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  • Writer's pictureRachel Gargano

Detox Diets and Cleanses: Help or Harm?

Do detox diets and cleanses work?

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 has sworn by them.

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. And maybe some muscle mass too, depending on how long you do it. You’ll gain all the water weight back when you start eating ‘normally’ again. A very frustrating way to yo-yo diet.

What is a Detox Diet?

A detox diet's goal is to remove toxins from the body. It's said to accomplish this by having people fast or consume a specific array of supplements, foods, herbs, spices, or drinks – while avoiding large groups of foods.

Typically, 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 high-quality, well-controlled studies; have had no medical benefits demonstrated for the greater public; and are based upon individual testimonials extolling the 'virtues' of the product.

Are detox diets harmful?

Undoubtedly they can be.

Most of these diets add no nutritive value to your life. 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 of 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: What detox diet is recommended?

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

And this is not a dietary pattern I recommend using for all the time or for everyone.

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

  • Processed meats: Such as deli meat, bacon, sausage, ham, jerky

… then you’ll probably start feeling better and more energized.

And the more fruits and vegetables you include, the more 'regular' you'll become because... fiber!

The body detoxifies itself

In general, the body is very good at naturally detoxifying itself. But fruits and vegetables help it along.

In fact, cruciferous veggies – which include broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, kale, and other hearty greens – actually have antioxidants that help stimulate and activate enzymes in the liver that work to detoxify the body.

Every color fruit and vegetable does something different for our body and has a different variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants . 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 Nutritionist to ensure the changes are compatible with your health and medications. Also, a more intense diet should not be done for an extended period (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 you are an active individual or an athlete.

Bottom line

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 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 pattern that is satisfying, energizing, and 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.


  1. Harvard Health Publishing. Harvard Health Ad Watch: What's Being Cleansed in a Detox Diet? March 2020. Accessed 17 July 2024.

  2. Harvard Health Publishing. The Dubious Habit of Detox. May 2008. Accessed 17 July 2024.

  3. NIH National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health. Detoxes and Cleanses: What You Need to Know. September 2019. Accessed 17 July 2024


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