Detox Diets & Juice Cleanses, Yay or Nay?
You have been away on holiday for 3 weeks, indulging in a little too much alcohol and processed foods, and you have come home feeling a bit ‘squishy’ and all round like your body is in dire need of some TLC.
But never fear, because the week you get back you are going to get knees deep in the latest and greatest detox cleanse!!
Hear the word detox diet and you get polarising opinions:
-The first being that they are wonderful- gods gift to weight loss and all round health and vitality!
- The second being that they are an absolute load of money wasting crap.
So who is right?
As with many aspects of nutrition it often appears that there is no black and white answer, while some things may work magic for one person, it may not be so good for another.
What is the aim of a detox anyway?
The aim of a detox is more or less to rid your body of toxicants. But what on earth are toxicants exactly?
Toxicants are compounds that interact at a molecular or tissue level to alter the homeostasis of an organism which thereby results in an alteration in normal functioning. But here’s the kicker that most people often overlook: Any compound has the potential to cause harm, depending on the amount and level of exposure. So while when you think of toxicants you may think of drugs or the likes, water or even spinach- if consumed in a high enough dose can be 'toxic'. Thereby meaning anything and everything has the potential to be toxic to a certain extent; there is no way to avoid this.
However don’t panic too much as the body is (in most people) excellent at detoxing itself. When we think of detoxification we often think of the liver, as this is where many compounds are sent to be broken down into forms that we can excrete from the body.
So if our bodies were so good at detoxification why would a detox even be necessary?
Many people believe that because nowadays we are exposed to so much harmful stuff such as cigarette smoke, too much alcohol, pollution and medications it is helpful to give our bodies a little help in the way of a detox.
Many many many people (and by many I mean everyone I’ve ever known who has done a detox diet) aren’t doing it to give their digestive systems and liver a break but are doing it to lose body fat. You may be different but you are definitely the minority.
Embarking on a ‘detox diet’ in an attempt to lose body fat is probably going to leave you rather disappointed. Majority of weight lost from a detox diet is probably water, glycogen stores and intestinal bulk- all of which return shortly after getting your eating pattern back to normal. One study in particular found that a 7 day juice cleanse saw a decrease in LDL and VLDL cholesterol however this returned to normal one week after ending the cleanse. Not to mention detoxes can bring about feelings of deprivation from the increased effort and reduced calories, which can lead to bingeing and can often create an unhealthy feast or famine style of eating (the ‘diet starts tomorrow so I must eat all this unhealthy food filled with toxins to get the cravings out of my system’ mentality sound familiar?).
So even if you are someone who generally just wants to go on a detox diet to give your detox pathways of the liver some support, are you going to benefit?
In majority of cases a natural, unprocessed and organic diet is going to support the bodies natural detox processes.
There are specific instances where additional detoxing may be required (after heavy medication use, or heavy metal poisoning for example) however this would be a job for a registered practitioner to address the specific problem with specific remedies as opposed to the usually hideously expensive ‘one size fits all’ detox products on the market. Besides most detox diets are sold on the misguided premise that our bodies do not detox efficiently all the time, which in the vast majority is completely incorrect.
A much better solution is to try and support your bodies natural detox pathways daily through natural, whole and unprocessed foods whilst limiting your exposure to harmful things you have control over (processed food, drugs, cigarette smoke, pesticides etc.), instead of hammering your body for majority of the year and thinking that a ‘one size fits all’ detox program for 3 weeks is going to undo all of that damage.
What can you do to naturally support the bodies detox pathways?
- Get enough sleep!
- Eat a diet rich in natural, whole and unprocessed foods (organic where possible)
- Aim for at least 2 servings of leafy greens, 2 servings of sulphur rich vegetables (think broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, cabbage etc.), 2 servings of colourful vegetables (think orange, red, purple, yellow), and at least 1 serving of antioxidant rich berries!!
- Eat enough protein (several amino acids are required for liver detox pathways).
- Get your omega 3's in!
- Reduce the use of plastics (a friend wrote an awesome article on this over at Holistic Performance Nutrition so check that out)
Most of the evidence supporting detox diets and juice cleanses is weak... at best. Give your body a little bit of credit! It is much smarter than you and therefore does a pretty good job at 'detoxing' you anyway- if it didn't you would be dead. However there is a lot you can do to support your bodies natural detoxification process so focus on that before you spend hundreds of dollars on the latest cleanse- because chances are it's not going to work the way you want it to.