“DETOX DIETS” YAY OR NAY?
Victoria Cox, MSc,
As we continue further into 2021, many of us are looking for ways to be as healthy as possible. So, does this mean that we should follow a “detox” diet or a “cleanse”? The idea of detoxing our body of harmful chemicals and toxins sounds very appealing, and surely something that we want to do. However, the suggestion that we can simply flush our body of impurities, leaving our organs “rested and clean” is simply not based upon scientific evidence.
As a disclaimer, yes, there is a form of reputable detoxification known as chelation, which is done in very rare and serious situations to help rid someone’s body of heavy metals. This is NOT the same as what various “detoxifying foods/juices” are promising us.
How do we detoxify?
Luckily for us, the human body is well equipped with its own detoxification system. This includes the respiratory system, the liver and the kidneys. Our liver can be considered our main “filter” and works very hard to metabolise various nutrients, while also neutralising metals such as mercury, preparing them for elimination from the body. The liver is also heavily involved in metabolising drugs and alcohol, and therefore a key player in the body’s defense against toxins and potentially harmful chemicals. So, despite what we might have seen or heard, there is no wonderful “superfood” or “superfood juice blend” that is solely responsible for cleansing our bodies, but rather our own, well-designed organs can do so.
The downside of detoxes: Digging Deeper
While “detox diets” and cleanses and their many supposed health benefits are generally not backed by evidence, one could argue “what’s the harm in trying?”. However, in some cases there ARE dangers and downsides to consider. Many dietary detoxes require individuals to follow programmes for “juices cleanses”, or call for them to only eat one or two very specific foods, cutting out all other major food groups. It is not uncommon to be advised to follow something like a juice cleanse for anywhere from one to two weeks. Here are some cons to consider:
• These types of cleanses or detox diets tend to be very low in calories.
Over a period of one to two weeks, this may indeed lead to some weight loss. However, it will also likely leave you feeling quite awful, with little energy to fuel your daily activities.
Furthermore, any weight lost in such a short period of time, due to following an extremely low calorie/ restrictive diet is almost guaranteed to be followed by weight re-gain when “normal” eating is resumed. This is NOT a sustainable choice for longterm, healthy weight loss.
• Depending on the type of cleanse or diet, it is not uncommon to experience gastrointestinal distress and a change in bowel movement habits. To go from occasionally eating whole fruits and vegetables to living off of nothing but fruit/vegetable juice will definitely be a shock to the system, but not necessarily in a good way.
• Most cleanses or detox diets are NOT at all nutritionally balanced, and in many cases are very low in protein and might also be missing other important vitamins and minerals. Any diet that dictates you should exclude major, complete food groups, and eat or drink only the same thing every day should be a major red flag for potential nutrition inadequacies. The longer we follow a pattern like this, the more likely we are to deplete our stores of important nutrients. Furthermore, cleanses or detoxes low in protein are probably going to contribute to our lack of energy and feelings of hunger, as protein is a huge help in keeping us feeling full and satisfied.
• Lastly, the idea that the occasional detox is all that is needed to keep our bodies healthy and “toxin-free” can promote the train of thought that, outside of our periods of cleansing, we can eat and drink whatever we like. The reality is, if we spend eleven months of the year eating mostly fast food/deep fried foods, highly processed/high sodium foods, drinking sugary drinks and skipping out on daily fruits, vegetables and our water, spending a month in total on a cleanse or detox will absolutely NOT “make up for” or “counterbalance” the effect that lifestyle is having on our health.
But I’m trying to be healthy…so what should I do?
A mindset shift can be healthy, as we move forward and keep our eye on the ultimate goal – to be as healthy as we can be. Rather than the temporary approach whereby we rely on one or two specific “superhero” foods during a cleanse, why not consider the power behind following an overall healthy diet on a daily basis, and how this can support our liver, kidney and other organs to do what they are designed to do, and what they do well – detoxify us. Instead of eating a sugary, highfat, high-sodium diet on the daily, and then relying on seven days of celery or broccoli juice to cleanse our system, how about we reduce our overall intake of added sugars, fat and sodium, and increase our daily intake of the same broccoli, celery, and plenty other veggies. In this way we can say we are truly supporting our bodies as best we can, by consuming less “toxins” to begin with, and following an overall healthy and nutritionally balanced diet that supports our natural detoxification system.
Tips for eating to support optimal bodily function:
With all of that being said, here are some key tips to get you started on your long-term healthy journey; helping your body to meet its needs and optimise its natural abilities.
• Work on ensuring that your meals are nutritionally balanced. Think “1 2-3”; a balanced meal contains 1) a high-fibre starch (e.g. sweet potato or brown rice); 2) a lean protein (e.g.
baked chicken or stewed lentils); and 3) vegetables (e.g. steamed mixed veggies or a tossed salad).
• Drink more water, and less sugary drinks. If you currently only drink three glasses of water per day, slowly work on increasing that to 8 – 10 glasses, and concurrently decrease how often you choose juice or soft drinks when thirsty.
• Aim to eat at least one fruit every day. Eating the fruit is almost always a healthier option than drinking the juice; as it ensures there is no added sugar, and we benefit from the fibre present in the actual fruit itself.
• Eat mostly home-cooked meals and reduce the frequency of fast-food style meals. If you currently eat fried chicken/fish and chips twice a weekend, work on reducing that to once a weekend, and then every other weekend.
• And lastly, try these healthy swaps:
INSTEAD OF THIS
Deep or shallow frying various ingredients Eating corned beef, luncheon meat and hot dogs daily Snacking on potato chips or cheese balls Relying on white flour products, e.g. white bread, biscuits and pasta
Baking, grilling or stir-frying with olive oil Eating more tuna, sardines, salmon and mackerel Snacking on mixed nuts and seeds Switching to whole wheat products instead, as well as swapping the flour products with alternatives like sweet potato and plantain