Are there any real health benefits to doing a detox or cleanse?
It’s that time of year again! January means we’re all inundated with articles and ads for cleanses, detoxes, and weight-loss programs. There’s a good reason for it. After the rich and decadent foods of the holidays, you may be ready for a diet “reset” to get back on track with your healthy-eating habits, and the promise of a quick fix — whether to “cleanse” your system or drop 10 pounds — can be hard to ignore. But before you sign up for the latest and greatest juice cleanse or detox, let’s take a look at what’s really behind some of these claims.
While there is no formal definition, a detox or cleanse is typically a short-term eating pattern that removes several foods from your diet with the promise of cleaning up your digestive system and removing so-called “toxins” from your body, leaving you feeling lighter, happier, and healthier. Detox diets are also often promoted as a way to to jumpstart weight loss or to pinpoint certain foods that may be causing health issues. Some require you to consume only liquids — often in the form of juice or soup — and may also require the purchase of supplements. Others may just remove certain food groups or ingredients that are deemed to be problematic, often sugar, dairy, or gluten, for a period of time.
But do they actually work? While the claims may seem appealing, it’s important to realize one very important thing: your body has its own natural hardworking detoxifying system, made up of your liver, kidneys, lungs, and digestive system. The best way to keep this system performing at its peak is to stay hydrated and eat a healthy, balanced diet. The restrictive nature of detox diets tends to be counter-productive to keeping your body’s natural detoxification system thriving, and research suggests these diets may actually lead to slower metabolism and other digestion problems, as well as dehydration and muscle loss — the opposite of what most detox diets claim to do. Eating healthy and staying hydrated keep your digestive system running and your kidneys and liver functioning in tip top shape, which helps your body to “detox” naturally. In addition, there is no good research to show that harmful substances actually build up in the body from eating too much indulgent food. As for weight loss, it may seem like such diets can kickstart pound shedding, but these short-term solutions often just lead to lost water weight, not fat loss, and most lead to weight regain when your regular diet is resumed.
Unfortunately there’s no quick fix to health, and when a diet plan sounds too good to be true, it probably is. However, there are some simple ways to get back on track after an indulgent holiday or vacation. In addition to eating a balanced diet — fruits, vegetables, whole grains, leans meats, and healthy fats — cutting out unnecessary salt, added sugar, and alcohol as well as drinking more water can all help to reducing bloating and inflammation. And finally, working up a sweat with regular exercise will help to not only strengthen your body, but also boost mood and improve sleep habits — all key ingredients to weight management and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
At Bon Appétit, we know there’s a lot on your plate that you worry about. That’s why we have a team of registered dietitian nutritionists ready to answer your nutrition questions about which food choices will help you avoid unwanted pounds, work or study (and sleep!) better, and form long-lasting healthy eating habits. Email your questions and feedback to [email protected]