The Dish on Detox Diets

A common question I get from friends is regarding my opinion on detox diets. With Hollywood stars prompting detox diets I think it’s important to pass on some important information regarding these diets.

What is a cleanse diet?

Cleanse diets or Detox diets (short for detoxification) are marketed as diets that remove environmental and dietary toxins from our bodies. They range in what they require you to do but are usually only used for a short period of time. The names “cleanse” and “detox” can be used interchangeably.

Do we need to “detox” our bodies?

Our bodies have a natural process of neutralizing and eliminating any toxins that may enter through stool or urine excretion. A body that is lacking in nutrients may not be as efficient at this. If we follow a healthy diet filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and moderate amounts of fat we are providing our body with the fuels it needs to function and therefore would have nothing to cleanse. While most American’s don’t get the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables each day I still don’t think a quick-fix “detox” diet is beneficial. Detox diets lack many nutrients and adequate calories and protein for energy and can be dangerous.  A recent study by American researchers also concluded that detox diets do no more than the body’s own natural system to get rid of toxins. They concluded that most modern books and detox kits serve up “empty promises”.

What are the benefits and drawbacks?

 I’ll start out by saying that I am not a supporter of people doing the extreme “detox” diets although some people who have done them report improved energy, regular bowel movements and improved digestion (this is likely from changing their diet to have less excess fat and calories and not from a special “detox” going on internally).  That being said the best way you can cleanse your body is to follow a balanced diet. The same one doctors and dietitians have been recommending for years.  Avoid sugar-filled beverages, processed foods and sweets and focusing on staying hydrated (from water), getting all 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, choosing whole grains, beans and lean proteins and not over consuming calories. This would allow our bodies to have more energy. If you are on a “detox” diet that still allows you to consume a variety of foods, get all your nutrients and eat enough calories it may be beneficial to help you change bad eating habits. I do have some friends that cut out meat, processed foods and sweets for a few days each year and consider that their “detox.” Yes, in that case when you are eating real food and enough calories but cutting back on fat it’s safe. Most of the “detox” diets that are marketed online and television use juice concoctions or other items limiting essential vitamins and minerals and substituting supplements with expensive price tags. Remember, nutrients are always better from the real food and not a pill!
As I’ve began to explain above there are many drawbacks to “detox” diets. They usually lack key vitamins and minerals in addition to calories and protein. While weight loss may occur while doing these diets it rarely stays off once people return to their normal diet (since no lifestyle changes were made). If you are doing the diet because you are a person who eats fast food, junk food or candy daily, following a detox diet for a few days just to go back to your regular eating habits seems hypocritical. Also, they can be very dangerous if done for extended period of time or for people who need adequate nutrients for growth such as children, teenagers, pregnant women or breastfeeding women. Lastly, most of the pills, teas and juices that are sold with a label saying they “detox” our bodies have no scientific foundation to support their claims.

Tips for jump starting a diet without a “detox” diet

The most important thing to remember about a diet is that it should be about the long-term changes. You should work on making healthy diet changes you can stick with and not changes that will only last a few weeks.
  • Start one step at a time. An easy jump start would be to focus on hydration.  Change to water or another calorie-free beverage and aim for 8 cups a day. Next, find the time of day when you tend to have the least healthy food choices and try to make them healthier. I don’t recommend people saying “I’m never going to eat (fill in the blank) again,” as this just makes us want to have the forbidden food even more. Diet is about moderation.
  • I also tell my clients to make positive goals. Say “I will make sure my breakfast contains whole grains” instead of saying “I won’t eat white toast or pop tarts for breakfast.”
  • Another tip that is backed up by research is to track your daily intake. Keeping a food record of what you eat either online or on paper will help open your awareness to your diet.
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