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.

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Filed under Fruits and Vegetables, Supplements, Weight loss

Are Carbs The Enemy?

Of all the major nutrients, carbohydrates have gotten a pretty bad rap. Personally, I don’t think it’s justified.

Carbohydrates are the core energy source for our body and brain and can be converted into amino acids to serve as the building blocks for protein. Certain sources of carbs are also chock-full of nutritious vitamins, minerals and fiber.

Grains, milk, beans, fruit and starchy vegetables, like potatoes and corn, all contribute to our daily carbohydrate intake. In fact, the U.S. government suggests we consume 45-65% of our daily calories from this nutrient group. So why the notoriety?

Not all carbs are created equal. There’s a big difference (nutritionally-speaking) between “refined” and “complex” carbohydrates. Refined carbs include chips, cake, candy, cereal, sweetened beverages (e.g., juice, lemonade, soda) and bread and pasta made with white flour. These foods are literally stripped of nutrients during processing. Due to their lack of fiber, they don’t fill us up and are digested quickly, causing our blood sugar to spike. Refined carbs contain few vitamins and minerals and likely end up replacing healthier foods in our diet. Eating too many of these foods can also lead to high triglyceride levels.

On the other hand, many complex carbohydrates are packed with nutrients. Examples include brown and wild rice, whole wheat pasta and bread, oatmeal, quinoa, bulgur and barley. Such whole grains are naturally low in fat and added sugars and supply iron, folate, zinc, magnesium, B-vitamins and fiber – a nutritional powerhouse. Fiber cannot be digested by the human body and therefore, this complex carb passes through our system without adding calories! Fiber can help lower cholesterol, regulate bowel function, reduce spikes in blood sugar, protect against colon cancer and help us lose weight by warding off hunger! The fiber in whole fruit is what makes it a much better choice than juice, which is high in sugar and calories and not a dieter’s friend.

When it comes to weight loss, the low-carb Atkins diet certainly gets a lot of press. However, weight loss occurs when you consume fewer total calories than your body needs, whether you’re cutting back on fat, protein or carbs. A sustainable strategy for weight loss should reduce calories from all nutrient groups, so that you do not feel deprived. Reduce your intake of sugary beverages, desserts and foods made with refined flour, like white bread and pasta and be sure to include nutrient-dense and fiber-packed sources of complex carbs in your meal plan!

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Filed under Dairy, Food Groups, Fruits and Vegetables, Grains, Heart Healthy Choices, Weight loss

Redbook Cites Megan Madden, MS, RD in Feature Article

Got the munchies? Take a look at Redbook Magazine’s “25 Snacks for 150 Calories – or Less!”  Three of the 25 tips are mine (#3, 24 and 25), but all are diet-friendly!

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Filed under Meal Tips, Media, Weight loss

Get into Gear for the New Year

I’m no fortune teller, but I’m 99% certain that next month, there will be a huge spike in the number of Internet searches associated with weight loss and dieting. Actually, Google Trends tells me this happens every January. The phenomenon is probably related to those of us hoping to shed the pounds we gained this holiday season by creating a New Year’s resolution to eat healthier and exercise more.

Yet shortly after we ring in 2012, most of us currently yearning for a fresh start will fall off the resolution bandwagon and resort back to our more indulgent, less active ways. I find that success is usually hindered by vague or extreme resolutions that are too difficult to carry out.

If you’re looking to create a resolution that’s built to last, try the tips I’ve outlined below:

1. Be specific. If you claim you’ll “exercise more often,” you’re not likely to stick to that plan. Instead, identify the type of exercise you’ll do and how often. How about this one? “I will walk for 20 minutes during my lunch break four days per week.”

2. Make it measurable. For example, “I will snack on one piece of fresh fruit daily.” This technique will help you judge if you’re following through on your commitment.

3. Set a realistic goal. Instead of saying “I want to lose 50 pounds,” aim for one pound per week and take it one step at a time. Losing just 5-10% of body weight can greatly improve your health. And, this amount can usually be achieved and maintained.

4. Put it on paper. By writing down your resolution, you’re turning a desire into a concrete goal. You may also want to note why you have this goal, which will help keep you motivated. If you want to lose weight, is it to improve the sleep apnea you’re suffering from? Or to be able to keep up with your energetic grandchildren?

5. Lastly, stay positive. Focus on things you can do, rather than things you shouldn’t. For example, instead of saying “I will not buy breakfast sandwiches on my way to work,” pledge to prepare your own breakfast four mornings per week. And if you slip up, go easy on yourself. Refocus by reviewing why you’re committed to your resolution.

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Filed under Food Groups, Fruits and Vegetables, Meal Tips, Weight loss

Gobble, gobble…Could turkey be making us sleepy?

