FAD (Fast and Dirty) diets are everywhere. Just Google latest diet trends and the responses you get will blow your socks off. These diets come with many claims to ‘fix’ your weight issues. They often go through various transformations and one that is regularly revived is the detox diet, sometimes called the “cleanse”.
The goal is to cleanse the body of harmful substances, called toxins. Some of these diets are aimed at the liver and other organs. Others claim to cleanse you from head to toe.
So what are toxins?
Toxins are substances that are poisonous to humans. These may be substances created by plants and animals, man-made poisons (toxicants) found in the environment, and some medicines may be poisonous in large doses.
In the context of a detox diet, a toxin includes heavy metals, pollutants, pesticides, preservatives, food colouring and other synthetic chemicals that may accumulate in your body over time and lead to health problems.
How do these work?
In a nutshell, detox diets work on the premise that the body accumulates toxins and metabolic waste as a result of being exposed to pesticides, pollutants and food additives. These diets claim that various combinations of foods and supplements can remove these toxins. The famous “Master Cleanse” that did the rounds a few years ago, claimed that a special combination of lemonade and black pepper, along with a truckload of supplements would clear your body of these toxins.
Does the body need cleansing?
The human body does accumulate low levels of noxious elements, such as heavy metals or certain fat-soluble substances, but it has mechanisms in place to eliminate them over time. Even heavy-metal poisoning is rare, and then it is treated with chelating agents, not detox diets.
If a substance is really noxious, a detox won’t help. Acute toxicity would constitute a medical emergency, while chronic toxicity is best addressed by a well-fed body – not one weakened by drinking pepper infused lemonade or some other concoction. The liver, kidneys, lungs and several other organs work around the clock to remove harmful substances and excrete them. They don’t need help from FAD diets.
In 2009 an investigation into detoxes found that not a single company behind 15 detox supplements could name the toxins targeted by their products or agree on a definition for the word detox. Not one company had any evidence of the effectiveness or safety of their products.
The anecdotal benefits of a detox
One of the reasons FAD diets spread quickly through word of mouth is due to rapid weight loss. These would be great if weight loss meant fat loss but it doesn’t.
To store one gram of glycogen (sugar) in the liver and muscles the body uses 3 grams of water. As soon these stores are reduced, water is lost and rapid weight loss occurs. Once you return to normal eating the glycogen and water come back.
This temporary weight loss leads many people to believe it was due to the detox they just completed.
When a detox can be harmful
There are many harmful effects of detox diets. They are usually very low in calories and lacking in protein. If continued for several weeks, this may result in the breakdown of important proteins that line the gut, neurotransmitters, as well as muscle and this, has a negative impact on long-term health.
Detox diets are often very high in sugars, and while sometimes these may be from fruits and vegetables many health conditions can be made worse including diabetes, heart disease and digestive issues such as IBS and SIBO.
For someone without chronic health problems who is eating a healthy whole food diet, then an occasional detox probably won’t do too much harm. For anyone with chronic health conditions, a detox may feel like it provides some temporary relief, but long-term it will often make the situation worse.
Get a healthy body first
If weight loss is your goal, then get a healthy body first. An unhealthy body will always struggle to lose weight, no matter what you eat.
If improved health is your goal, then make the choice to eliminate refined and processed foods and concentrate on consuming plenty of fresh vegetables, some meat, fish, chicken and other nutrient-dense foods every day.
Susan Birch is an expert in functional nutrition with over 20 years experience. She works with clients to who are struggling with losing weight, health challenges, sleep disorders, hormonal imbalances, brain fog and digestive issues who want to feel well, feel full of energy and vitality. Contact Susan today to make a time for an introductory consultation.