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If you're even marginally involved with holistic health paradigms (maybe you take the occasional bikram yoga class or buy organic produce at Whole Foods), you're probably familiar with juice fasting. Touted by believers as a panacea for a cornucopia of physical and mental ailments, decried by skeptics as a scam diet, juice fasts are as controversial as they are vitamin-C laden.

  The most notorious is Stanley Burroughs' Master Cleanse, which advocates consumption of a mix of lemon or lime juice, maple syrup, distilled water and cayenne pepper — a spicy, organic lemonade, in other words. However, juice fasting can include any number of fresh-squeezed organic juices. Proponents say the break from digestion gives the body more energy, which it can devote toward healing old ailments and ridding itself of accumulated toxins.

  "It seems like a lot of the claims (supporting juice fasting) were backed up by research that was being ignored by members of the medical community," says Aaron Nitzkin, an adjunct professor of linguistics and English at Tulane University who has gone on five fasts since 2002, ranging in length from eight to 28 days. "I experienced major healing — a joint problem I had resolved itself while I was on the fast." Krista Violet, who formerly owned Dixie Bee juice bar and now sells her organic juices at farmers markets and festivals, says dietary changes, including consumption of fresh juices, healed her psoriasis, eczema and digestive problems.

  Technically, the juice fast isn't really a fast, since the juice delivers enough caloric value to meet minimum daily values. However, dietitian Corey Walsh, founder and director of Real Life Nutritional Counseling, says she doesn't recommend juice fasting. "I am not one to promote fasting in any way," Walsh says. "I understand you are getting the calories, but for that time frame, if all you are getting is sugar, you're missing out on other important nutrients. I think it can very much negatively affect your metabolism."

  Walsh points out that any weight loss incurred while on the fast won't be sustained after its completion. "If you do end up losing weight from the process, it is going to be more muscle and water. You aren't going to be losing body fat." Nitzkin says he did lose some muscle mass during his long (21 days or more) fasts, but that for him and other juice fasters he knows, weight loss was never the goal.

  "You will lose weight, but that's not the reason to do it at all. It is the state of mind you experience. Once into a fast of 10 days, there is a state of calmness, clarity, energy and relaxation," Nitzkin says. "(Juice fasting) tends to clear up all kinds of emotional turmoil. It shows you your potential for feeling good."

  Walsh ascribes any good feelings to the fact that refined flours and processed foods are removed from the diet when juice fasting. "I wonder if that clarity is because all they are consuming is juice, or because they are taking processed foods out of their diets? I come from a place of eating fresh, whole, sufficient amounts of food, the simpler and fresher the better."

  There's no denying the healthy effects of the potent brew of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals in a fresh cup of juice. For sheer convenience and deliciousness, juice is hard to beat. Violet offers this recipe, "Succulent Sunrise," a juice blend she says is high in antioxidants, vitamins A, B and C, fiber and potassium.

  That being said, she advocates juice as a good way to get a lot of vitamins and minerals, especially for people who otherwise wouldn't consume the recommended five to seven daily servings of fruits and vegetables, have trouble digesting fruit or don't like its texture. "Juicing in general is very nutritious," Walsh says. "But it is not something I would recommend exclusively."

Succulent Sunrise

Serves one

• One carrot

• One apple

• One orange

• One pear

Wash all the fruit. Peel the orange, leaving the white pith on the fruit, remove seeds from the apple, and cut the top and tip off the carrot. Feed the fruit through your juicer, discard or compost the pulp and consume juice within 10 minutes, to maximize the amount of micronutrients and living enzymes.

If you don't have a juicer, follow the same steps, but put the fruit in a blender and puree. Strain through a layer of cheesecloth to separate juice from pulp.

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