What does celery juice do for you? Why this diet and wellness fad is mostly wishful thinking

Celery is a perfectly fine vegetable. But there’s no evidence to suggest that its leafy stalks are a panacea for all that ails you.
Illustration of a magician with a glass of celery juice.
Miracle in a glass? Not so fast.Jamie Coe / for NBC News
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By Lisa R. Young, nutritionist and author

Despite, apparently, its color and taste, celery juice is the latest in a series of “miracle ingredients” — those solitary foods promoted as a health cure-all and a sure way to lose weight. This particular craze requires drinking a tall glass of fresh celery juice first thing every morning on an empty stomach. Thanks to an abundance of online claims about the benefits, people are dusting off their juicers in droves. Even grocers are being impacted, as reports surface of stores in Canada and Australia scrambling to keep the vegetable in stock.

Celery juice has taken over morning routines in Hollywood and across the nation. But is drinking it every day smart? Diet fads and miracle ingredients are hard to sustain. More than anything, they are distractions and based on wishful thinking of a quick fix — a fast way to lose pounds and cure all your health ailments without lifting more than your juicer.

Diet fads and miracle ingredients are hard to sustain. More than anything, they are distractions and based on wishful thinking of a quick fix.

Celery is just the latest example of this wellness wishful thinking. Primarily inspired by author and “medical medium” Anthony William, celery juice promises pretty much every wellness benefit you could desire. William and his followers claim that celery juice reduces inflammation, improves gut health, expedites weight loss and clears up acne, among many other things. William, who is neither a doctor nor a researcher, bases many of his claims not on science but on information he’s received from a spiritual entity.

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Don’t get me wrong. I have no gripe against celery — or spiritual entities, for that matter. In solid form, celery is a mere 14 calories a cup and contains 1.6 g of fiber. For this reason, it is many a dieters’ “go-to” snack. It’s great with a smear of peanut butter or hummus. It’s also healthy, containing antioxidant properties and an array of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, C, K, folate, and potassium and lots of water, so it’s also very hydrating. It’s readily available in grocery stores (at least it used to be) and, pound for pound, costs less than many other vegetables.

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In other words, celery is a perfectly fine vegetable. But it’s not necessarily better than any other vegetables, all of which contain a mixture of different nutrients and water. There’s certainly no evidence to suggest that celery is a panacea for all that ails you. It’s even possible that by overemphasizing one green vegetable in your diet, you’re missing out on the health benefits of others. Or worse, you think yourself virtuous for drinking the juice and allow yourself to eat whatever junk food you want the rest of the day, erasing any health benefits entirely.

As a nutritionist, I’m always looking for the evidence. Traditionally, individual vegetables and juices are not often studied. Limited research has linked celery with improving conditions such as gastritis, hypertension and more. But the studies are sometimes conducted short-term and on lab animals. And they don’t use celery juice but variants of the vegetable, such as celery leaves, celery seeds, or celery extract (concentrated celery), making it easy to jump to conclusions but hard to effectively extrapolate the results.

Which leads me to my next concern, which is, what don’t we know about celery?

When people eat celery, they usually only consume a finite amount. Even hardcore dieters can only crunch on so many celery sticks a day. When juicing, we easily consume an entire stalk of celery in one sitting (one stalk produces about 12-16 ounces of juice). We don’t have evidence stating that celery consumed in large amounts is not unhealthy. The possibility exists, for instance, that some people may be sensitive to consuming large amounts of celery day after day. It’s even possible that it could interfere with medications (grapefruit and grapefruit juice, for example, are known to interfere with a laundry list of medications, including statins and antihistamines).

Another drawback of putting all our wellness eggs in one basket is that we oversimplify nutrition and fail to look at the whole picture. The rule of thumb is to consume vegetables in all the colors of the rainbow and more. Color in vegetables is about more than aesthetics. It’s about getting a variety of vitamins and minerals. Each color is associated with different nutrients. If you fill up on green but ignore the reds, yellows, and purples, you’re missing out.

I’m not here to pick on celery juice. My battle is really with diet fads that promote miracle ingredients.

Drinking celery juice first thing in the morning might make you feel really good. It offers vitamins, minerals and hydration. It may also be replacing the Mountain Dew or sugary cinnamon caramel roll you used to have on a regular basis and raising your awareness about what you’re putting in your body, which is a good thing.

So although chewing celery is generally better than drinking it (in solid form, it contains more fiber and the act of chewing helps us feel more full), I’m not here to pick on celery juice. My battle is really with diet fads that promote miracle ingredients. It’s the snake-oil cure, and it’s as old as time.

The best person to intuit what your body needs is you. Drinking celery juice on occasion because it sounds good to you is perfectly fine. It’s healthy and probably harmless. Drinking celery juice every single morning because someone who has neither credentials nor proof claims it’s going to rock your world might be a bit misguided.

If you’re on the current celery juice bandwagon and enjoy the morning routine, keep the above-mentioned cautionary advice in mind. Most important, take a moment to recall the results of the last wellness trend you followed and keep your expectations to a minimum.

True, sustainable, long-lasting wellness is best approached by following methods that have withstood the test of time: by eating a variety of mostly whole foods in reasonable portions, exercising, drinking lots of water, as well as enjoying the moment and your dining companions.