Will a detox diet really make you healthier?
Yes and No. The debate surrounding detox diets focuses on whether the body needs help flushing out from its system any toxins, also known as xenobiotic, since detoxification is a natural human body process.
Detox diets claim to cleanse your body by getting rid of the toxins. But conventional health experts argue that the body’s system does a perfectly good job of eliminating toxins. Studies show that there’s no scientific evidence that following any of the detox diets will enhance the process. Tim Crowe, an associate professor in nutrition at Deakin University says detoxification via the body’s organs: the liver, kidneys, gut and lungs, skin and the immune system effectively neutralise toxic substances and eliminate through urine, sweat, bile or stools. According to Marjorie Nolan Cohn, MS, RD, CDN, ACSM-HFS, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a healthy diet and nutrients are essential to maintain the functionality of the body’s detoxification system. In addition, they suggest that some detox diets may lead to stomach and bowel upsets, tiredness, body arches and pains and bad breath.
The arguments are valid for the extreme detox diets which aim at heavy weight loss within a short period of time. These diets, include fasting and severe cut on carbohydrates, taking supplements to replace eating real food, only drinking water or juices, such as the “lemon-water fast” which was popular amongst celebrities, are the ones that caught media attentions and went viral on the internet. These diets cut out the essential nutrients, such as proteins, which is a key element to phase 2 of the body’s detoxification process. So these clearly do not do any good for detoxing. However, there is always another side to a story.
It is true that our body’s detoxification system does a good job at eliminating toxins. But many integrative health experts, point out that a reduction in the elimination process is the root of many chronic health issues, such as headaches and digestive problems. With increasing exposure to toxins due to modern lifestyle in a complex environment, our systems have to work longer hours to process the toxins. It adds extra burden to our body's elimination systems. At times, it exceeds our capacity for cleansing and even our impressive detoxification systems require extra helps. Robin Foroutan, MS, RDN, HHC, an integrative medicine nutritionist, suggests that detox diets, supplements and lifestyle protocols can help assisting the detoxification process. Furthermore, she emphasises that a proper detox diets can be similar to a healthy eating plan and may include an elimination diet in contrary to the extreme version of detox mentioned above. So as the detoxification process requires certain nutrition, eating certain foods will help speeding up the process. Researches have shown that cruciferous vegetables, onions, garlic and green tea contain the phytochemicals that induce phase 2 enzymes of the process and pomegranate acid has potential in assisting the detoxification pathways.
The two sides of the argument actually share similar view in some aspects. First, a diet that provides the important nutrition is vital to support the functionality of the body's detoxification system. Secondly, the two sides argue with different perceptions of detox diets. If they switch their perceptions, they mostly will agree with each other. Interesting if the body's system work perfectly well and the process cannot be enhanced by eating certain food, does that mean a person who shows symptoms of deteriorating detoxification system cannot be improved by taking certain nutrients? The point is the integrative health experts utilise the popularity of detox diets and encourage a version of detox diets that emphasises a proactive approach in consuming food that give you the essential nutrition and dropping food that only do harms to the process. In a sense, it nudges people into trying to be healthier and be responsible to what they put into their body without thinking the body's system has the ability to detoxify even faces with overloading and increasing toxins.
Therefore, detox diets with a healthy and balanced nutrition detox approaches can be helpful if you have possible signs of weakening detoxification process, such as chronic headaches, low energy and skin outbreaks. The right detox diet shouldn’t be the extreme ones and should guide you to an overall healthier diet. Also a detox diet will be beneficial if it helps you develop a healthy mindset. So if your only motivation is to lose weight, you will most probably end up with an extreme detox diet that may lead to starvation which is bad for your health. The right motivation can be to improve your detoxification process by developing a healthier eating habit. It can be a commitment to a detox diet that simply eliminates all processed food, junk food and alcohols. Remember it is always good to consult your physician before starting any detox diets.
Grilled seasonal vegetable, quinoa salad for lunch.
Personal experience of detox diets
In order to understand the pros and cons of detox diets, I interviewed my friend, Chris who has tried different detox diets before. The full interview can be found below.
Her first experience was out of curiosity to try out a 2 days carrots only detox diet. So the only things allowed were carrots and water. After the two days, she noticed changes to her defecation (more frequent and in quantity). But it was not a repeatable diet for her since it was too extreme.
Her recent experience was a detox diet that roughly includes fresh vegetables and fruit, nuts and seeds and fish etc. and to avoid dairy, sugars, alcohol and processed food etc. consumed in a strict sequence. Her intention was to develop a healthier eating habit. After a month, she felt cleaner with a lot more energy and reduced cravings for junk foods.
She thinks the key takeaway is by following a detox diet, it allows you to pay closer attention to the nutrients of the food and move away from bad eating habit into a healthier diet, hence achieving the detoxing effect. Moreover, a period of detox can “cleanse” your mind as your body becomes healthier.
Becky is a fashion and food enthusiast who loves exploring new ideas with creativity and imagination.
Interview with Chris
We had a short chat with Chris, a friend who follow detox diets occasionally, to give you her personal experience on detoxing.
Q: When did you become interested in following a detox diet?
Chris: It was a few years back when my friend showed me a video about a 2-days detox diet and it talked about how it will help cleanse your body and digestive system. And I was convinced and also out of curiosity, so I decided to give it a try.
Can you tell us more about the diet and how did you feel after.
That was the first detox diet I tried and actually that was the only time I stick to that diet. Compared to the detox diet I follow now, I think that was something I consider quite extreme. It was a simple diet consisted of one ingredient. Carrot. So I basically ate only carrots for 2 days and drank a lots of water. I ate around 5-6 carrot per meal and I cooked them slightly. I’m not sure whether it is appropriate for me to say this or not. The biggest difference I noticed was the changes to my defecation. I will skip the details. (laughs) But it made me believed that the diet really cleansed and removed the toxic from my body. But I don’t think it is something to do regularly.
You mentioned that you follow a different detox diet now. What is included in this diet?
It is a diet that includes: fresh vegetables and fruit, nuts and seeds and small amount of gluten-free grains and fish. I have to avoid dairy, sugars, meats, alcohol, coffee, junk foods, additives and processed food etc. Also, I have to follow a strict sequence starting with drinking a glass of warm water followed by eating vegetables first then nuts and seeds and fish then grains. This is just a rough guide to it. I’m about to finish this diet and it has been around a month now.
How do you feel about your body now? Any particular changes?
I actually haven’t been on a detox diet for quite a while and before the start of this diet, I was eating junk food every day without a proper meal. It left me feeling pretty awful – I felt I needed something to kick start myself back into good habits. It has been very effective overall, as I get a lot more energy and feel cleaner. I don’t feel tired easily and my brain feels clearer. I don’t feel weak and I feel a lot healthier. I think more importantly, I’m shifting toward a healthier eating habit and my cravings for some junk foods are slowly fading away as I’m more used to the current diet.
What did you find difficult in following the diet?
I think the hardest part of the diet was the first week when I had to cut out meats and coffee from my routine.
What is your view toward the perception of detox diet?
I agree that a detox diet may not directly enhance your body’s detox system but it is a great way to develop a cleaner eating habit. As for me, a detox diet is just a temporary thing but what’s important is to be able to continue on with some of the aspects of the diet that you think will add value to your existing habit. Also, I think when I started the diet and stopped eating food like meat that is considered essential to a balanced diet, I actually pay closer attention to the nutrients of the food I eat now.
Would you recommend this detox diet to your friends?
Yes, I would definitely recommend my friends to try it for a month.