My friend Dr. Yoni Freedhoff is a respected medical doctor who I have personally watched toss back numerous alcoholic beverages and swear his head off.

But that’s in private. Public Yoni is a little more restrained, which is why he hit the shift key and mashed his fist into the numbers row when he wrote the blog Juice is NOT a F@*#$&g Fruit!

Me? I’d write “fucking” and throw in someone’s mom for good measure. And my friend is correct, because juice definitely is not a motherfucking fruit. I don’t give a shit if you add some “plus” or “+” or even a “plus+” to it. Still. Not. Fruit. Or vegetables, for that matter.

The Problem with Juice
To quote Yoni: “Juice is sugar water with vitamins.”

It has the same amount of sugar per volume as Coke, unless you’re drinking grape juice, in which case the amount of sugar doubles. Doubles! And to again quote Dr. Freedhoff: “Liquid calories don’t satiate, and they don’t pack the fibre and phytonutrients of actual fruit.”

So that’s a problem.

Another problem is that a lot of people think it’s healthy, and will choose juice instead of, you know, eating an actual piece of much healthier and more satisfying fruit. Again, all of this applies to vegetable juices as well.

Juice is not a replacement for eating fruits and vegetables, or even “the next best thing,” as the company Juice Plus+ proclaims. Yes, even if you give it a fancy name and trademark it followed by selling via a multi-level marketing pyramid, it’s still not good for you.

What Is Juice Plus+®?
The Google preview description for the home page says “Balanced Diet – Whole Food Based Nutrition.”

I’ll take “How much bullshit can I cram into one line for $800, Alex.”

Because life is like, busy, and stuff, you can’t get enough fruits and vegetables. So you need this hyper-processed and high-priced capsule that “adds the nutrition of 30 fruits, vegetables and grains to your diet.”

Thirty of them!

Except it probably doesn’t. Add the nutrition, I mean.

First off, Juice Plus+ isn’t even juice. It’s a pill. A fucking multivitamin with a mega marketing expense tacked on. The “orchard, garden, and vineyard blend capsules” are a whopping $71.25 a month.

I suppose the good part is that since it’s a pill it isn’t full or sugar the way actual juice is. I mean, the pills aren’t. The company does have other sugary products, however.

What Are the Benefits?
Let’s have a look at what the research says about the efficacy of multivitamins. Spoiler: Nothing much that’s positive:

  • December 2013 Annals of Internal Medicine: Multivitamin vs. placebo showed no difference in preventing dementia.
  • January 2009 Journal of the National Cancer Institute: Vitamins C, E, and beta carotene supplementations show no benefits for cancer prevention.
  • December 2013 Annals of Internal Medicine: Multivitamin vs. placebo showed no difference in preventing additional heart attack in patients who already had a heart attack.
  • June 2011 Family Practice: “No convincing evidence” that vitamin supplementation has any effect on prostate cancer.
  • September 2006 Annals of Internal Medicine: Lack of evidence to show that multivitamins prevent cancer or chronic disease.
  • May 2012 Journal of the National Cancer Institute: “several expert committees and organizations have concluded that there is little to no scientific evidence that supplements reduce cancer risk. To the contrary, there is now evidence that high doses of some supplements increase cancer risk.”

So any anecdotal claims of Juice Plus+ customers feeling better are just that: anecdotes. And the plural of “anecdote” is not “data.” I expect when you start dropping mega bucks on a vitamin there is an expectation that you will feel better, because you goddamn well better for that price. People don’t want to feel like they wasted money, and so will proudly proclaim its efficacy.

But what about their “Children’s Health Study”? A “survey of 150,000 parents which shows that children who take Juice Plus+ are

  • “Eating less fast food and more fruits and vegetables
  • “Drinking fewer soft drinks and more water
  • “Visiting the doctor less and attending school more”

So do these chewable vitamin gummies have amazing mind altering powers, or is it a case of mom and dad dropping a shit-ton of cash on overpriced supplements suddenly deciding to take it a step further and make other dietary changes for the whole family? Occam’s razor (the simple explanation is usually the correct one) dictates it would be the latter.

