One of the more popular trends in the health and fitness industry today is the “detox diet”, sometimes referred to as a “cleanse”.
Depending on who you ask you are likely to get extremely polarizing viewpoints, making detox diets out to either be the best thing known to man-kind, or a tool of pure-evil.
Like most things in life, the answer probably lies somewhere in-between…
What is a Detox Diet?
It is important to note that a detox is relative. One individual’s every day diet may be considered a detox for another person, or more “toxic” to yet another.
Typically, detox diets consist primarily of fruit, vegetables, natural juices, and water, and aim to eliminate “toxins” from your body. Sometimes the detox diet will also recommend various herbs or supplements, and a colon cleansing to clear out the intestinal tract.
Do Detox Diets Work?
For most of us, the liver and kidneys are more than capable of removing toxins from the body without the help of a specific detoxification diet or cleanse.
Even the use of the word “toxin” is met with a lot of criticism. Most of what we put into our body can be considered toxic at the right dose.
Having a multivitamin or fish oil supplement every day is generally a healthy behavior, however having 5 multivitamins or fish oil supplements each day could be toxic.
Even something as essential as WATER, when consumed in excess, can lead to lethal toxicity known as hyponatremia.
The point I am trying to make is that we ingest “toxins” every day with absolute safety. It’s the DOSE that makes a substance toxic, not the substance itself.
With all of that said, there are certain foods that can help your liver, kidneys, and GI tract function more effectively. Things like vegetables, fruit, and fermented or cultured foods (yogurt, kimchi, greek olives, miso etc.) can all help ensure your body functions efficiently, improve gut health, and decrease systemic inflammation.
Detox Diets and Weight Loss
Many people embark on a detox diet with the hopes of losing weight. This is not a safe or appropriate use of the diet and is really where a lot of the controversy stems from to begin with.
Will you lose weight on these diets? Probably! However, nearly all of what you lose will be in the form of water, carbohydrate reserves, and “bulk” from the GI tract… This is all weight that will come right back when you inevitably go back to eating like normal.
There are a number of other downfalls to the detox diet including…
- Promotion of ”all-or-nothing” thinking, which is the root of many peoples dietary problems to begin with. Moderation is important; detox diets do not promote moderation.
- They can be quite time consuming and expensive.
- The extremely low calorie nature of many of these detox diets may lead to a reduction of your metabolic rate, which can lead to weight regain, and yo-yo dieting.
- Low protein intake could lead to loss of lean body mass, which can further reduce metabolic rate, and lead to other health problems.
- Swings in blood sugar due to high levels of sugary fruit juices. This can be particularly dangerous for people with diabetes.
- GI distress. Detox diets tend to be very low in fiber, which helps the GI tract function properly.
- Misdirection of time and energy that could be used to work on larger nutritional issues.
Take Home Message
Detox diets do get some things right. Most people could certainly stand to eat less processed foods, and increase their intake of fruits, and vegetables. If undergoing a short term detox makes you feel better emotionally, spiritually, or simply helps decrease your stress regarding food choices, then by all means, give it a go. Just be aware of some of the potential negative consequences listed above, and try to ensure the diet is not super low calorie, has a consistent protein component, and is short in duration.
With that said, finding ways to include more natural foods in your day to day life, in a manner that is sustainable long term, will be 100 times more beneficial than any weekend long cleanse.
Depending on an individual’s medical history, environment, genetics, diet and a multitude of other complex variables, there may be very rare instances where more specific nutritional interventions are needed to help improve health. This would typically involve blood tests, food allergy testing, and in general be a lot more complex than going to Dr Oz’s website and printing off the most recent juice cleanse 😉 .