Cleanse diets seem to be all the rage these days. After a weekend of splurging on your favorite high-calorie foods or preparing for the upcoming weekend where you know you’ll have to wear a bikini, it seems like detoxifying your body is how many people justify periods of unhealthy behavior. Unfortunately, there is a lot of controversy around these diets and whether or not they do what they say they’re going to do. Before you begin any diet, it’s important to understand the pros and cons in order to determine if it is a good choice for you. Also, it’s vital to understand that there are both healthy and unhealthy ways to participate in cleanse diets, and this article will clarify what the differences are.
The premise of cleanse diets claim to “cleanse the body of harmful toxins and to aid in weight loss”. What people fail to realize is that our bodies already have very efficient detoxification systems in place. Organs, including our kidneys, liver, and gastrointestinal system, work to eliminate waste and contaminants in our bodies and keep us healthy every second of our life. Fifty percent of our immune system is in our GI tract, and by eating well-balanced diets, including dietary fiber (nature’s natural cleanse), we help ourselves to keep our bodies working and eliminating unwanted substances. What cleanse diets aim to do is remove the chemicals and pollutants in our processed foods and our environment from our bodies. Once these toxins are removed, these diets claim that the body will be able to work better and metabolize food faster, which leads to increased weight loss. The problem with these claims is that there is no scientific evidence to back them up. Another issue is that the so-called “toxins” are never identified as specific chemicals, and thus there is no way we can measure if these diets actually remove them or not. Because of the lack of research on these diets, it allows their creators to make whatever claims they want about the benefits of their diet cleanse.
Generally, detox diets can be beneficial if they are used as a way to help your body change from current unhealthy patterns to healthier options. When used over short periods of time (3 to 5 days), these diets can help give motivation to make healthy food options and improve energy levels. Things to keep in mind with these diets are to make sure you have or are doing the following:
• Drink plenty of water
• Make sure you are consuming fiber (I like to recommend 3-5g of fiber per serving; this ensures you are getting a good amount of soluble and insoluble fiber)
• Get your probiotics (found in yogurt) to keep the digestive system working and keep you full
• Be sure to steer clear of laxatives, enemas, syrup and salt-water based cleanses.
• *A special note for those who have diabetes, low blood sugar, are pregnant, or are a child or teenager: stay away from these diets, as they can be harmful to your overall health.
Harmful diets, such as the Beyoncé endorsed Master Cleanse or the popular juice diets, encourage people to drink specific mixtures of ingredients for an extended period of time that will result in drastic drops in their weight. While they may show results in helping people to lose weight initially (which is often just water weight), it is almost always regained after. Yo-yo dieting or frequently losing then regaining weight, takes a very big toll on the body, and can be dangerous and lead to other complications. These diets also are nutritionally insufficient and end up slowing your metabolism, which is the opposite of the goal of these diets.
Overall, if the goals of these cleanses are to remove harmful substances from the diet and to lose weight, the best option is to eat a healthy, well balanced diet, including dietary fiber. Weight loss should be gradual (1-2 pounds a week) and you should make sure you’re eating foods from every food group. Natural, less-processed foods are the best options, if you’re trying to stay away from pollutants, and organic foods might be a good option for you. For more personalized meal plans or advice about your current food intake, make a free appointment with a Nutrition Counselor in the ARC.
For healthy detox ideas, check out the Women’s Health Magazine 2-Day Cleanse for ideas and recipes:
By Susan Berkman, Wellness Nutrition Intern