And let’s talk about fruit and vegetable intake for a moment. It doesn’t take the recommended 5 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables to reach our daily nutrient requirements. We get the nutrients we need with fewer than that. That high number is more about getting an adequate fiber intake and creating a balanced mix to one’s diet that in turn will reduce saturated fat and highly refined carbohydrate intake common in treat and convenience foods.

A pill, no matter how fancy the processing or how high the price, is not even close to being a replacement for a well-balanced, healthy diet. “Next best thing” my ass.

Can Juice Plus+ Help with Weight Loss?
Sure it can, if you’re okay with replacing actual food with a shake. Because it’s not just the pills they’re flogging. Juice Plus+ is big into the meal replacement shake business (which contain a fair amount of sugar that I mentioned earlier).

A few years back there was much ado in the media about the recent study of weight loss myths in the New England Journal of Medicine. One of the things the report examined was the use of meal replacement shakes.

Dr. Freedhoff commented on this saying that you need to sustain the same behaviors that lead to weight loss in order to sustain weight loss (which I agree with), and who wants to stay on meal replacements for life?

What’s more, an author for Forbes pointed out that a number of the study’s authors had strong financial ties to a meal replacement company.

Can shakes help you lose weight? Well, yes they can, but there is a big caveat to go along with that. It doesn’t matter what brand you look at, no weight loss shakes possess any miracle ingredients to boost metabolism or vaporize belly fat, even if the shake is all plus juice and shit. It is, more than anything else, a behavior modification tool in order to control total caloric intake.

And it’s a behavior modification method I’m amazed anyone can ever stick to for any length of time.

“Shakes for weight loss work by portion control,” Purdue University nutrition professor Richard Mattes told me. They create a set of rules. If you buy a “weight loss shake,” how it “works” is by getting you to follow certain rules to lower total daily caloric intake. There was the SlimFast commercial which used the line: “A shake for breakfast, a shake for lunch, then a sensible dinner.” One can of this SlimFast has 220 calories, so breakfast and lunch total only 440 calories. If by some miracle you’re not starving at dinner time and can stick to that “sensible dinner,” then yes, these simple rules can allow for a calorie-restricted diet that will lead to weight loss. Again, the shake has no magic fat-burning properties. It’s not that satiating and it sure isn’t as healthy as a balanced diet of actual food. If instead you ate a can of tuna fish (130 calories) and 310 calories of vegetables you’d be way better off and far less likely to feel like you were starving. It would also cost less.

You may be able to stick to a shake-as-meal-replacement plan for a while via white-knuckle starvation, but at some point your hunger will get the better of you, and then fast food drive-through here you come.

But it’s not just about them hyping up the vitamins or being yet another meal replacement.

The Multi-Level Market
Ever hear of the NSA? Well, not the NSA, but National Safety Associates. It’s a multi-billion-dollar multi-level marketing (MLM) company that got its start in the 70s selling home fire protection door-to-door.

They began selling Juice Plus+ in 1993 and it quickly became the company’s biggest hit.

MLMs allow people to make money not just from their own sales but from the sales of the people they recruit. Such business models prey on the most vulnerable in order to get them to both buy and resell their products. You’ve probably seen them promoted on social media with all sorts of annoying hastag fuckery, but beware calling out the bullshit, because a friend of mine recently did just that and was blocked on Facebook by a friend she’d had since childhood who decided she’d rather be a loyal seller of weight loss bullshit. But don’t worry, it’s not a cult or anything.

How much money can a Juice Plus+ reseller make. You may wish to read this link if you think anyone except the top 1% of the pyramid make a decent income.

And it’s this kind of marketing structure that results in high-pressure sales tactics, such as telling mom’s that it will cure their child’s cancer:

“She tried over the course of several weeks to get me to buy the stuff because it would not only ‘make my son’s hair grow back’ but also ‘eliminate the need for chemotherapy.’ She even told me my son’s oncologist ‘didn’t know what she was talking about and needed to do her research.’ … After about 5 times of politely refusing, I finally told her to go the hell.” – Jenny

And once you’re in, it’s hard to get out.

