Detox has become a buzz word that seems to be popping up everywhere – in bookstores, magazines, the press and has made it’s way into the  common conversation regarding nutrition and health. Detox diets especially seem to become popular after periods of time where we often neglect healthy eating, such as over the winter holidays, and we perceive that our bodies need a little ‘spring cleaning’. Do detox diets actually work? Are they safe?

What is a detox diet?
These diets are built on the idea that our bodies are burdened by a build up of toxins that comes from the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. The basic idea of a detoxification diet is to temporarily give up certain foods that contain toxins while consuming fibre, nutrients, antioxidants and herbal extracts that aid in the body’s natural detoxification processes. Detox diets vary widely: they can last from days to weeks, they may involve fasting,  some version of a liquid diet or shake and then gradually introduce whole foods.

Do they work?
The claims of detox diets target popular fears that harmful substances are contained in regular food and speculating that these might induce such deleterious health effects as cancer, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, allergies and obesity. However there isn’t enough scientific evidence on the effectiveness of these diets to support their claims.
During an investigation of a popular 48-hour detox diet (promoted by Dr. Oz),  George Dresser – a Professor at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry –  found that blood tests taken before and after the 48-hour cleanse had no detoxifying benefits. In fact, Dresser said afterward, he couldn’t tell, looking at the blood tests, which group did the diet and which group ate to its heart’s – or stomach’s – content.

Are they safe?
There are a wide variety of cleansing and detox diets. Some may be safe for healthy people, but should be avoided by those with a higher risk of side effects including people with diabetes, low blood sugar, eating disorders, growing children and teens, pregnant women and older adults.  To add to the vitamin and mineral deficiencies that may result from prolonged  and intermittent fasting there is also the likelihood of  diarrhea, headaches, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance  and even large intestine perforation. Long term  reliance on non-scientifically proven diets might also lead  individuals to neglect seeking proper health care

What to do instead
Your body is fully equipped to detoxify itself – your liver, kidneys and intestine already do that for you. The liver removes waste from the bloodstream and then sends it to the kidneys for removal in the urine. The intestine excretes solid waste after nutrients and water has been absorbed. Keeping our bodies well nourished throughout the year allows these systems to work at their best. However if you still wish to try a detox diet, consider the following points to help you choose the healthiest detox diet: 

  •  Choose a detox diet that has the least dietary restrictions. Look for a program that include protein-rich foods, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
  •  Avoid laxative and diuretic supplements. Consuming plenty of fibre and water will help your body excrete wastes.
  •  Do not exceed the diet’s recommended duration.
  • Check in with your doctor first if you have a health condition or take medications.

The bottom line
Detox diets aren’t necessary. There isn’t enough scientific evidence to prove that detox diets work, and our bodies our equiped for detoxing already. The issue is that people should not be living an unhealthy lifestyle for 28 days of each month, and think that two days of some detox diet will make up for the poor choices for the rest of the month. The ultimate healthy diet is one you can live with day in, day out.

Written by Nicole Osinga, RD, MAN, BASc

I'm a Registered Dietitian who works with clients in the Durham Region! I use evidence-based recommendations to help you achieve your nutrition goals. I have many hearty and delicious recipes to share! My office is in Courtice, ON. I regularly work with clients from Oshawa, Whitby, Ajax, Pickering, Newcastle, Bowmanville and Courtice.

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