The Lemonade Diet/Master Cleanse

Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on May 03, 2024
9 min read

The Master Cleanse is a liquid diet. When on this diet, you drink a beverage made of lemon juice, maple syrup, water, and cayenne pepper for 10 or more days. You also sip on salt water and herbal tea. The diet claims that you’ll cleanse or “detox” your body of harmful toxins, drop pounds, and feel happier and healthier.

The Master Cleanse, also called the Lemonade Diet, started in the 1940s when naturopath Stanley Burroughs wrote The Master Cleanser. It became popular in the 2000s, after celebrities used the plan.

Before you turn lemons into lemonade, know that this strict diet lacks the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy. And once you return to eating normally, you’ll likely gain the weight back.

You don’t eat any solid food on the Master Cleanse. You start with a morning saltwater drink to flush your body. Then you sip 6-12 glasses of the “lemonade” throughout the day. Before bed, you have a cup of herbal laxative tea to encourage bowel movements.

According to Burroughs, following this fast for 10-40 days cleans your kidneys and digestive system. But there’s no scientific proof showing that these types of detox diets work.

The Master Cleanse is very low in calories. This causes rapid weight loss, although everyone responds to diets differently. But it's far from the principles of healthy eating. It also doesn’t contain enough important nutrients, such as protein and healthy fats. The plan is dangerous for some people. Always talk to your doctor before starting any new diet.

You don’t need a lot to do the Master Cleanse. To get started, you’ll need:

Directions. There are different versions of the Master Cleanse. You can find instructions in Stanley Burrough’s The Master Cleanser. More recently, author Peter Glickman wrote about the plan in Lose Weight, Have More Energy & Be Happier in 10 Days.

Measuring cup and spoons. You’ll use them to make the saltwater drink and “lemonade.” 

Juicer. A juicer is optional, but you’ll need two tablespoons of fresh organic lemon or lime juice every day to make the “lemonade.”

Herbal laxative tea. You can buy this tea, such as senna, from health food stores.

Grocery list. Although you don’t eat food on the diet, you’ll need specific ingredients, such as non-iodized salt, water, Grade B maple syrup, and lemons or limes.

The original Master Cleanse calls for sipping the laxative tea the night before starting, while other versions suggest an “ease-in” period. In the days leading up to the fast, you’ll cut out unhealthy foods and eat only organic fruits and vegetables.

If you are on the Master Cleanse, you’re only allowed certain liquids for the first 10 to 40 days. These include a saltwater drink, a “lemonade,” and an herbal laxative tea for the first 10 days. You can't have any solid food, and you can’t drink alcohol.

Drinks allowed on the Master Cleanse

  • Saltwater drink
  • “Lemonade” beverage made with lemon or lime juice, maple syrup, water, and cayenne pepper
  • Herbal laxative tea
  • Water or mint tea

Foods to avoid on the Master Cleanse

During the fasting part of the Master Cleanse, you don’t eat any solid foods. You can’t drink alcohol or have caffeine.

Foods allowed after the Master Cleanse

After the 10- to 40-day fast, you can gradually add back foods. You’ll start with orange juice and vegetable soup, and then eat raw fruits and vegetables. After this, the plan calls for eating mainly fruits, vegetables, seeds, and berries.

Foods to avoid after the Master Cleanse

After you break the fast, you can resume normal eating. But it’s recommended that you avoid meat, dairy, added sugar, and processed foods.

Master Cleanse ingredient list

  • Spring, distilled, or purified water
  • Lemons or limes
  • Organic Grade B maple syrup
  • Non-iodized sea salt
  • Cayenne pepper 
  • Herbal laxative tea
  • Herbal mint tea (optional)

The Master Cleanse is a very strict diet and doesn’t follow the principles of healthy eating. But, like every eating plan, it has its strengths and weaknesses.

Benefits of the Master Cleanse

There are some benefits to the Master Cleanse, including:

  • It doesn’t require a lot of time or prep work. You can make the drink ahead of time and stash it in the fridge.
  • The diet is affordable. There aren’t any extra fees besides the cost of the ingredients and the book.
  • You don’t need to attend any meetings.
  • There's no exercise requirement.
  • There's online support available in the form of a website.

Also, if you follow certain diets, such as low-fat, vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free, the Master Cleanse can accommodate the restrictions. If you are on a low-salt diet, you can go for herbal laxative tea rather than the saltwater flush.

Risks of the Master Cleanse 

Because you don’t eat food for 10 to 40 days, the Master Cleanse is a hard diet to stick with. You need to follow it exactly or it won’t work. Chances are you’ll feel hungry and tired. According to the books, you should expect “detox symptoms,” such as headaches, cravings, boredom, and a grumpy mood.

The saltwater flush and laxative teas can also lead to dehydration and digestive issues. Also, they may harm your gut microbiome, which are the bacteria, fungi, and viruses that live in the digestive tract and play a big role in your health.

