Ask HE: Are Cleanses and Detox Diets Safe?

by in Ask the Experts, January 7, 2010

detox juice
Every day, our readers pose smart questions about nutrition and healthy eating in our article comments and on our Facebook page and Twitter feed. We try to answer as much as we can, but some questions are too important for just a short reply back. Many of the same questions crop up a lot, too. “Do cleanses and/or detox diets work?” is a popular one — especially this time of year when people are looking to rejuvenate and lose the added post-holiday weight.

Curious if a detox diet is the way to go? Here’s what we think.

Q: Are cleanses and detox diets safe?

A: Dieters beware.
Many of my clients are intrigued by detox diets and their promise to “flush” the body of toxins. Guess what? Your body does this naturally every day. Your digestive, circulatory and lymphatic systems take nutrients from the foods that you eat, deliver them to the proper places and dispose of the waste. Isn’t the body amazing?!

To date, there’s no sound evidence that detox programs work the wonders that “experts” claim. Sure, some folks manage to lose weight when they go on them, but that’s simply because they’re not allowed to eat much of anything and they’re flushing out water weight. Starving yourself causes symptoms such as headaches, vitamin and mineral deficiencies and plummeting energy levels (just to name a few).

Since this extremely restricted diet obviously can’t be maintained, the weight you lose almost always comes back. I’ve heard many people claim that they feel “so much better” after cleansing, but I would argue that this is because they’ve stopped eating junk food. So why not just switch to diet comprised only fresh, whole foods rather than forcing yourself to drink some kind of juice concoction (say, lemon water with cayenne pepper) all day long for several days, if not weeks?

Many cleanse and detox plans suggest the use of various herbal supplements and procedures such as enemas and colonics, too. Both can be very dangerous when not administered properly and herbal supplements may interfere with medications and have dangerous side effects. If you’re considering a cleanse or detox, definitely check with your doctor first.

Bottom line: Detox and cleansing diets don’t appear to be safe or very affective. The best way to really rid your body of junk is to not eat any. Exercise, proper hydration and a balanced diet will allow your body to cleanse itself and work at its best for the long haul.

TELL US: Do you have any nutrition or cooking questions that you’d like us to answer? Share them in the comments and maybe yours will be featured in our upcoming “Ask HE” posts.

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