The Lowdown on Cleanse Diets

by in Healthy Tips, January 28, 2009

I hear people talking about these new cleansing diets everywhere I go — on the train, in the elevator and even in the maternity ward just before giving birth to my daughter (seriously). Not all detox diets are what they claim and most you should stay away from. Here is the lowdown on a few of the more popular ones.

The Master Cleanse
This cleanse (a.ka. “the Lemonade diet”) lasts a minimum of 10 days. On most days, you consume a “special” laxative and cleansing tea, which is made from freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper and spring (or purified) water. This diet promises to clean out toxins that have built up eating all the junky food we Americans often indulge in. The average daily calorie intake for the first few days is less than 600 calories (that’s 30% of what an average person should eat) and not much higher thereafter.


  • None

  • An unbalanced diet with inadequate calories
  • Side effects stated in the book include food cravings, irritability, headaches, fatigue and burning bowel movements
  • The safety of diet and extreme laxative use is questionable

Raw Food Diet Detox
This diet emphasizes whole, unprocessed foods that are not cooked above 118º F (so toss those cookies, cakes and other processed snacks). The theory is that these raw foods help increase live enzymes and make your body work most efficiently. The specialty drink in this plan is “Green Lemonade,” which is a combination of leafy greens, apple and lemon. Proponents of this diet also suggest monthly colon cleansings, courtesy of a colon therapist or an over-the-counter enema.


  • Raw fruits and veggies are encouraged
  • Processed foods are discouraged

  • Not a well-balanced plan since most foods are eliminated
  • Regular colon cleansing is not healthy for the body
  • The Green Lemonade is just plain bad (yes, Dana and I have tried it!)

Quantum Wellness 21-Day Detox
Oprah show guest and author Kathy Freston made this cleanse famous. This detox suggests you eliminate caffeine, sugar, alcohol, animal products and gluten (though you don’t have to give them all up), and emphasizes eating three well-balanced meals a day with an average calorie intake that’s more than 1000 calories. They uphold eight pillars of wellness: meditation, visualization, self-work, conscious eating, exercise, service, fun and spiritual practice.


  • Well-balanced meals that are adequate in calories
  • Includes whole foods like beans, quinoa and nuts
  • Emphasis on taking care of yourself emotionally

  • Elimination of all mentioned foods is difficult for many
  • Suggested products may be difficult to find at your local grocery store

What makes a cleanse diet unsafe?
Never start a cleanse diet without consulting a doctor or registered dietitian. Here are some red flags that can tell you that your cleanse diet is unsafe:

  • Cleanse suggests eating less than 1,000 calories for more than a few days
  • Enemas and/or laxatives are recommended
  • You’re told that you will not feel well; side effects include headaches, diarrhea or mood swings
  • You have a medical condition(s)
  • Quick weight loss is promised (more than more one-to-two pounds per week)
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