As a dietitian, staying on top of the latest food and diet trends can feel like a whole job in itself. There are constantly new and increasingly bizarre diets, cleanses, and detox programs hitting the market. But do these crazes have scientifically-backed benefits? Or is it all a marketing ploy?
This leads me to the topic of today’s post – celery juice. Poor celery – left out for so many years as a superfood now seems to be making a comeback!
But the burning question is: do the potential benefits truly justify the time and money it costs to make? I’m all for drinking juice you enjoy once in a while. But I’m NOT so sure about NEEDING to drink celery juice each and every day for its miraculous health benefits. So we’re going to take a closer look at the claims people are making about celery juice, and if it’s good for gut health.
Health Claims of Celery Juice
The listed benefits of drinking celery juice are endless. The top claims we see include:
- Get rid of toxins!
- Cleanse your liver!
- Restore your gut and improve digestion!
- Reduce inflammation!
- Balance your body’s pH!
- Support weight loss!
- Hydrate your body on a “deep cellular level!” …WHAT?!
One of the hallmark claims of this magic drink is the benefit it has on digestive function. In fact, the creator of the celery juice movement, Anthony William, claims celery juice can “cure mystery illnesses” like IBS, constipation, acid reflux, celiac disease, and even diabetes (the list goes on).
Firstly, these are not “mystery illnesses.” There is very credible (and abundant) scientific evidence to show us that celiac disease and diabetes are real conditions with real causes. He implicates that we have literally just ‘made things up’ to explain conditions like IBS. While we’re still trying to fully understand the pathophysiology, there is a LOT of research looking at autoimmune conditions and functional gut disorders, with legitimate treatment options that don’t involve celery.
As I’m sure you can tell, I’m not a believer in celery juice as a universal health solution. Any single solution that offers a quick fix or replaces scientific evidence with jargon-y opinion is a GIANT red flag. SURE.
But are there any truths to these claims? In particular, how does celery juice impact the gut in both healthy populations as well as people with digestive disorders?
Celery Juice & Gut Health
The verdict – celery juice isn’t a complete hoax. There are indeed truths behind some of the claims listed above, but these truths tend to be stretched and taken out of context. Let’s set things straight by analyzing a couple key points:
1. Celery juice contains anti-inflammatory compounds that can help the gut
For starters, celery does contain antioxidants, phytochemicals and flavonoids that may help to reduce inflammation. Yahoo! But most vegetables and fruit also contain similar compounds, if not more. There isn’t anything particularly special about celery’s chemical makeup in comparison to simply eating a variety of vegetables.
For those with inflammatory digestive issues like colitis, Crohn’s, or diverticular disease, hearing about the anti-inflammatory “superpower” of celery juice can be appealing. And while celery juice contains flavonoids that may reduce inflammation, it is also lacking one key element to support digestion: fibre! It is better to consume fruits and vegetables in their whole form in order to meet daily fibre requirements, while still consuming a variety of anti-inflammatory compounds from whole foods.
While food is powerful, we often find that people give it FAR too much credit. The anti-inflammatory power of fruits and vegetables, while awesome, is not a match or substitute for life saving medicines that are used in autoimmune conditions, like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). While we believe nutrition can be a great ‘adjunct’ to therapy, there just isn’t evidence to support nutrition ‘curing’ these sorts of conditions.
2. Celery juice “flushes out” the digestive system and removes toxins.
Oh my, this one is full of easily misunderstood language. Yes, celery juice will “flush out” your bowels, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing! Anthony William describes on his blog that changes in bowel movements are normal after drinking celery juice and that loose stool is a sign of your body pushing out toxins from a “very toxic liver.” Ugh, talk about using pseudo-scientific jargon to make yourself sound credible!
Here’s the facts. Celery is high in mannitol, a carbohydrate found in some plants that is hard to digest and absorb. Mannitol pulls extra water into the bowels and therefore can make our stool looser and cause diarrhea, cramping, and urgency.
Now think about the portion. Two stalks of celery are considered high in mannitol and it takes an entire bunch of celery to make one large glass (16 oz) of celery juice. You do the math! 2+2 = spending the day on the toilet. For those with pre-existing gut conditions like IBS, this can worsen their already frustrating symptoms.
On the flip side, a patient with constipation might see relief from drinking celery juice because of its laxative properties – leading to symptom relief! So some people may in fact feel less bunged up with celery juice (though there are other ways to go about it, too).
This leads me to my next point about ‘toxins’ – experiencing bowel changes from celery juice is not a result of removing toxins from your digestive system. If you’re a human (I assume you are) your body already has an excellent detox system in place and does NOT need the help of this green juice (should it even be able to ‘help’, which it doesn’t). Why is it that we cannot trust our bodies? Think of it like breathing – you likely don’t think about ways you can “get more oxygen” because you probably trust that your body is going to do that for you!
When reading the literature on celery juice, there is one clear theme; there is no science to back up the majority of the claims behind this movement. On Anthony William’s website he has numerous posts about the potent healing properties of celery juice, but if you read closely you will see lots of language like “medical science and research are not yet aware…” and “although science has not discovered this yet…” Am I the only one who thinks this is super sketchy? Bottom line: he has no medical training. Taking advice from someone who ‘intuits’ his health information should be a GIANT red flag.
As registered dietitians, we have a science degree and additional training for our designation. We take pride in providing nutrition advice that is evidence-based and clinically proven. Therefore, celery juice will not be part of our recommendations anytime soon.
However: If you enjoy drinking celery juice go ahead and enjoy. Just treat it AS A JUICE. A once-in-a-while drink to enjoy, not a mandatory or lifesaving beverage.
I myself LOVE green juice. It’s a nice treat every now and again. I like the sweet and herbaceous flavours of the different fruit, vegetables, and herbs that are added. But, I know it’s not doing anything miraculous for my health, and DOESN’T replace my intake of whole fruits and veg. And, because of the sugar alcohols, it may help, OR hinder your IBS symptoms – so be aware of that too!
Instead of honing in on one single vegetable (or in this case, it’s juices), we should take a more diverse approach and choose a variety of fruits and vegetables in appropriate portions (ie. not an entire bunch of celery in one sitting). At the end of the day, there is no one food that will solve all our problems!
If you feel you have gut issues that could be improved with dietary changes, it is best to talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian who specializes in digestive health. Diets or cleanses that make such outlandish promises are generally too good to be true. In the end, they are very restrictive and ultimately harmful to our relationship with food and our bodies!