What are detox diets?
Detox (in short for detoxification) diets are diets that claim to cleanse your body of toxins and result in rapid weight loss. There are many different variations of these so called detox diets - Fruit and Vegetable detox, Flushing detox, Elimination detox, Organ detox, Vegan detox, Juice detox, Lactose detox - so on and so forth (I did not include all the different variations being marketed. You get the idea!).
These diets are based on the concept that our regular day-to-day activities like eating processed foods, smoking, drinking, pollution and other environmental factors result in accumulation of poisonous substances in the body. In theory, detox diets flush these toxins out of the system, allowing our body to function better and metabolism to soar, leading to weight loss and a better health. These diets are very low in calories; some based on just fruits and vegetables; other add some kind of supplements in the form of herbs to the basic diet.
Do they really work?
Well, yes and no. It is very controversial. Though they may sound very scientific in theory, there are no scientific studies that demonstrate healthful benefits from any particular detox diet. The beneficial claims being marketed are mostly based on individual testimonials.
Are there any concerns?
Personally, I am not a big fan of very low calorie diets. You are hungry all the time on low calorie diet, you are low on energy and may feel moody and grumpy. Low calorie diets could also result in low blood sugar (hypoglycemia - again not very good for your body especially for your brain, blood cells and muscle), fatigue, sometimes headaches and nausea. Fasting for a day or two may not be very dangerous. But prolonged fasting could have serious consequences including muscle loss. Fasting is not recommended for people with chronic disease like diabetes, pregnant women and children.
Our body has its own detox system in place - organs such as kidney, liver, intestines already play the role of removing toxins from our body. We do not need extreme fasting or juice based diets to detox our bodies. There are some easier things to do to help your body detox - eat natural fresh foods, try and avoid processed foods with chemicals and artificial ingredients. The ultimate aim is to opt for a healthier practical diet plan based on natural less processed foods that you can follow for a long term. A healthy diet includes about 1200-1500KCal/day and includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, healthy fats, protein sources like beans, lean meats and a lot of fluids - and of course regular physical activity.
From the July issue of AND (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) Magazine the following foods, when included regularly in you diet, naturally help your body detox.
- Fruits and vegetables: A diet high in fruit and vegetables contributes a wide range of phytochemicals, many of which promote detoxification enzymes.
- Cruciferous vegetables: Compounds in crucifers such as cabbage, broccoli, collards, kale and Brussels sprouts promote enzymes that regulate detoxification in the liver.
- Turmeric: Curcumin in turmeric has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and function as an antioxidant in animal studies.
- Green tea: Known for its antioxidant activity, it has been suggested that green tea’s bioactive components are polyphenols—especially catechins such as epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG.
- Water: The importance of adequate hydration for detoxification cannot be underestimated. Water facilitates urinary excretion and bowel motility, supports the lymphatic system and replenishes fluids lost through sweat.
- Fibrous foods: Soluble and insoluble fiber, as found in flax seeds, beans, oats and brown rice, can bind to toxins and bile and carry them out of the body through the stool. It can also minimize contact with harmful compounds, such as acrylamides from charred meat, by regulating transit time.
- Probiotics: Beneficial bacteria from probiotic supplements or fermented foods such as yogurt and lacto-fermented vegetables protect the intestines and may inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria, which produce ammonia and other toxic metabolites.
- Eggs, garlic and onion: Sulfur from these foods supports the body’s production of glutathione, an antioxidant sometimes called “the master detoxifier” because it is a critical nutrient co-factor in Phase I and II detoxification.
These foods, in addition to providing you with essential nutrients, help your body to detox in the most natural way. To quote Judy Simon MS,RD,CD,CHES, one my professors:
"I find that many people really don't understand what the scientific definition of detoxification means, but they often think a "detox diet" will rid them even anything unhealthy in their bodies. I am not aware of any research that supports juice type of detox diets to improve health but if one is trying to make positive changes in their diet by adding more whole fruits, vegetables and other whole foods they may certainly provide nutrients that will support their bodies natural detoxification pathways. I would definitely support and help a person eat whole foods based diet for improved health, disease prevention or management but I would probably never use the term "detox" since we know that these types of healthy foods will simply support our bodies to do the job they were designed to do!"
Srilekha Karunanithi of Kirkland is a Master's student in Nutritional Sciences at University of Washington who is training to become a Registered Dietitian. Her master’s program focuses on the influences of diet on health and how positive dietary changes help in the control and prevention of many diseases.