We all know someone who just got off their latest juice cleanse or detox program. Whether you've tried one yourself or are considering doing one, the big question is simple: Are detox diets actually good for you and do they have good results?
Detox has become a buzzword in the media. You see it on social media, on TV, and your friends will use the terms, even some "trainers" will push these fads. Despite a lack of scientific support, "detoxifying" diets have taken some new forms to include certain foods, special juices, "detox teas," colonics, and supplements. Some promote fasting as part of the cleanse/detox, but not all. The one thing they all have in common to remove and clean your body of toxins.
But what the heck are "toxins" anyways?
Toxins, are by definition, small molecules, peptides, or proteins capable of causing disease on contact with body tissues. They range greatly in their severity. For instance, a bee sting is a toxin.
Almost everything we encounter in a toxin, however. And some of them are actually really good for us. In small amounts, many toxins can be processed easily through our body's natural process and benefit us.
Vitamin A: Over-consuming Vitamin A can lead to headaches, drowsiness, and anorexia. However, it's vital for the health on your vision.
Vitamin B: If you get too much Vitamin B, you'll decrease the function of your liver and brain, but in normal amounts, it helps us convert food into energy (super important).
Phytochemicals: These are found naturally in plants, and can be toxic to the liver, kidney, and intestines, However, normal amounts of phytochemical are celebrated for their anti-cancer and health promoting abilities.
Glucosinolates: These are found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and boy chop. They're high in sulfur-containing chemicals and have been shown to hyperthyroidism. IN reasonable amounts, they are extremely healthy for you and promote health.
Sugar: Too much sugar can becomes toxic as it increases sugar and triglycerides present in the blood stream. However, sugar is an important form of energy in our body.
Alcohol: Heavy drinking can lead to a variety of health issues (read more here), but generally can be enjoyed daily without negative repercussions.
Even if you're eating a pretty healthy diet, you're likely getting some of these (and other) toxins introduced to your system. But here's the thing - our body was designed to "cleanse" itself. Some of our detoxification organs include our digestive tract, kidneys, skin, lungs, liver, lymphatic system, and respiratory system. These systems break down toxins and eliminate them from our body through excretion, sweat, and breathing. So why does anyone need to detox further?
One of the common reasons is that people don't feel their lifestyle is as balanced and healthy as they would like it to be. This could be due to medication, lack of sleep, using chemicals on their skin, not getting enough physical activity, overconsumption of alcohol, smoking, eating poorly, etc. They're not wrong. These factors can lead to not only a higher level of toxins in the body, but a decreased ability to eliminate toxins naturally and higher risk for disease.
The detox concept if that you can give the body a break. Let it relax. Give it a fresh start. But this logic ignores an important resolution: The best way to "detox" your body is to ramp up your natural detoxification systems and take good care or them for the long-term.
Many detox diets and cleanses actually do the opposite of this. According to Dr. Alan Logan, “Fasting and low protein diets are counter-productive because our main detox organ, the liver, requires amino acids from protein (e.g. glycine, cysteine, glutamine) in order to support detoxification pathways. Since the assault of man-made chemicals in food, water and our environment never lets up, we need daily detoxification, not some sort of spring cleaning with harsh remedies once per year.”
He goes on to say: “Since many of our toxins find themselves in the gastrointestinal tract, a good daily intake of fiber can help bind them up for elimination. Probiotics, live beneficial bacteria such as that found in yogurt, can also — day in and day out — help to transform toxic compounds in the gut and prevent their absorption.”
Now, don't get me wrong... Not everyone ding detoxes is in it for grand health benefits. They just want to lose weight, and in particular body fat. Sorry to break it to you, detoxing to lose body fat does not work.
Let's say that even if you do detox yourself of all the negative toxins in your body, it doesn't facilitate fat loss. Many people will experience a drop in weight, but it's because they are empty. The body is able to loss water weight, carbohydrate stores, and intestinal bulk in short periods of time. You'll see it come back a few hours as the cleanse ends, because your body can't stay empty forever.
Not all concepts of a detox diet are bad. I'm going to do due diligence in saying that detoxes may actually encourage you to eat more nutritious foods, such as lemon juice, green tea, more fruits and vegetables - and all of these things are good for you. However, doing this every day of the year instead of 3 days of the year would benefit you a lot more.
Now come some negatives of detox diets:
- They're inconvenient. We have busy lives and not eating anything except your juice cleanse for three days might make for some stressful days. Whether it's convenient to put a supplement in water for your cleanse, or you're required to juice 15 pounds of vegetables, it's going to throw you out of your normal routine.
- They're low in energy. Most detoxes are low in calories. Many people argue that doing cleanses and detoxes is just a way to starve yourself and have justification for it. With lower energy needs being met, people experience feeling colder, feeling sluggish, slow, and digestion takes longer.
- They swing the pendulum too far. Many people look towards a detox as a way to find moderation after binging too hard on bad food. But is this really moderation or are you starving yourself now and probably going to relapse back to eating poorly once your detox is done because you're starving?
- This leads to the next point of bad food relationships and potentially eating disorders. By creating restrictions and deprivation, you might binge the day before your cleanse and/or afterwards. The result is that you're never able to find the middle ground, learn to prepare real food and meals that are nutritious for you, and you're always all-in or all-out.
- Some detoxes actually contain toxins. If a detox contains things like celery and beets, those vegetables contain nitrates. Nitrates which promote vasodilation. Dilated blood vessel can lead to bad headaches/migraines. Now you have toxins in your system that you didn't have before and a killer headache.
- They can slow down your digestive system and GI tract. When juice cleanses contain very little fiber, it negatively effects your intestines. Fiber works as a street sweeper to keep our intestines cleaned out and without good GI tract health, we won't be able to absorb nutrients as well.
- They can cause electrolyte imbalances. When you eat lots of vegetables/juices and very little salt, your body has to work double time to balance your electrolytes. This can create problems both while you're on the detox, as well as once you start eating normally. It's a well-documented phenomenon called refeeding syndrome.
You can make the judgement call here on whether the risks of detoxes are worth the rewards. Putting this type of stress on your body can be dangerous and it's important to notice the warning signs early and seek help if needed. The best way to create a nutrition plan that practices moderation is to first learn your weakness and what you're succeptible to, then create a process around changing that way of thinking to prepare healthy meals, eat lots of whole foods, and support your body in performing its' natural detoxification process for the rest of your life, not just a day or two.