Does the Master Cleanse work? 

Because you're getting so few calories, you'll probably lose weight, as promised by the diet plan. However, “the weight loss is not the kind of weight loss that most people are looking for,” says Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD, a registered dietitian nutritionist. “When you severely restrict calories, you are losing muscle, you are losing water, and you're losing stored carbohydrates, and all of these things happen before you tackle the fat.” And, you're likely to gain the weight right back.

Another benefit that the diet proposes is that you'll get rid of toxins in your body, but there's no proof that detoxifying leads to long-term weight loss. Also, you don't need to detox your body -- your liver takes care of that.

“Nobody needs a detox, there's no evidence to say that toxins build up in a healthy person, and there's no evidence that detox diets remove these toxins,” Zelman says. “So the evidence that backs up this kind of plan and detoxes in general is weak to nonexistent.”

The Master Cleanse puts you at risk for nutritional deficiencies, too. 

“The nutritional completeness is virtually zero,” Zelman says. “For lasting change, you're better off eating a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean proteins such as fish, skinless chicken or turkey, and healthy fats such as olive oil.”

Is it good for certain conditions? 

No. It's an unhealthy way to temporarily lose weight.

However, if you're looking to clean up your diet in general, there are other ways.There's no real definition for clean eating. If you want a detox clean up your diet, think of it as just eating closer to the Earth,” Zelman says. Updating your diet to include more fruits and vegetables and removing junk food and ultra-processed foods is “the best way to clean up your diet, and drink plenty of fluids — not sugary beverages, but water and tea and coffee if you like it,” Zelman says.

According to Zelman, you can even add the lemonade beverage into your diet “and include that as your lemonade but in addition to eating fruits and vegetables and salads.”

Who shouldn’t try the Master Cleanse? 

This crash diet doesn’t contain many of the nutrients, such as proteins and healthy fats, which are crucial for health. Some people should avoid the Master Cleanse, including:

  • Growing children
  • People undergoing chemotherapy
  • People recovering from surgery
  • People with eating disorders or who are malnourished
  • People with kidney disease or liver disease

When you're in good health, your body is designed to naturally remove toxins, “but individuals who might have kidney disease or liver disease or some other health problems could have issues with flushing,” Zelman says, which is part of what the Master Cleanse tries to accomplish. “There could be individuals who don't have those mechanisms because of health issues,” Zelman says.

The Master Cleanse is also dangerous for the following groups, who may need changes to the plan or regular check-ins:

  • People on a low-sodium diet
  • Those with blood sugar issues, such as people with diabetes
  • Pregnant or nursing women
  • People with heart disease
  • Older adults

“There are lots of risk populations that shouldn't even consider this,” Zelman says.

The final word 

“First and foremost, consult your health care provider before you embark on this,” Zelman says, highlighting that while you're on the Master Cleanse you'll likely feel very tired and weak. “There are other reports of dizziness, electrolyte balances, gastrointestinal (GI) distress and bloating and cramping, and nausea and vomiting...let alone all the hunger pain.”

Ultimately, “there are too many risks associated with cutting calories so significantly and providing so few nutrients,” Zelman says. She also notes that intermittent fasting can be a much healthier approach to your goals rather than the Master Cleanse, because the cleanse is “the ultimate fad diet that is not recommended in any way shape or form by health experts.”

Morning. Sip 32 ounces of spring, purified, or distilled water mixed with two teaspoons of sea salt.

Daytime. Drink 6-12 cups of the Master Cleanse “lemonade.” You can also sip on water or herbal mint tea.

Evening. Before bed, have one cup of herbal laxative tea.

During the cleanse, you’ll drink 6-12 cups of this lemonade throughout the day.

The Master Cleanse “lemonade” 

To make this, you would need:

  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons organic Grade B maple syrup
  • 1/10 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 8 ounces room-temperature or cold water

In a 10-ounce glass jar with a lid, combine the lemon or lime juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper. Fill with water. Shake it and drink.

After the Master Cleanse

Starting the second day after the cleanse, you can start sipping vegetable soup, which can include:

  • Legumes and potatoes (optional)
  • Dehydrated vegetable or vegetable soup powder (optional)
  • Spices (optional)
  • Brown rice (optional)
  • Water or vegetable broth

In a pot, combine the ingredients. Add a small amount of salt and spices for flavor. Cook until just done. According to Stanley Burroughs, the less cooking, the better.

How fast can I lose weight on the Master Cleanse? 

Because the diet is very low in calories, you’ll lose weight fast. In Peter Glickman’s The Master Cleanse Coach, one person claimed she shed 15 pounds in 15 days. Another man said he shed 29 pounds in 14 days.

Experts note that much of this weight is caused by fluid loss. It’s the result of frequent bowel movements or diarrhea caused by the saltwater flush and laxative tea. Once you resume your normal diet, you’ll likely gain back the weight.