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The Promise

They're popular, but they aren't proven to do what they say they'll do: flush toxins out of your system. In fact, they may be risky and even backfire.

Still thinking about it? You should know this first.

What You Can Eat and What You Can't

That depends on the particular detox diet you're following. There are many of them. Some involve fasting, or just drinking liquids. Others allow some foods, like fruits and vegetables. They typically are short diets -- they're not a way of eating you can stick with in the long run.

Level of Effort: High

You'll be hungry and may feel weak. Whether or not a detox diet is safe depends on the plan and how long you stay on it.

Most people don’t feel good on low-calorie, nutrient-poor diets. Potential side effects include low energy, low blood sugar, muscle aches, fatigue, feeling dizzy or lightheaded, and nausea.

If the idea of detoxing appeals, you might try "clean" eating that focuses on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein -- basically, whole foods without a lot of processing. That's good for you and more likely to give you results that last, especially if you make exercise a habit.

Limitations: You're going to go without a lot of the foods you usually eat. Detox diets are typically very rigid and involve eating the same few things over and over.

Cooking and shopping: Depends on the detox plan you're following. Because there's not a lot you're allowed to eat, you won't have a long shopping list and prep work should be minimal.

Packaged foods or meals: Some detox plans recommend herbs, pills, powders, enemas, and other forms of colon cleansing. Methods vary and often include products that are only available from the author’s web site.

In-person meetings? No.

Exercise : Not required, and you may not have the energy for it, because you're not getting that many calories.

What Else You Should Know

Costs: Besides your grocery shopping, a detox diet may also call for some supplements and other products, which vary in cost.

Support: None, except for resources you may find online.

What Dr. Michael Smith Says:

Does It Work?

If your goal is weight loss, a detox diet might help you drop a few pounds, but you’ll likely just gain it back. In the end, you haven’t accomplished anything, and it’s certainly not a healthy approach.

If your goal is to detox your system, don’t waste your time or money. Your body is an expert at getting rid of toxins no matter what you eat. Toxins don’t build up in your liver, kidneys, or any other part of your body, and you’re not going to get rid of them with the latest detox wonder. Especially avoid diets that promise to detox your liver with supplements or “cleanse” whatever the diet determines needs washing out.

The only type of detox diet that is worthwhile is one that limits processed, high-fat, and sugary foods, and replaces them with more fruits and vegetables. That clean-eating approach is your best bet to getting your body in tip-top shape.

Is It Good for Certain Conditions?

Not only are detox diets not good for people with certain medical conditions, they could be harmful. They don’t improve blood pressure or cholesterol. Detox diets have no positive effect on the heart. For people with diabetes, they may be quite dangerous. Any diet that severely restricts what you eat could lead to dangerously low blood sugar if you take medicine for diabetes.

The exception would be a detox diet that just focuses on clean-eating. This approach would be great for anyone living with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and even heart disease.

The Final Word

We’ve heard a great deal about detox diets in recent years. But it’s all hype with no health benefits. There are many ways to get your body clean and healthy. This isn’t one of them.

WebMD Diet A-Z

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