Technically, Thanksgiving commemorates the day when pilgrims and Native Americans joined together to celebrate the autumn harvest. At my house though, Thanksgiving becomes an excuse to indulge in a great meal, watch professional football and catch some extra Zzz’s on the couch.

The excessive sleepiness that dominates this holiday has often been tied to a nutrient in turkey called tryptophan (trip-toe-fan). Even though our late-afternoon nap typically occurs right after the Thanksgiving feast, it’s probably not the turkey that’s making us drowsy. It’s more likely the carbohydrate-rich stuffing and mashed potatoes we just gobbled down.

Tryptophan is an amino acid that’s found in many protein-rich foods, like turkey. But if it was the turkey that was making us tired, we’d be nodding off every time we ate chicken, beef or certain kinds of fish too, since these foods contain similar amounts of this amino acid.

Now let’s talk science. Tryptophan is a precursor to a chemical substance called serotonin that acts on the nervous system. When tryptophan enters the brain, it’s converted to serotonin, which can make us feel calm and relaxed in large enough amounts. However, it’s actually a meal high in carbs that initiates this process. Large portions of carbohydrates cause a spike in insulin levels in our body, which makes tryptophan more available to the brain for conversion into sleep-inducing serotonin. Therefore, it’s likely the simultaneous consumption of delicious, high-carb side dishes, rather than the turkey that’s causing our drowsiness.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!

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Filed under Food Groups, Meal Tips

Megan Madden, MS, RD quoted on SHAPE.com

Check out Megan’s comments on avocados, whole grains, olive oil, nuts, plant sterols & salmon as featured on Shape.com’s “20 Artery-Cleansing Foods You Should Be Eating”.  Here’s to a healthy heart!

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Filed under Fats & Oils, Food Groups, Grains, Heart Healthy Choices, Media, Medical Conditions

You Snooze, You Lose. But is caffeine a healthy alternative?

For many of us, the afternoon slump at the office usually triggers a coffee run to the nearest Starbucks. While it’s true that a caffeinated “cup of joe” can perk you up, you may want to rethink how many you’re consuming in one day.

A standard 12-ounce Starbucks coffee may contain as much as 260 milligrams (mg) of caffeine. That’s nearly the amount of caffeine I would recommend you consume in an entire day! I don’t want to pick on coffee though. Tea, soda and energy drinks can also pack a caffeinated punch and there are hidden sources of caffeine, such as chocolate, coffee-flavored ice cream and over the counter cold medicine.

How much is too much? Moderate caffeine consumption – about 300 mg per day for adults – appears relatively safe. Overdoing it on the java, however, can cause temporary undesirable effects, depending on your usual intake and tolerance. Common symptoms may include headaches, trembling, raised heart rate, a spike in blood pressure and increased fluid losses via urine. Consuming caffeine within six hours of bedtime may also interfere with getting a good night’s sleep.

During pregnancy, caffeine crosses the placental barrier, but a baby has only a limited ability to metabolize it. Pregnant women should consult their doctor on how much caffeine is appropriate to consume.

Some studies have indicated that caffeine may be detrimental to bone health, but the research is inconclusive. Ordinary intakes of caffeine (say, the amount in two small cups of coffee), may increase calcium losses in the body, but this may occur only when calcium consumption is low. Studies have also shown that high intakes of coffee, in particular, may inhibit iron and zinc absorption, but it’s not all simply due to caffeine.

Is it best to nix the caffeine all together? Not necessarily. It’s perfectly healthy to indulge in two small cups of coffee per day, as long as you’re not also slugging back sodas and energy drinks. This should provide enough caffeine to give you the energy boost you’re looking for. Plus, there is limited evidence that coffee and tea may actually reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, dementia and certain types of cancer.

Use the table below to tally how much caffeine you’re consuming and aim for less than 300 mg per day!

Beverage (serving size)

Approx. Caffeine Content

Coffee, generic, brewed (12 oz)

140 mg

Starbucks coffee, brewed (12 oz)

260 mg

McDonalds coffee, brewed (12 oz)

75 mg

Green Tea (8 oz)

30 mg

Black Tea (8 oz)

38 mg

Lipton Brisk Lemon Iced Tea (12 oz)

7 mg

Coca-Cola Classic (12 oz)

35 mg

Mountain Dew (12 oz)

54 mg

Pepsi Max (12 oz)

69 mg

Club soda, 7-Up, Sprite (12 oz)

0 mg

Red Bull energy drink (8 oz)

80 mg

Monster energy drink (8 oz)

80 mg

5-Hour Energy (2 oz)

140 mg

**In addition to caffeine content, you should always be aware of the liquid calories you’re consuming, so that beverages do not contribute to unwanted weight gain.

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