Healthy Debate: Are Detox Diets Safe?

by in Diets & Weight Loss, Healthy Tips, November 29, 2010


Sure, it’s tempting to try a detox or cleanse diet after all that Thanksgiving turkey, but are they safe?  Here’s what experts at the American Dietetic Association’s recent Food and Nutrition Expo had to say about these controversial diets.

Detox Recap
We’ve discussed the ins and outs of detox diets before. Our research has lead us to an overall conclusion that the majority of the plans out there range from potentially unsafe to downright dangerous. Read for yourself:

The Experts Weigh In
At the conference, Dr. Christine Gerbstadt, a medical doctor and registered dietitian, spoke about the extremely limited scientific research behind detox diets. She pointed out that while many plans promise relief from toxins, low energy levels and cravings by excluding things like sugar, dairy, yeast, alcohol and caffeine, there’s virtually no evidence to back it up. While it’s sound nutrition advice to only consume most of these types foods in moderation, most plans suggest an all out revolt against them indefinitely.

Gerbstadt also reinforced that the body can rely on its own organs to protect and detoxify itself. Dubbed with the anagram “S.K.I.L.L.,” the skin, kidneys, intestines, liver and lymphatic system are responsible for the natural cleansing of the body.

The only relatively positive point that was made in favor of these types of diets may have been that the extreme nature may help jumpstart dieters  — and in a way, set the stage for success. This may be best demonstrated in the short plans that only last for a couple of days.  So the questions remains, can these plans provide the motivation that many dieters are lacking? Or is excluding most (if not all) food from your life (even temporarily) too extreme? The verdict among registered dietitians appears to be … yes.

Take Home Tips

  • There’s currently a lack of scientific evidence to support that detox plans are safe or effective.
  • The body has build in mechanisms to detoxify itself.
  • While potentially risky, the drastic nature of these plans (for a short period of time) may be a good way to motivate someone to make big dietary changes.

TELL US: Would you still try a detox plan?

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. See Dana’s full bio »

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Comments (82)

  1. Teresa says:

    I think it would be healthy to detox once in a while as long as you don't do it to often. A good body cleansing never hurts anybody.

  2. calculscat says:

    I began a detox diet 10 months ago. I am down 100 lbs!!! I feel so much better! I don't do any of the OTC stuff, but a medically supervised diet. I am off all medication, but more importantly- I don't put ANY CHEMICALS into my body! That is the benefit of the diet. You eat fresh and organic Meat, Vegetables and fruit. It IS good for you. Why do we need carbs and refined sugar???? And salt? And the tons of chemicals and dyes? My toe nails look perfect! My skin looks great! Stop eating PROCESSED food- no matter how easy or delicious it tastes!

  3. Sandy says:

    This article states, in part: "…WHILE MANY PLANS PROMISE RELIEF FROM TOXINS, LOW ENERGY LEVELS AND CRAVINGS BY EXCLUDING THINGS LIKE SUGAR, DAIRY, YEAST, ALCOHOL AND CAFFEINE, THERE'S VIRTUALLY NO EVIDENCE TO BACK IT UP". This is ridiculous. There IS evidence! Each person will experience the evidence for themselves. I have always eaten pretty healthy and recently was able to convince my husband to try a 2 week cleanse which excludes red meat, fried foods, white flour products, sugar, alcohol and caffeine. To begin with, white sugar and white flour are not healthy for us; they are not in their natural states which our bodies were originally meant to assimilate. Anyway, he noticed the difference right away, was able to sleep better which meant he had MORE energy during the day, was able to concentrate and was not as irritable. He felt SO good he did it for an additional 2 weeks. This was 2 months ago, but he decided to stay completely away from cola drinks (he used to have 2-3 a day) because he realized how much the caffeine, sugar and phosphoric acid they contain were affecting him. Please do not say there is no evidence!

    • Melanie says:

      That is not a detox diet. That is sensible healthy eating to stay away from processed and fried foods! The extreme detoxing is what they are talking about.

    • nc0610 says:

      Yeah, in the context of this article, that is definitely not a detox diet or cleanse. That is simply eliminating foods that are more likely to be processed, have additives, etc. I'm sure those changes probably did have a positive effect. Keep it up! But that regimen is not a cleanse or a detox diet.

  4. Lori says:

    Detox is what the induction period on the Atkins diet is all about, then you add back a few more healthy carbs slowly. What is amusing about this argument is that shouldn't we be eating healthy anyway? To what extent we individually take that is personal but if we have certain medical conditions it may inspire us to pursue healthier food choices in search of better health.

  5. Kathy says:

    Absolutely NO detox for me. If you are eating properly, whole grains, fruits veggies and lean meats, there is absolutely NO reason you would require a detox. I see too many people using it as a crutch to undo unhealthy eating patterns.

  6. Laura says:

    I just completed a 21 detox called the Standard Process clenase and LOVED it! I wasn't hunrgy or lacking nutrients. It was really just 21 days of clean eating, cutting carbs, sugars, alcohol, and other common allergens. It's all documented on my blog, but I would recommend it to anyone.

    Since the conclusion of the program, my eating habits have improved – 3 weeks to form a habit and I DEFINITELY did.

  7. Sandy says:

    First, we need to define “detox” – are you talking about a whole-foods, natural diet (and not too much of it) or a patent-medicine snake-oil type product? The first is healthy and health-giving; the second . . . well, make sure the company is at least honest about the ingredients!

    Jump-staritng your diet, or clearing the taste for grease, salt, sugar, etc., off your palate by eating fresh fruit for a couple days, is safe and effective if you don’t have other health issues (diabetes, for example).

  8. Nancy says:

    I began Day #1 of the 10 day Master Cleanse/Lemonade diet.
    I'm going to journal the experience. I am not doing it to lose weight; but, I will enjoy that side effect of it!
    I have been feeling sluggish and have had stomach pains. I have never heard of the Salt Water Flush. I have to admit, that felt good. The drink isn't bad. I am not hungry yet. I do feel the urge to eat out of habit. I cannot believe I won't eat solid food for 10 days! My stomach feels light and I do feel better, no pains or discomfort. I have a slight headache from caffeine withdrawal. Not a big deal. I'm going to stick it out. Nothing for 10 days is going to do damage to me any more than daily eating processed stuff. I think this will jumpstart my diet to exclude refined sugars, white foods and gluten. I hear the best result is that people that detox CRAVE good foods like nuts and leafy greens after the diet.
    Wish me luck!

  9. Tanya says:

    This article states that there is extremely limited research about detox diets. So this makes them automatically dangerous and to be avoided?

    This is just yet another example of mainstream "treat the symptoms instead of advocating the cure" medicine's ignorance. In another comment it was stated that detox diets are just a fad and will fade out. While I agree that there ARE many detox diets that are potentially hazardous, some in the extreme, there are many, many more that are chock full of health benefits. The idea that the human body can withstand prolonged pollution through unhealthy foodstuffs because it has "S.K.I.L.L."'s is absurd. Supersize Me effectively put to rest that misinformed myth.

    And a fad?

    I think over a thousand years of fasting being used to promote health, as well as for spiritual practice, would disagree to that.

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