey hocus pocus. You should have had another doctor as the opposing guest. And the interviewer should not be someone who felt they had a "positive experience" on his program. She did not challenge him seriously on anything. She offered no objective evidence of any benefit. It was another case of "One expert says the earth is flat. One says the earth is round. I feel good about it being flat myself."

Very, very poor journalism. Worse than worthless.

Jan. 20 2012 06:01 PM
Blanca from Manhattan

I am quite surprised as well as disappointed to hear a segment that had a personal connection to the moderator. I have nothing against cleanses or the two doctors mentioned,but I found it the worst kind of news, or reportage I have heard on WNYC in a long time. It was as tasteless as many cleanses have been written to be. Ew. Really? Aren' t there topics out there about food right now that are far more interesting and valid than giving a doctor the opportunity to pitch his wares. Poor taste, Amy, poor taste indeed.

Jan. 20 2012 05:55 PM

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About Last Chance Foods

Last Chance Foods covers produce that’s about to go out of season, gives you a heads up on what’s still available at the farmers market and tells you how to keep it fresh through the winter.


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