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The Truth About Detox Diets

The Promise

Do you need a detox diet -- really?

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.

Do They Work?

You might lose weight on a detox diet, because they're usually very low in calories.

But the idea that your body needs help getting rid of toxins has "no basis in human biology," says Frank Sacks, MD, of the Harvard School of Public Health. Your organs and immune system handle those duties, no matter what you eat.

Plus, you're likely to lose weight and gain it back when you go off any extreme diet.

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.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD on December 04, 2013

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