Detox Diets: Beneficial or Bogus?

de·tox  The metabolic process by which the body rids itself of poisonous substances. A “detox diet” (or “cleanse”) usually promises to aid this natural process by suggesting you (1) steer clear of foods that contain toxins, and (2) consume more of certain nutrients like antioxidants, fiber and herbal extracts.

A typical detox promotes the exclusive consumption of raw fruits and vegetables and liquid meals. Most cleanses suggest drinking large amounts of water, juice or a special concoction, such as one made with lemon, maple syrup and cayenne pepper.

Detox diets will often avoid caffeine, sugar and alcohol. All of us could benefit from cutting back in these areas, but most cleanses are so limiting that your diet becomes deficient in protein and many essential vitamins and minerals. Some cleanses require strict adherence to the plan for a few days, while others want you to stick with it for an entire month! Consuming an extremely restricted diet long-term is not necessary and may even be harmful to your health. Many detox plans also encourage drinking only liquids to “give the body a rest.” However, this claim is scientifically unfounded, since the digestive system is meant to be put to work!

Can a detox diet help you lose weight? Many plans claim to kick start a sluggish metabolism by helping to purify the body. Our bodies, however, are designed to eliminate harmful substances without any help. The kidneys help excrete waste products, while the liver filters blood coming from the digestive tract and metabolizes drugs, alcohol and environmental toxins. There is no evidence that proves a detox diet helps your organs do this more efficiently. Restricting your diet to raw produce or low-calorie beverage blends will help you shed pounds quickly, but this does not mean it’s advisable. Depriving yourself on a month-long cleanse is not a sustainable strategy for weight loss and you’ll likely regain the pounds as soon as you resume your usual eating habits.

In his 2010 book, “Clean,” Dr. Alejandro Junger outlines a three week detox program that allows you to nosh on more than just vegetables. His “pesto baked salmon” recipe sounds appetizing, but you’re still only allowed one solid-food meal per day! In addition to eliminating red meat, alcohol and sugar, Junger also suggests you exclude from your diet many nutrient-rich foods, including dairy, wheat and soy. Lastly, Junger’s website advertises for Clean Program supplements, which are taken throughout the day to “cover daily health basics.” Any detox that requires a cocktail of supplements is likely unbalanced and should not be sustained for more than a few days. Despite allowing you to eat certain fresh, solid foods, even this detox appears too restrictive. Any weight lost will be temporary unless Junger’s more nutritionally sound tenets, like daily exercise and mindful snacking, can be adopted and sustained.


Filed under Fruits and Vegetables, Supplements, Weight loss

4 responses to “Detox Diets: Beneficial or Bogus?

  1. Right after I posted about detox diets, the director of nutrition for WebMD also tackled the topic. Check out her article here: Take note of her explanation on why it’s easy to regain weight lost on these types of fasts. For starters, much of the weight lost during a short-term cleanse is “water weight,” not actual body mass. Further, rapid weight loss causes your metabolism to slow down to conserve calories, which can actually make it easier to pack on the pounds in the future.

  2. John

    Hi Megan,

    Thanks for your article. I wonder what you think of the scientific work done by the Institute for Functional Medicine on the science of detoxification. Part of that process is removing major allergens and adding back in nutrient dense food. The Clean Program does not consist of eating only fruits and vegetables and the removal of dairy, wheat, and soy occurs because they are a common allergen for many people. If removing dairy, gluten and soy sounds restrictive to you, Im wondering what kind of diet you recommend that is not restrictive (merely removing overtly processed foods?)?

    The food categories that remain are: fruits, veggies, greens, wild fish, non-gluten grains, nuts and seeds, avocados, coconuts, grass-fed meats.

    One last question: You suggest that our bodies are naturally doing the detox work all the time. Do you believe there is a time with the proliferation of chemicals in the environment when this toxic load gets to be too much for our basic elimination channels and a detox program may be of benefit?

    Wellness Coach/ Clean Program

  3. Hi John,
    Thanks for your comments. I personally believe that it is too restrictive to avoid all dairy, eggs, soy and gluten products simply because of their allergen potential. Removing these foods for 3-4 weeks also removes many important vitamins and minerals from your diet. I am uncomfortable with the duration of The Clean Program’s elimination phase and with the mix of supplements that followers need to consume. When necessary, I recommend temporary elimination diets not for detoxification purposes, but to determine if one or two specific foods, at most, are causing a noticeable adverse reaction or true allergic response. Suspected allergies can then be confirmed by immunological testing and food challenges, so that someone does not avoid entire food groups unnecessarily.

    I believe our organs and immune system are equipped to handle the typical load of toxins that enters our body through food or the environment. It is my opinion that a detox diet is not necessary to facilitate this process. That said, for healthy, non-pregnant individuals who are interested in a cleanse, The Clean Program offers several benefits: (1) it allows for more than fruit and vegetable smoothies all day, every day, (2) it allows for the reintroduction of eliminated foods during the third phase of the diet, and (3) it may spur individuals to follow a more natural, less processed way of eating upon completion of the program.

    Take care,
    Megan Madden, MS, RD, CDN

  4. Pingback: Best Detox Diet Tips | Healthy Diet Report

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