Welcome to December - the month of indulgence and overload, followed immediately by the month of regret and renewal.

For many women, a detox and cleanse is just what the body ordered post holidays, with a growing number of people turning to juice cleanses to kick start their healthy habits.

“I consider juicing a gateway to good health,” said Leslie Graham, owner of 3:8 Juice and Eatery (www.38juice.com) in Milton. “It’s for the novice and experienced.  It slowly changes your taste buds to start craving healthy food.”

Her preferred method for someone new to juicing is a modified approach to a full juice cleanse. Start with three days of juice, soups and smoothies, followed by three days of juice only.

“If this is your first cleanse, this helps to reset your taste buds… [and allows] your body to slowly wean itself off processed sugar, caffeine, salt, and oil,” said Graham.

While juices can be made at home with a good juicer, a growing number of juice bars are opening across the nation to meet the growing demand for high quality juices.

Marina Verbeke recently opened the first Clean Juice location in Georgia (www.cleanjuice.com), located near Avalon in Alpharetta. The store focuses primarily on juices, alongside smoothies and bowls, with all items 100 percent certified organic by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“The main goal of a juice cleanse is to flood the body with vitamins and minerals, allowing the body to rid itself of toxin build-up from our usual foods and environment,” said Verbeke, who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina where the fast-growing company was founded.

If a juice adds something “unnatural”, said Verbeke, the full benefits of the juice are compromised.

“You want your cleanse to be all organic to avoid pesticides and chemicals from entering your body,” said Verbeke.

For optimal benefits from a juice cleanse, avoid conventional juices, and aim for fruits and vegetables that have been fresh-pressed, preferably cold-pressed.

Cold-pressed juice is the industry standard for extracting juice without the use of heat-fueled machines, which can destroy many enzymes and nutrients, like Vitamin C.

Verbeke said Clean Juice uses only a cold-press process, allowing nutrients to stay intact for up to a week.

Proponents of juice cleanses point to numerous health benefits, including weight loss, mental clarity, better sleep, and just a general shift to making better nutritional choices.

While the medical jury may still be out on proven benefits, anecdotal evidence is strong -- based on the growing number of consumers incorporating juicing into their lifestyles.

The fresh-pressed juice market tops $3 billion in sales annually, and has seen a nearly 60 percent growth in the past decade. Not surprisingly, Millennials drive the market in this industry, but the reach is expanding as more people make a healthier lifestyle their priority.

For Graham, juice cleanses led to weight loss, as well as the end of chronic health issues for both she and her husband.

“He was able to go off all of his medications for high blood pressure, gout, acid reflux medicine,” said Graham, who was considered “morbidly obese” before she began juicing.

As with any drastic diet or exercise change, women are advised to proceed with caution before embarking on a juice cleanse.

Karen Stein, a certified health coach and owner of Go Healthy with Karen (gohealthywithkaren.com), said juicing is an efficient way of delivering vitamins, minerals, and nutrients directly into the bloodstream.

However, “quality is king”, she noted.

“You want to make sure the produce being juiced is fresh, and [adheres] to the guidelines put out every year by the Environmental Working Group to address pesticides on produce,” she advised.

Otherwise, she noted, those pesticides will be absorbed directly into the body.

“For a woman looking to ‘clean out’ her body, I would stress a balanced nutritional program substituting whole healthy foods over packaged and processed foods, as much as possible,” said Stein.

With a good juicer you can make fresh juices at home, or opt for the convenience of a juice bar and plan on spending anywhere from $7 to $13 for a bottle of fresh pressed juice.

“Cleansing can be expensive because organic produce is more expensive. But keep in mind the cleanse is the cost of your entire food consumption,” said Verbeke. “And you really can't put a price on your health…it’s your most important asset to protect.”

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