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The Truth About Detox Diets

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past thirty years, you’ve probably heard of the term “Detox Diet.” Infomercials and celebrities alike tout such benefits as weight loss, increased energy, improved cognition, and the ability to “reset” your metabolism. There are several cleanses on the market, lasting anywhere from one day to several weeks. One popular cleanse has you consuming nothing but laxative tea and a mixture of lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper, and water for 10 days. You couldn’t pay me enough to drink that! If you have even a basic understanding of your body’s physiology, the concept of the detox diet simply doesn’t make sense.

What Does "Detox" Actually Mean?

In the traditional sense, detoxification refers to a process of withdrawal from drugs or alcohol. In common terms, it refers to the fad diets, fasts, or procedures that claim to eliminate so-called “toxins” from the body. The truth is, your body is already a master at filtering out and getting rid of toxic substances. For example, the liver is in charge of breaking down and excreting harmful substances from the body, and the kidneys function as a filter for the blood. There is no accumulation of toxins in your liver or kidneys, so there is no reason to try to assist them by following a radical diet for a few days. There is no evidence to suggest that a special detox diet will make your body’s already incredible system act any better. In fact, it may cause you serious harm.

Is Detoxing Safe?

The longer and stricter the diet is, the more harm that will likely be caused. Cleanses and detox diets are typically very low in protein and calories. This can actually cause the body to try to conserve calories by slowing down your metabolism, and depriving your body of protein over a period of time may lead to malnutrition. Can you reset your metabolism with a detox diet? Absolutely not! There is no such thing as resetting your metabolism. That is simply another ridiculous claim from the marketers. Other common side effects are headaches, fatigue, and stomach pain; and be prepared for frequent trips to the bathroom. Over time, certain cleanses can lead to electrolyte imbalance, and herbal cleanses can lead to serious complications, such as liver toxicity. Still thinking it’s worth it to shed a few pounds?

What Do The Professionals Say About Detox Diets?

Sure, you might lose a pound or two, but you will likely gain it all back. There is absolutely no scientific evidence to support the claims of the detox diet. In fact, experts agree that such an extreme diet may cause serious harm to your body. Another downside to these diets is the implication that you should punish yourself for indulging: the perfect recipe for disordered eating. Instead of throwing your money down the toilet, focus on eating in moderation. Include more fruits and vegetables in your diet, add in some lean protein, low-fat dairies, and overall better nutrition. Make sure you are getting whole grains for fiber, and healthy fats like avocados, walnuts, and olive oil. If you are going to indulge, moderation is key. Don’t beat yourself up over it or try to cleanse your system with a ridiculous concoction of spicy sugar water.

Original post date: Sept. 2016. Revised: April, 2019.

Erica Jackson, MS, RD, LMNT, CNSC
Erica Jackson, MS, RD, LMNT, CNSC

Erica Jackson, MS, RD, LMNT, CNSC is a Registered Dietitian with CHI Health.

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