As a registered dietitian, I have been trained to look skeptically at the latest dieting trends. This includes the latest trend toward Detox diets or regimens. To my skeptical eye, the word “detox” is almost akin to a four-letter word striking an immediate cease and desist response; however, I made an attempt to set aside my initial response to check out the evidence with an unbiased eye.
The term detox, short for detoxification, is based on the concept that our bodies need help getting rid of unwanted toxins from contaminants in processed foods and the environment. The theory is that once toxins have been eliminated the body is able to function better and your metabolism increases. Detox regimens are variable and include anything from a three-day fruit juice fast to a 10-day stroll down starvation lane with only cayenne pepper, maple syrup and salt water to accompany you. Some regimens also include various herbal supplements, pills, powders and enemas to promote cleansing of the colon.
The truth is, there is not a lot of research out there on this subject to either support or refute the benefits of detox plans. It is the opinion of the majority of the medical community, including physicians and registered dietitians, that these types of regimens are unnecessary and, at times, dangerous. Our body actually has the natural ability to rid itself of toxins all by itself. In fact, removal of “toxins” occurs every minute through the actions of the liver and the kidney. Also, while many detox plans appear harmless, potential side effects to detox diets or regimens include low blood sugar, muscle aches, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, and even fluid and electrolyte imbalance.
Do they work? Yes and no. Weight loss does typically occur because these plans are low in calories, but much of this weight can be attributed to fluid loss and/or muscle loss, instead of a desirable fat loss. When you return to eating, weight often comes back on quickly, and sometimes even more pounds are added to the grand total.
When it comes to most detox plans, the negatives seem to outweigh the benefits. Instead of turning to a detox diet or regimen, opt for a healthy eating plan that you can see yourself sticking with for the long haul. Limit intake of processed foods, and include a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean proteins and healthy fats. Drink plenty of fluids and don’t forget to exercise!