Dietitians Dish: Detox diets not necessarily proven to work
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With the new year right around the corner, many people are looking for quick, easy ways to drop pounds. Detoxification diets, better known as detox diets, have been extremely popular in the media in recent years. They are often marketed as a natural way of weight loss, while cleansing the body of toxic chemicals.
These diets are often used by celebrities to drop pounds days before the red carpet, and there are dozens of different detox formulas available to try. Even with the buzz in the media, these diets are not necessary or proven to work.
What is detox diet?
A detox diet is an extreme, quick weight-loss plan that claims to rid the body of toxic chemicals. This is usually done by temporarily giving up certain foods that contain harmful chemicals and consuming nutrients, antioxidants, fiber and herbal extracts that help the body's natural detoxification process.
Processed foods, sugar, wheat, red meat, caffeine and alcohol are typically avoided. There is a wide variety of different detox diets, lasting anywhere from a few days to a month. Many involve some version of a low-calorie, liquid diet, slowly adding in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and vitamin and mineral supplements.
Do detox diets really work?
Weight loss is likely to occur because people are essentially fasting while on these diets. People are going to see weight loss any time they cut their calories. However, this initial weight loss while fasting is mostly the loss of fluid, or "water weight" - not fat. When the body is fasting, it goes into conservation mode to make up for the lack of calories.
It begins to burn those calories at a slower rate, slowing down the metabolism, making it easier to regain weight when the diet is finished. It is common to see the weight - and a few extra pounds - return with normal eating. Unfortunately, the weight that is regained is likely to be all fat.
As far as cleansing the body, there is little scientific evidence that indicates a need for fasting or any other detox formula to detoxify. The body is designed to use its internal organs to efficiently remove these toxins on its own. Most of the claims seen on these diets are testimonials, not credible, scientific evidence.
Are detox diets safe?
Detox diets can be potentially dangerous, with the risks outweighing the benefits. Prolonged fasting can lead to health problems, such as muscle loss. Other side effects may include low energy, muscle aches, fatigue, dizziness or nausea. For a healthy person, following a detox diet for a day or two probably won't do much harm.
However, these programs are not recommended for people with high-risk conditions, such as diabetes, eating disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, kidney disease or liver disease. The elderly, pregnant women, children and teenagers should also avoid these diets.
Eating a well-balanced diet is the safest route to go. Fruits and vegetables are filled with phytochemicals and fiber, both of which detoxify the body. Cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts promote enzymes in the liver that aid in detoxification. The fiber in foods such as flax seeds, beans, oats and brown rice can bind to toxins in the body and carry them out through the feces. Foods such as eggs, garlic, onions and green tea have a high amount of antioxidants, which are sometimes known as the master detoxifiers.
Probiotics may protect the intestines by inhibiting the growth of bacteria. Probiotics can be found in supplement form or in fermented foods such as yogurt. Finally, hydration is key because without water excess chemicals cannot leave the body.
As with every other fad diet, if the product sounds like it is too good to be true, it probably is. Most detox diets are nothing more than a quick fix. Focus on making the right food choices for the rest of the holiday season to avoid feeling the need to cleanse the body of all those delicious holiday foods. That doesn't mean give up those desserts completely - just eat them in moderation.
Kristi Rolfsen is a dietetic intern at DeTar Healthcare Systems.