The Truth About Detox Diets
Scientific Evidence Is Lacking
There is little scientific evidence that detoxification is necessary or effective for good health or weight loss. Sacks says, "Your body is designed to remove toxins efficiently with organs such as the kidneys, liver, and colon. You don’t need detox diets, pills, or potions to help your body do its job."
Experts agree there is no credible science to support claims that detox diets work or that there's any need for detoxification, lymphatic draining, and frequent bowel cleansing. There are no studies available to document the benefits. Instead, most claims are based on testimonials.
Some detox plans sound like a very scientific approach to cleansing your body of harmful substances.
Unfortunately, most detox diets lack the fundamentals that dietitians, doctors, and health authorities know are essential for weight loss and good health. The risks outweigh any benefits, making traditional detox diets both ineffective and potentially dangerous. Detox diets are based on unrealistic fears and dieters' lack of understanding of how the body works.
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. Prolonged fasting can lead to more serious health problems. Colon cleanses are not recommended because they can alter your body’s electrolyte and fluid balance.
Whether or not a detox diet is safe depends on the plan and how long you stay on it. Fasts lasting a day or two are unlikely to be harmful for most healthy adults. But high-risk people -- the elderly, anyone with a chronic disease, pregnant women, and children -- are advised against any type of fasting.
You can detox in a healthy way, says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, author of Doctor’s Detox Diet. "Extremes like colonics, starvation, and prolonged juice cleanses are not recommended. But if you view detox diets as a way of 'clean eating,' then it means eating natural, less-processed foods that are closer to the earth without artificial ingredients," she says.
Gerbstadt’s two-week plan encourages lots of water, whole fruits, vegetables, fiber, lean protein, low-fat dairy, and whole grains. It allows 1,500 to 1,600 calories per day to help shed up to 3 pounds a week. "The plan is not restrictive, satisfies hunger, can be followed long-term, and focuses on getting more fluids and fiber and [limiting] alcohol," Gerbstadt says.
Her list of the top natural detox foods includes: green leafy vegetables, lemons, watercress, green tea, broccoli sprouts, sesame seeds, cabbage, psyllium (powdered fiber), and fruits. "Beyond weight loss, minimally processed foods are healthy and nutrient-rich and contain fewer chemicals," Gerbstadt says. "The fiber and fluids speed up transit time to relieve gastrointestinal issues like constipation."