You – like me – have probably seen countless articles online and in magazines appealing to us to “detoxify” our bodies by foregoing solid food and juicing instead. Or perhaps you’ve seen advice that you should be drinking green smoothies, or guzzling gallons of filtered water, or maybe even slurping strange concoctions made from olive oil, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper.
In 2007, Americans alone spent over $28 MILLION on detox products. That figure is undoubtedly a lot higher now.
I’m here to tell you it’s all a load of nonsense. The only things you need in order to ensure your body gets rid of toxins are things most of don’t have to make any effort to possess: a healthy liver, kidneys, and skin.
I’m not the only one who thinks this. Minh-Hai Tran, MS, RD, CSSD, a registered dietitian and owner of Mindful Nutrition in Seattle points out:
“Keeping our bodies healthy is not like a plumbing job where you can just flush out what you don’t want. There’s no scientific evidence that ‘cleansing’ supplements and juices effectively help the body detoxify.”
Here are some more reasons why the “detox” craze needs to be debunked, sooner rather than later:
1. Detox diets don’t “rid your body of toxins”.
Healthy organs – including the liver, kidneys and skin – are our most reliable detoxification apparatus, and they do a great job of eliminating everyday toxins. Keep them healthy by feeding them good, whole, real, nutritious foods. Be aware too that some “all-natural” ingredients in detox supplements – such as psyllium husk, fennel seeds and senna pods – can have a strongly laxative or diuretic effect on the body. Whilst useful in some circumstances and in sensible proportions, misuse of these supplements can flush out valuable nutrients, cause dehydration, and even over-stretch and damage the colon. Yum.
2. Detox diets don’t stimulate healthy weight loss.
If you’re juice-fasting and then jumping for joy that you’ve lost a few pounds, you shouldn’t be surprised (and you also shouldn’t be too happy). Any calorie-restricted diet will induce weight loss, but it doesn’t mean it’s healthy weight loss. Juice fasts are undoubtedly low in calories. Following one for a day – maybe two – is probably fine, but if you under-eat for an extended period, your body goes into starvation mode and your metabolism will start to slow down to conserve energy. This paves the way for weight gain over time, because a reduced metabolism causes calories to be burned less efficiently. If you want to juice, fine – but drink your juices as part of a calorie-managed, nutrient-rich, full-of-fibre, real food diet. Juices aren’t food. Food is food. As registered dieticia Melissa Miller says:
“Juicing isn’t necessarily an unhealthy option, but when compared to the whole food, it is nutritionally inferior. In fact, similar to choosing refined grains over whole grains, choosing juices over the whole fruit or vegetable means you’re missing out.”
3. Detox diets aren’t necessarily safe.
Detox diets present a host of potentially serious hazards, according to Roger Clemens, PhD, from the University of Southern California’s School of Pharmacy. “The biggest danger is nutrient insufficiency from protracted starvation”, he says. Nutrient deficiency can cause poor immune function, tiredness, weakness, skin problems, brittle hair and nails, brain fog and nausea.
4. Detox diet promoters make claims that are exaggerated and unsupported.
Most detox regimes are based on the premise that we have to “cleanse” something – our liver, or our bowels perhaps. But these organs are not pieces of machinery, or filters in an engine – they are part of a living, breathing body. Every drop of blood in our body passes through the liver every hour and this is where real detoxification happens, through a series of complex organic processes. The toxins in the blood are metabolised and transformed into other substances which are then able to leave the body in our excretions; they are not left behind, in need of clearing away by us! Don’t believe anyone who makes out that the average person has a “toxic liver” or a “colon compacted by pounds of putrefying waste”. If this were true, you’d certainly know about it, because you’d either be very ill, or very dead.
5. Detox diets put the body under undue stress.
Some subsstances used in detox products – so-called “liver-cleansing” herbs, for example – can cause the body and its organs to work harder. Often, they speed up the digestive process, which results in more than the normal amount of metabolic-break-down byproducts being released into the bloodstream. This is an additional load for the liver to cope with. We’re effectively asking it to work harder at the part of its job that’s already hardest. Does this sound like a recipe for a happy, healthy liver? No.
6. Detox diets are deprivation diets.
The bottom line is that if detox plans work (in the sense of making a person feel “better”) they probably do so because they encourage abstinence from low-nutrition foods and beverages. But they also tend to encourage abstinence from perfectly good foods and beverages, which can lead to a lower than necessary intake of calories and essential nutrients. Why not forego the low-nutrition foods and enjoy lots of high-nutrition foods? The simplest way to detox is to make better choices when eating and drinking – not to give up proper nutrition altogether!
What to do instead? Detox by nourishing your body!
I’m sure it won’t surprise you to hear me say this. EAT REAL FOOD. In other words – don’t detoxify, nourish! Real food provides your organs – including the all-important liver, kidneys and skin – with the nutrition they need to remain healthy enought to do their jobs well. Also, real food – complete with its attendant fibre and minerals – allows your digestive system to keep itself moving and in good shape.
Eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, fresh fish, lean meats and nuts – and fewer fried foods, refined grains, processed meats, red meats, and added sugars – is a great idea for a whole host of reasons, and will provide far more benefit to your health than any green smoothie or juice fast ever could.
(You can get more information on how to achieve such improvements in your diet in my free Real Food Reset guide, or – for even more in-depth info, including many real food recipes and a whole chapter of healthy exercise suggestions – in my book Real Food Revival Plan).