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Detox Diets: Help or Harm?

by ADMIN on JULY 11, 2012

Almost every day I hear of a new Detox Diet or Cleanse: Master Cleanse, Beauty Detox Solution, Diuretic Diet, Fat Flush Diet, Hallelujah Diet, Inside Out Diet, Lemonade Diet, Mucusless Diet (ew?), Swiss Secret, Weight Loss Cure. It seems like just about every celebrity from Beyonce to Oprah have sworn by them.

In fact, one of the most common questions I’m asked is: “Well, I want to get rid of all these toxins in my body, which cleanse do you recommend?

My short answer is: None of them.

Want to live on cayenne pepper, maple syrup, lemon juice, and salt water for 14 days? Yeah, me neither. But countless people are turning to these cleanses as a way to lose weight quickly.

Do they work. Yeah, you’ll lose weight. But it’s all water weight. You’ll gain it back when you start eating ‘normally’ again. A very frustrating way to yo-yo diet.

What is a Detox Diet?

Fasting or consuming a specific array of foods, herbs, spices, or drinks (typically a pretty strange combination, at that) – while avoiding large groups of foods. Typically, the detox diets are very low in calories and remove many macronutrients (fat, protein, carbs) from the diet, as well as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

These diets typically last around 2 weeks and claim to have detoxifying effects on the whole body or different organs, such as the liver, colon, or gastrointestinal tract.

Cleansing/Detox Diets are not supported by science, have had no medical benefits demonstrated, and are based upon individual testimonials extolling the virtues (which are potentially false) of the product.

Help or Harm?

Mostly harm. Most of these diets add no nutritive value to your life. In reality, researchers from the Harvard School of Medicine have found that the majority of detox diets or cleanses may deplete the body of important electrolytes – and if people go on these diets frequently they may “run the risk of developing metabolic acidosis, a disruption of the body’s acid-base balance, which results in excessive acidity in the blood. Severe metabolic

acidosis can lead to coma and death.”


Although a short detox (a couple days) may not be terribly harmful, staying on a detox diet for longer may lead to compromised health. The first symptoms of these types of diets include impaired bowel function, muscle cramps, headaches, irritability, and dizziness. That’s your body saying it’s had enough!

Best Practice

The only “Detox Diet” I support is straight up fruits and vegetables with lean protein (fish, tofu, beans).

Fruits and veggies are nature’s multivitamin, providing the body with the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants it needs to function well, maintain health, and help prevent disease.

When you cut out:

  • Most refined carbohydrates: Candy, pastries, ice cream, juice, sorbet, doughnuts, french fries, and exorbitant amounts of pasta and rice,

  • Trans fats: from processed and fried foods, and

  • Most saturated fats: From high fat animal products

… then you’ll probably start feeling better, more energized, and more ‘regular’ (if you know what I mean. *Wink wink*).

In general, the body is very good at naturally detoxifying its self. But fruits and vegetables help it along. In fact, cruciferous veggies – which includes broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, kale, and other asian hearty greens – actually have antioxidants that help stimulate and activate enzymes in the liver which work to detoxify the body.

Every color fruit and vegetable does something different for our body – so choose all different colors, the deeper the color, the more nutrients that food has!

**Before changing your diet, speak with your doctor or a Registered Dietitian to ensure the changes are compatible with your health and medications. Also, a more intense diet should not be done for an extended period of time (no longer than 3-5 days). Increasing fruits and vegetables is a healthy decision, however cutting out whole grains may be detrimental to your health, especially if your an active individual or an athlete.

Last Words

Diets have the word ‘Die’ in them… they don’t last!

Any diet that cuts out too many food groups is unbalanced and may be very difficult to sustain over the long run. Plus, nutrition is not a one-size-fits-all; what works for your friend or family member may not be right for you.

For the most success, find a healthy eating patter that is satisfying, energizes you, includes foods you love, and most importantly – one that you know you can continue to eat for a long, long time.

Aim for a lifestyle change, not a diet.

(Citation: Harvard Medical School HEALTH Beat 7/22/08)


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