“Trying to break the Juice Plus monthly commitment was just as hard as you would expect. Lots of veiled questions about why I was no longer committed to my children’s health. I actually tried to break the contract around month 18 but it took about 6 months to get free.” – Mary

Since we’re on the topic of promotional activity, it’s worth noting that the Juice Plus+ social media numbers don’t add up. Their Facebook page has over 450,000 followers but has almost no interaction on it: sporadic likes on posts and very few comments. By comparison, my Facebook page has 1/10 the followers and my posts get hundreds (sometimes thousands) of likes and several dozen comments. But then again, I didn’t pay for any of my followers.

The Bullshit Claims
I asked people on my Facebook page about their experiences with Juice Plus+ and most of the comments were either negative or “meh.” Some of the more glowing independent comments were about how the shakes tasted better than other protein shakes on the market. Still, they complained about the high price. One woman said “I’ve been incredibly pleased with the changes in my face” from the capsules, which she continues to take. However, she also said the shakes tasted good but also gave her severe gastrointestinal issues and that she was unable to get her money back from the company when she complained.

In addition to this there were two glowing reviews.

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Juice Plus+ resolved anxiety, depression, PCOS, acne, heart disease, low energy, joint pain, headaches and hangovers. Sounds miraculous!

Except that in perusing the profiles of those two people I discovered that both of them are Juice Plus+ resellers. So, uh, yeah.

It just goes to show that testimonials are not the same thing as scientific evidence, even if those testimonials come from physicians who (I presume) stand to profit from the sale of Juice Plus+. Physicians such as Dr. David Katz, who unfortunately has developed a reputation for embracing unscientific alternative medicine treatments. In this video Dr. Katz states that by taking Juice Plus+ capsules “there seems to be an effect on people’s taste preferences. I hear routinely from people that when they use Juice Plus+, they start eating more fruits and vegetables.”

Again, Occam’s Razor. Which is more likely? That Juice Plus+ has some magical taste preference changing capabilities, or that when people start dropping a small fortune each month on hyped up multivitamins that it puts them in a mindset of making other healthier decisions about what they eat?

What about those research papers though?

Juice Plus+ has links to a number of studies on their website that supposedly endorse the taking of their products. It would take many more words added to this already long article to pick it all apart, but I don’t have to, because noted alternative medicine debunker Dr. Stephen Barrett has already done so. Read the sections on “The Scientific Veneer” and “The Research Veneer” in this link. The executive summary is that there is no evidence of cause and effect in these studies, the majority of the studies are sponsored by Juice Plus+, and while certain measurements of vitamin levels increase there is no evidence of health benefits and similar results have been shown to be achieved with far less expensive vitamin supplements. (Which, if you recall from the studies I cited earlier, aren’t shown to do bugger all to improve health.)

It’s also worth noting that several of the studies conducted on Juice Plus+ were co-authored by John Wise and Robert Morin. Wise was formerly Executive Vice-President of Research and Development for United Sciences of America, Inc. (USAI), another MLM that sold vitamins that was forced to shut down over their illegal claims that the supplements could prevent numerous diseases. Robert Morin also worked at USAI as a scientific advisor helping to develop the supplements. Wise later became an executive and a shareholder for Natural Alternatives International, which produced Juice Plus+ for NSA, accounting for a substantial part of their income.

What to Do Instead of Buying Juice Plus+
If it’s the nutrition you crave, eat some goddamn fruits and vegetables rather than pursuing the “Oh I spent all this money on an overpriced multivitamin to prompt me to eat better” kind of motivation. You want to spend some money on something worthwhile that will get you to eat better? Invest in some cooking classes and learn how to make a couple of vegetarian meals each week. Take some time to pack a fruit and vegetable heavy lunch for work. Do this, and you’ll get the micro and phytonutrients and all the fiber and it will help to fill you up so you can use these healthier foods to replace some of the highly processed crap food you’ve been feasting on.

And don’t fall for the meal replacement approach with the shakes and bars either. It’s not a sustainable approach to eating. For better advice on healthy, calorie-controlled eating strategies, read my Caloric Deficit Cheat Sheet.

Finally, if your physician diagnoses a specific deficiency then by all means take a quality supplement to accommodate for it. I expect it should cost far less than what you would pay for Juice Plus+

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James S. Fell is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada. He also interviews celebrities about their fitness stories for the Los Angeles Times, and is head fitness columnist for AskMen.com and a regular contributor to Men’s Health.

 

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