If you’ve read any magazines or blogs related to health and fitness, you’ll most likely have heard the word ‘detox’ thrown around a lot. There are numerous types of detox diets out there and they vary a lot depending on what food groups you have to eliminate for a ‘cleanse’.
The general idea of a detox diet is to ‘cleanse’ the body and flush out toxins by consuming certain types of food and drink (e.g. juice detoxes, raw fruit detoxes, etc.) and eliminating other food groups that supposedly flood your body with waste products or toxins (e.g. gluten, dairy, alcohol, etc.).
Detox diets are generally to be done for a short period of time and involves some sort of fasting. This and eliminating popular food groups is what makes them restrictive and challenging. Some more extreme detox diets only allow people to consume water for several days.
Detox dieting is a modern-day trend in the dieting and fitness world. Whether its purported health claims are backed by evidence or not, there seems to be a lot of hype around detox diets, especially among young women.
This is thanks to mainstream fitness magazines for women as well as celebrities popularizing detox diets. Beyonce for example, followed the ‘Master Cleanse’ diet to get in shape for 2006’s Dreamgirls, helping her drop nearly 20 pounds.
And, as usual, the media was all over the story and it was published in almost every fitness magazine aimed at women. If you google the words ”celebrity detox diets”, you can be guaranteed that Beyonce’s would be in the top results.
The Master Cleanse diet, like most detox diets, is highly restrictive. Dieters are required to give up solid foods for 10 days in favour of a lemonade-drink made from lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper.
However, there was quite a bit of backlash over the diet, with dieticians questioning its benefits and the dangers of encouraging such restrictive diets among women. Beyonce herself later stated that she regretted the diet and how she gorged on a box of delicious donuts just after finishing the diet.
So, are detox diets really that beneficial if they encourage binge eating that completely undoes all the supposed health benefits of detox diets?
Detox diets are aimed at doing a variety of things, such as:
- Aiding your liver with eliminating toxins from the body
- Aiding your kidneys with removing waste products from the body
- Improving blood circulation
- Supplying your body with essential micronutrients
- Aiding weight loss
In a nutshell, detox diets are supposed to ‘spring clean’ your body, providing you a kind of clean slate to kickstart a healthier diet later on.
What a typical detox diet may look like
The first night starts off with a green salad. The following morning, you consume an assortment of fruit juices for hydration and to flush out toxins quickly. You will be consuming a beverage every couple of hours to fend off hunger.
Dinner could be a very light soup with plenty of vegetables. For example, miso soup with sea vegetables. In addition to healthy juices, some detox diets also recommend consuming laxatives like tea and probiotics to aid smooth digestion.
- Weight loss
Although detox diets aren’t a good way to lose weight on a long-term basis, they can be ok if you want to fit into a dress or outfit in a few days. Most detox diets are very low in calories, with some offering as little as 700 calories per day. So, it’s not surprising that you will lose a few pounds.
Detox diets such as water-fasting and juice cleanses can be a great way to restore hydration in the body. Most people underestimate how much fluid or water they consume, so with detox diets you will likely be consuming more than enough water and fluids.
- Helping kidneys remove toxins
The cells in your body constantly release waste products into your bloodstream as a result of protein metabolism. These waste products are water soluble, so, to transport them efficiently to your kidneys, you need to be well hydrated. Poor hydration can slow down the process of eliminating waste by your kidneys and you will notice urine being produced in lower quantities, will be darker in colour and have a stronger odour. Because detox diets force you to keep yourself hydrated at all times, they can help your kidneys remove toxins more efficiently.
Evidence of Benefits
There is some, but very little evidence of detox diets working to provide the benefits claimed. Jack Goldstein DPM, talks in his book Triumph over Disease about how water fasting and a vegetarian diet helped him beat ulcerative colitis (a condition that causes irritation or inflammation in the large intestine).
Jack had studied urine, faeces, sweat, and tongue scrapings from his own body. He discovered that they are different while undergoing a detox diet and that dangerous toxins like DDT can be removed with the diet.
DDT is an insecticide that was commonly used in agriculture and is extremely difficult to break down, often building up along the food chain. DDT may be ingested by humans when consuming things like fish. DDT becomes more concentrated as you move further up the food chain.
Detox diets can be a great solution if you want to lose a couple of pounds temporarily. Although detox diets can also help you keep yourself hydrated better, there is no reason why you can’t stick to a normal healthy diet and get the same benefits by increasing your water intake.
However, they are extremely restrictive, both in terms of calories and nutrition because you’re cutting out some vital food groups with essential nutrients. It is also important to note that extreme fasting diets with low calorie consumption can mess with your metabolism.
When you consume such few calories, your metabolism can slow down because your body will try to conserve as many calories as possible.
And once you start to eat normally again, it will be harder to lose body fat because your body tries to cling to every calorie now.
When trying detox diets, it is also important to consult your physician beforehand, to check if detox diets are compatible with any health conditions you may have, such as diabetes.