The Real Deal on the Master Cleanse

by in Diets & Weight Loss, Food News, April 15, 2009


Many celebs praise miracle cleanses for keeping them slim. One popular detox, the Master Cleanse, has been around for decades and is a perennial Hollywood favorite. Is it a safe choice for the diet-minded? Not necessarily.

What are cleansing diets?
Detox — or cleansing — diets claim to remove harmful poisons or toxins from the body. You do this by cutting many foods and following a very calorie-restricted regime for a certain amount of time. Yes, fasting for religious reasons has been around for centuries (i.e. Ramadan or Yom Kippur), but these diets have taken on new meaning. They can be anything from a 3-day juice fast to days of just drinking unpleasant cayenne pepper and maple syrup concoctions as your main nutritional source.

The story gets messier, too — many cleansing diets also recommend numerous enemas, laxatives or both to help clear your system. They’ll even advise you to stay close to the bathroom, take several days off work and not plan any social events (you’ll definitely be tired after the nutrient restrictions).

So what is the Master Cleanse?
The Master Cleanse (or Master Cleanser) became big news when Beyoncé claimed it helped her drop 20 pounds for the movie Dreamgirls — though the detox has been around since the 70s. You might know it better as the “Lemonade Diet.”

Basically, you enjoy (okay, “enjoy”) a mix of lemon juice, maple syrup, water and cayenne pepper for a minimum of 10 days. Supplementing that are cups of salt water and laxative tea. In the end, you get about 700 calorie per day. The diet claims the symptoms from the detox are tiredness, cravings, irritability and headaches. Starve me for 10 days and ask me down disgusting drinks (not to mention enemas!), and I won’t be too happy either!

As for most cleansing diets, there’s no scientific evidence to suggest that a detoxification process is beneficial or even safe without medical supervision. And eating so little calories for days is not only unhealthy, it’s down right dangerous. Kids, teens, pregnant women or any people with medical conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure shouldn’t definitely stay away.

What do the dietitians say?
Yes, I sound like a hater, but it’s not just me. Check out this recent USA Today article that quotes leading dietitians that think this diet is a farce. Ultimately, the best form of detox is eating a balanced, whole foods diet that’s high in fiber-rich foods, fruits, veggies and whole grains. Aside from lacking most of the food groups, these fad diets often don’t have the protein needed to maintain muscle during weight loss — this means your fat will stay while your muscles deteriorate.

If you’re still determined to try a detox, consult your physician and a registered dietitian, and go for a shorter, 3-day plan as opposed to any longer ones.

[Photo by Jordan and Heidi / Flickr]

TELL US: What do you think of the celebrity hubbub around diets like this?

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Comments (71)

  1. sexdate says:

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  2. Brent says:

    To say that cleansing is ineffective is pretty arrogant (and we certainly have become that in our scientific "knowledge"). It is like going against the democracy of the dead as well as some of the greatest eclectic herbalist that ever lived! I think cleansing has a well earned position that can never be legitimately discredited.

  3. My only concern about talking to those that have tried it is that the people you talk to are more likely to say the diet is safe because they survived it.

    Those that did not survive it may prove more difficult to speak with so you only get one side of the story!

  4. helen says:

    you are supposed to use a superior grade of sea salt (that has not been iodized). from what i understand it will not be absorbed into the body as you will have an "explosive" need to "go".

  5. Brenda says:

    We also do the cleanse every 6 months for the last 3 years!! We do not consider it a diet but more of cleaning out toxins. I also get lots of energy by day 3, its amazing! I do not do the salt water flush, but do the laxative tea every other day. I have bowel movements everyday. We do it for 5-7days. I also had digestive problems prior to my first time doing this and my problems also disappeared. I borrow the book out often especially to the skeptics. We are 50 years young and look and feel great! It is sad to see that this is considered a hollywood diet. It is a way to maintain a healthy digestive system, especially with our exposure to toxins nowadays. Glad to see more people like us out there!

  6. Brenda says:

    i usually put back on about 4 lbs after the cleanse and thats about it. I don't go back to the sweet cravings I used to have before the cleanse. You need to read the book, its highly recommended and very explanatory. It wasn't designed to be a diet, but a CLEANSE to clean out the toxins out of ypur body, you just happen to loose weight also

  7. Jomama says:

    Any time you go on a carb resticted diet you will get what is called "Atkins Flu". You can take asprin to try to help with the headaches, and drink plenty of water. The Atkins website is free, and they give you 3 free bars when you sign up. You may as well use that awful feeling at the start,to continue foreward with results you can hold on to. Check out <a href="http://www.Atkins.com.” target=”_blank”>www.Atkins.com. Your eating is restricted, but not in an unsustainable way, like this.

  8. M. Hunter says:

    Wow these are amazing result I quite overweight and hope for similar result. Today is day 2 for me and as of this morning I lost 4lbs thats enough to keep me going!

  9. metroplex says:

    Hi Vanessa,

    Do you know where I can find a copy of the detox 'diet' you spoke of using mineral rich algae?

    Also what did you mean by 'which is placed on the area you want firmed up'?

    Also, of course, I'm interested in the part you mention that you don't have to starve yourself to do it.

    I hope you will answer my email.
    Thank you.

  10. metroplex says:

    Dear Aimee,

    You mentioned that you didn't think MC was the best cleanse out there, but can you advise one that is, please? Even if it is a combination of herbs, cleansing drinks, etc.?

    Thank you.

  11. Diann says:

    Hello, have you gained any of the 30 pounds back

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