Every day, we food-info-interested folks are bombarded by the latest food trends and off-the-wall fad diets. Many times, it’s easy to recognize unverified claims and walk away (or more accurately, close the tab or continue scrolling), but sometimes there’s an offbeat practice that just keeps popping up everywhere. The recent trend du jour is drinking large amounts of celery juice. How did a crisp, crunchy and (admittedly) often overlooked vegetable become the latest and greatest in liquid #healthy clickbait? And do any of the claims in the comments live up to reality? Let’s take a look.
First of all, celery juice?
Yep, you read that right. We’re talking about juicing again. Getting fruits and vegetables in drinkable form is sometimes viewed as a quick and easy way to take in vitamins and minerals while getting some hydration at the same time. Celery is mostly water, so it’s a very hydrating vegetable, and one stalk provides about 15% of our daily vitamin K needs in addition to some electrolytes, vitamin A and vitamin C. One large stalk also provides about a gram of fiber, a nutrient important for optimal digestion, among other things. But the problem with juicing is that it often removes fiber, leaving a liquid that provides some vitamins and minerals but without the feeling of fullness you’d get from eating a whole fruit or vegetable. Think about it this way: For most people, it would be next to impossible (or at the very least, uncomfortable) to eat a full head of celery in one sitting. In this case, celery juice packs the liquid from that amount of produce into one 16-ounce bottle.
But there must be some redeeming health benefits, right?
Well … not really. If you look through scientific literature, evidence of health benefits specific to celery—as a whole food, not a specific compound derived from celery—is very slim in randomized controlled trials, which are considered to be the gold standard in research. Celery in stalk form is often lumped in with other vegetables into one broad category, and it seems as though there just isn’t much interest in teasing out its independent, specific health effects. Extracts from celery seed have shown to be somewhat helpful for anti-arthritic and antimicrobial purposes—but mostly in animal studies. And evidence of health benefits from celery juice is almost nonexistent. Let’s walk through a few examples:
One of the most commonly reported benefits of drinking celery juice is lowering inflammation. And yet, there’s no evidence to support celery juice’s ability to do so. Another commonly reported benefit is celery juice’s role in supporting digestion, but again, there isn’t any evidence to support a beneficial effect in that process.
Cancer prevention is another common claim with no merit—not to mention an extremely dangerous statement that preys on the anxieties of people who either are or believe they are at risk for a major medical condition. Studies show that diets rich in fruits and vegetables are associated with reduced risk of certain cancers, but there is no research specific to celery consumption and cancer risk. One flavonoid found in celery, called apigenin, has shown some chemopreventive effects in cell-based research. However, these results haven’t been demonstrated in human randomized controlled trials.
Celery (we’re talking about the full-stalk, intact vegetable) may be helpful for weight loss as part of an overall healthy diet. Its fiber content helps to keep us full and it’s a crunchy, low-calorie snack. However, there’s no evidence to support celery juice’s ability to help with weight loss or provide any discernible health benefit—for a few different reasons. First, it’s devoid of fiber. And second, liquid calories may not provide us with the same feelings of fullness as solid foods do, so a person could end up eating more an hour or two later to satisfy their hunger (although this concept is admittedly still debated in the nutrition community). And if you’ve heard that celery is a “negative-calorie” food, well … the research isn’t there to support that claim, either.
There is one place where celery juice might redeem itself, and that’s in the prevention of dehydration. Considering that a 16-ounce serving of celery juice contains a full head of celery, it does provide more water than a typical serving of the intact vegetable would provide. But do you know where you can get just as much hydration, for way cheaper and with a less bitter taste? Plain old water.
You’re really not a big fan of this trend, are you?
At this point, it should be clear that aside from providing hydration and a few vitamins and minerals, there are very few benefits that come with consuming this liquefied vegetable. Most of the claims of celery juice’s effects on health are anecdotal—they rely on one person’s experience after drinking it. This is a problematic source, since health benefits are often multi-faceted. If a person has made the decision to start drinking celery juice, they may have made other changes as well—like eating better overall, going to the gym or starting to pay attention to what and how they eat (even if it’s subconsciously). All of these different changes can add up to improvements in physical and emotional well being that are undoubtedly great. But the changes can’t and shouldn’t be ascribed solely to celery juice.
So what should I do?
We propose something relatively simple and not at all revolutionary: drink water and eat more vegetables—non-liquefied ones! Water is an easier, less expensive alternative to celery juice. Adding fruits and herbs to plain water or drinking non-caloric, sparkling or flavored water can alleviate the boredom that many of us experience with trying to get enough fluids. Including celery as part of a salad or stir fry will provide more fiber and a more satisfying eating experience. And the next time you’re tempted by a beautifully lit photo of a glass of green juice, think twice about its health halo!