Hot water and lemon? That’s so last year. Drinking celery juice on an empty stomach first thing in the morning has become the thing to do, fueled by Instagram accounts like the Medical Medium Instagram account, which has nearly a million followers. Instagram’s healtherati — think Healthy With Nedi and Melissa Wood-Tepperberg — have been touting the benefits of the green elixir on the regular. But does it live up to the hype? Yes and no.
What are the benefits?
There’s a reason celery sticks are stereotyped as diet food — they’re high in health benefits and low in calories. “Celery has anti-inflammatory properties that can assist in the reduction of [acid-reflux disease], IBS, eczema and acne,” says Nikki Ostrower, nutritionist and founder of NAO Wellness. “It’s also high in vitamin K, which promotes bone and heart health and, due to celery’s abundance of potassium and sodium as well as its high water content, it assists with hydration, replacing the body’s lost electrolytes.”
Celery contains bioactive flavonoids that help fight and prevent cancer cells and compounds called coumarins, which enhance white blood cells thereby increasing immunity, says Ostrower. Lastly, according to Dr. Charles Passler, nutrition and lifestyle guru to supermodels like Bella Hadid and Adriana Lima, celery normalizes the production of digestive juices and enzymes so you bloat less and it tends to reduce water weight (retention) because it’s a natural diuretic.
But do you really need to juice it?
If you follow the Instagram hype, you know that the running recommendation is to drink celery juice first thing in the morning on an empty stomach and to not mix it with anything else as that would interfere with the absorption of critical compounds. Ostrower explains that the thinking behind this is that while green/mixed juices provide an abundance of nutrients, they function differently than pure celery.
“Due to the mix of different fruits/vegetables, different nutrient interactions would occur and the same benefits would not be found,” said Ostrower. “The amount of celery consumed in the mixes would most likely be much less than the pure celery juice, therefore not gaining all the possible positive outcomes.”
When people add other produce to celery juice it’s usually to sweeten the flavor, Passler notes. “This increases your fructose intake and increases your risk of dehydration and makes you put on pounds instead of taking them off.” In his clinical experience with patients, celery juice is best utilized by the body and its digestive benefits are heightened when consumed on its own first thing in the morning.
While plenty of people swear that celery juice has helped their digestion and it’s clearly a perfectly healthy thing to do, Tanya Zuckerbrot, MS, RD, best-selling author and founder of The F-Factor Diet, is quick to point out that there is no scientific evidence to prove that drinking it first thing is necessary or beneficial. “Drinking it on an empty stomach is said to increase hydrochloric acid, which can aid in digestion, however, there are no intervention studies in humans to prove this.”
In fact, blending may be more beneficial than juicing because it keeps the antioxidants intact and also preserves the fiber of the plant. “Fiber helps to slow digestion, which keeps you fuller longer and actually gives your body more time to absorb nutrients,” says Zuckerbrot. Keeping the fiber can also help you maintain a health gut. “Fiber is also a natural detoxifier and acts as ‘food’ for gut bacteria, so decreasing fiber intake with juicing can actually starve gut bacteria and increase total body inflammation,” she adds.
Curious to try it out for yourself?
The sweet spot to start on a celery juice kick seems to be around 16 ounces. Some people prefer to cut the leaves off before juicing because they can make the juice a little bitter, but Passler recommends utilizing them if possible. “They have a different nutrient profile than the stalks. They are rich in vitamins A and C as well as potassium and dietary sulfur needed for healthy joints.”
When can you expect to see results?
“That depends on what benefits you’re looking for,” says Passler. “If it’s improved digestive function, then as little as 10 days. For weight loss, as little as 30 days, but to see changes in cholesterol or blood pressure it might take as much as six months.”
He’s quick to add, however, that celery juice is not a panacea. “There are extravagant claims all over the internet about it curing hypothyroidism, erectile dysfunction and even cancer. I think celery juice definitely has its place among other ‘superfoods,’ but I’d rather stick to claims backed by published human clinical trials. When people ask me, ‘What’s better? Celery juice, green juice or water with lemon?’ I’ll ask them, ‘What do you want to get out of consuming it?’ They each contain different nutritional benefits that can help a wide variety of different health challenges.”
One note of caution … celery juice isn’t for everyone!
“While a high level of water in celery is good news for people who want to flush toxins, this can put additional strain on the kidneys, which can be dangerous if you already have a preexisting kidney condition,” says Ostrower. She also notes that unlike many vegetables, celery has a high allergenic potential for certain people and the reaction can be quite severe.
“It’s important to know which foods you are allergic to, but in concentrated doses, such as in celery juice, a reaction can still occur. If any swelling of the lips, tongue or throat occurs, seek medical attention and discontinue use of the juice.”
Also important: some of the antioxidants found in celery juice can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun. “While this photosensitivity does not occur in everyone, people with fair skin tend to experience this more often,” says Ostrower. “Celery is also not good for pregnant women as its seeds may cause contractions in the uterus.”
If these issues are of concern, she recommends a mixed green juice, which will provide the body with vitamins and minerals, but with a lower concentration of celery.