Should I do a detox diet?

So you hear about them all the time… cleanses or detox diets. Anything from consuming only water and teas, to juicing, to taking special supplements. Many detox programs claim to “clean out” or “reset” your system, or jump start weight loss. But is it really necessary to detox? Is it safe? Is it effective?

The answer is NO, NO, and NO!!!

So what will a so called liquid “detox” diet do for you? Well for one, it will make you ruthlessly “hangry”, because you aren’t eating any solid foods that contain protein, fiber, and fat that actually satisfy you. The chances are good that you might lose weight fast while on a “detox”, because you are essentially starving yourself.  If depleted of carbohydrate (which holds on to water in the body), a good majority of that weight loss will come from water losses. Also, inadequate protein intake over time will eventually lead to the breakdown of skeletal muscles for protein to be used for various functions of the body.  But lean muscle is not the weight we want to lose, right? And as a survival mechanism,  your metabolism will also slow down. So then when you finally eat solid food again, all that weight will just come back and maybe then some. It’s kinda like when you get a stomach bug and can’t eat. Most people don’t maintain weight loss after they recover from the stomach flu, right?

And then don’t even get me started on any supplements claiming to “detox” or “cleanse.” Supplements fall into that grey area that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have to approve or regulate, so there is a BIG question of safety and purity with many of these supplements, especially if not voluntarily tested by an outside agency such as United States Pharmacopeia (look for USP stamp on the label) or Consumer Lab. One major organ in our body, the liver, processes medications, supplements, and other substances we consume by acting as a filter to keep toxic chemicals from entering our bloodstream. So a supplement, especially an unsafe one, could just be putting added stress on that vital organ.

And the bottom line is… There is NO SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH to back DETOX DIETS or CLEANSES as methods that work.

In fact, these liquid or starvation diets will likely do the opposite of detoxifying your body. The lack of fiber on a liquid diet may lead to constipation and essentially, the inability to remove waste from the digestive tract. On top of that, synthetic chemical or herbal supplements may just be adding, rather than taking away, those harmful toxins to your body.

So what does work?

Well it’s simple… Our bodies naturally do a good job at removing toxins from our system…

  • the lungs remove toxins through breathing
  • the kidneys filter our blood and remove toxins through urine
  • the liver filters the blood coming from the digestive tract, and detoxifies chemicals.
  • the digestive tract removes waste when we poop… and it’s important that we poop regularly so that we eliminate toxic chemicals from the body before they can do harm.

So I get it… you ate and drank too much over a holiday, a long weekend, or while on vacation, and you feel like you need to “reset” yourself. You feel like you need to cut out all the junk!

Well, that’s all you gotta do! What I  recommend for a “detox” plan is NOT a restrictive, liquid or juice diet, or one that requires a sketchy supplement. It boils down to real, whole foods that provide our bodies  with nutrients that help support the various functions of our organs and tissues. Here’s what I recommend…

  • Focus on consuming a lot and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Include dark greens such as spinach or kale, some cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage or brussel sprouts),   and a variety of fiber-rich fruits such as berries, apples, oranges, etc. Aim for atleast 5 servings of vegetables and fruits daily.  Half of most meals should be made up of veggies and fruit, as well as snacks.
  • Include more whole grains and fiber-rich starches such as beans, whole wheat or rye bread, whole wheat pasta, quinoa, brown rice, oatmeal and high fiber cereals.
  • In place of fatty or processed meats, focus on fresh lean meats like fish, skinless chicken breast or turkey, and lean beef or wild game, along with other fresh protein choices such as eggs.
  • Include atleast a couple meatless meals per week using plant-based proteins such as beans, soybeans/edamame, tofu, raw nuts or natural nut butters.
  • Hydrate like crazy! Fluid will help remove waste and toxins from your system, both through urine and your digestive tract. Stick with mostly plain water, or for flavor, add some fresh fruit such as lemon, lime, berries, or cucumber.  A good rule of thumb is to aim for atleast half your body weight in fluid ounces, or check your urine color. Very light to almost clear urine indicates adequate hydration. Most healthy adults should be consuming atleast 2-3 Liters or about 8-12 cups (64-96 fluid oz) of water daily.
  • Consume a natural source of probiotic daily such as yogurt with “live and active cultures,” kefir, soft cheese such as gouda, unpasteurized sauerkraut, or kimchi. Probiotics make up the good bacteria in our guts that support digestive regularity.
  • And of course… Exercise… sweat it out! Nothing detoxifies the body (and brain) better than a good sweat sesh! Moderate intensity cardio exercise (atleast brisk walking, running, biking, elliptical, or rowing machine, etc.) for 150 minutes/week (30 minutes 5 days/week) is the goal to shoot for.

And then it may be a good idea to back off or eliminate these for awhile…

  • Alcohol- no one enjoys a good glass of wine more than me.  BUT, alcohol can affect sleep quality, physical energy, mental wellbeing, and lower inhibitions (like giving in to those late night chip cravings).  If I  notice I’ve been a bit overindulgent lately, I’ll try to cut the wine out for a couple weeks… which, let’s be real, may translate to limiting myself to 1 glass on the weekends 😉 … but that’s ok!
  • Foods and beverages with added sugars such as soda and other sweetened beverages, candy, desserts, sweetened cereals, etc. But lets be real again… I’ll definitely enjoy a small piece of dark chocolate or two when I’m craving something sweet. Otherwise, I’m the guilty one who will scarf down all the cookies and brownies I can get my hands on at the next party (if I’ve deprived myself for too long).
  • Refined carbohydrates such as chips, cookies, white breads, bagels, crackers and pastas.
  • Deep fried foods such as fried chicken, french fries or onion rings, donuts, etc.
  • Processed foods such as canned or boxed meals, fast food, and many boxed or packaged snacks that contained a long list of ingredients.

So the next time you feel like you need to “detox”, try out this more sensible approach, and let  us know how it goes!



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