Thanks to celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Beyoncé and Anne Hathaway endorsing various cleanses, detox diets have never been more popular.
“The detox industry is huge,” says Harmony Boeh, R.D., with Roseville Health and Wellness Center. “It made more than $60 billion in 2011.”
Outside of the celebrity push, cleanses and detox programs can be quite appealing. Individuals turn to the quick and temporary diet as a way to increase energy levels and to “reset” their bodies after regular exposure to environmental toxins (medications, pesticides, pollution) and from their typical diet (processed foods, sugars, alcohol, caffeine). “Being able to break any addiction [to caffeine, alcohol, sugar] is empowering,” Boeh says. Dr. Anita M. Larrow, N.D., with Revolutions Natural Medical Solutions in Folsom, agrees. “Some people will do it as a spiritual or mental cleanse. Others will do it with the change of season, to jump-start a weight loss plan, or to break an addiction. Cleansing and detoxing takes you out of your daily eating routine so you can break those habits.”
But before you try a detox diet or cleanse, both Boeh and Larrow strongly advise consulting a doctor to see if it’s the right choice for you. “For the generally healthy population, a three-day cleanse isn’t likely to do much harm or lead to lasting health problems, and may provide motivation for people looking to change to a healthier diet afterwards,” Boeh says, adding that children, teenagers, pregnant or nursing women, and seniors are not advised to detox/cleanse.
As with most fad diets, there is a lack of scientific evidence to support their adoption. “Science has not proven any benefit to a detox or cleanse diet,” says Kirsten Ransbury, R.D., with Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center. “There is a multi-billion dollar industry selling books and products which claim many things that are unproven. This is very much a buyer-beware situation.” Detox diets are extremely low calorie and primarily liquid diets promoted to clear out the colon and help the body eliminate toxins. “None of them are recommended since they are nutritionally inadequate, can upset blood sugars, lead to muscle and water loss (dehydration), diarrhea or frequent loose stools, reduced immunity, headaches, irritability and a slower metabolism, which makes regaining any weight lost happen very quickly when the diet is done,” Ransbury explains. “The human body is designed to rid itself of toxins. The liver, kidneys, lungs and skin do a beautiful job of this already.”
Like anything, the answer to whether a detox diet can be beneficial to you depends on what you and your doctor decide is best. Ransbury and Boeh summarize seven of the most popular diets, explaining the pros and cons of each.
1.THE MASTER CLEANSE
Also known as the lemonade diet, the Master Cleanse is a monodiet (where you only consume one mixture) designed to work with your body’s existing cleansing and detoxifying processes. It’s typically done for 10 days. “The Master Cleanse is basically a starvation diet, where you are allowed to drink a mixture of lemon juice with maple syrup, water and cayenne pepper. You can also drink salt water and a laxative tea,” Ransbury says.
Pros: According to the book The Complete Master Cleanse by Tom Woloshyn, benefits include: better sleep, more energy, clarity of mind, greater flexibility, weight loss, freedom from addictions, increased strength, reduced swelling and pain, less hair loss, improved skin complexion, reduced allergies and more. Ransbury, however, states this diet has no benefits.
Cons: “It may lead to muscle breakdown, vitamin deficiencies, weakened immune system, headaches, fatigue and frequent loose stools,” she says.
2. GREEN SMOOTHIE DETOX DIET
This diet plan involves blending fruits and vegetables into smoothies. “It provides about 15 servings of fruits and veggies a day,” Ransbury says, adding that there are different options as far as how many days the plan can be followed. Allowed foods include avocado, brewer’s yeast, bee pollen, chia seeds, herbs, raw chocolate, yogurt, coconut, flaxseed oil, goji berries, wheat germ, maple syrup, stevia and honey.
Pros: Lots of fiber and may be an easy way for people to consume more fruits and veggies, Ransbury says.
Cons: “People may experience headaches and fatigue while adjusting to the elimination of many foods,” she says. “This diet does not provide suggestions on what to eat other than a quart of green smoothies each day, so it may be low in vitamin B12, zinc, vitamin D and selenium.”
3. MARTHA’S VINEYARD DETOX DIET
Consisting of 21 days of liquids (primarily vegetable juices and soups, berry drinks and herbal teas), this diet requires nutritional supplements – vitamins, digestive enzymes and aloe vera juice – which can be purchased from the diet plan’s Web site and cost upwards of $200. Ransbury says the diet is only about 1,000 calories per day, and caffeine and alcohol are prohibited. After 21 days, additional foods like protein powder, soymilk, yogurt and salmon are added, followed by other nutritious foods.
Pros: “There are a lot of fruits and vegetables – about 21 servings a day – but this is a blessing and a curse since it can lead to many unexpected trips to the bathroom,” Ransbury says.
Cons: The diet doesn’t provide enough protein to maintain your muscles or immune system, offering only about 20 grams per day. “People will lose weight but it will be primarily water and muscle,” she says. “This type of weight loss is quickly regained, but the muscle has to be rebuilt with exercise.” Essential fat is also lacking from the diet. And with sudden stops to alcohol, caffeine and sugar consumption, withdrawal symptoms may occur.
4. FRESH FRUIT CLEANSE
Leanne Hall, a yoga instructor and nutrition enthusiast, created the Fresh Fruit Cleanse, which lasts between one to seven days, with greater weight loss resulting with longer cleanses. “Hall claims fruit is ‘nature’s most effective cleanser’ and her cleanse will restore metabolism, strengthen peristaltic (digestive) actions of the intestines, support weight loss, and ‘awaken’ willpower and confidence,” Boeh says. Recommended foods include mangos, apples, pears, bananas, raspberries, plantains, dates, figs, orange juice, lemons, tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, spaghetti squash, eggplants, zucchinis, avocados, coconut milk, spirulina, raw cacao, hemp seeds, flax seeds, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, herbs and spices.
Pros: This diet encourages healthy fruit and vegetable intake, eliminates processed foods and is affordable (Hall’s book Fresh Fruit Cleanse retails for $11 on amazon.com). And despite its name, this diet isn’t limited to fresh fruit only, Boeh adds.
Cons: “All foods must be prepped at home,” Boeh says. “It’s not realistic for many people with time constraints, family or full-time jobs.” The diet does not include exercise, and some dieters may have problems with headaches, fatigue and digestive distress.
5. RAW FOOD CLEANSE
This cleanse is based on the thought that when we consume cooked foods, our bodies must divert valuable energy away from normal detoxification processes and instead dedicate this energy toward inefficiently digesting the cooked foods, Boeh explains. “The cleanse claims to allow our bodies to get rid of waste without accumulating more along the way,” she says. The diet includes organic raw fruits, vegetables, seeds and sprouts, but prohibits foods like avocados, nuts and coconuts as these fats are said to reduce efficacy of the cleanse. Additionally, cleansers must eat at least a pound of leafy greens each day of the 7-10 day diet to meet vitamin and mineral needs.
Pros: According to rawfoodsolution.com, “the basic approach in this diet is to increase the consumption of raw plant foods (fruits and vegetables), reduce or cut out completely the consumption of cooked food and animal fats and protein (i.e. meat and dairy products).” The Web site also claims feelings of rejuvenation, energy, improved attitude and weight loss. “Any time people eat more fruits and veggies is great,” Boeh says.
Cons: The diet’s Web site also explains that it’s not nutritionally complete and should not be followed for prolonged periods of time. Boeh adds that this diet, like most other cleanses, is not based on scientific research. The diet excludes important exercise, and recommends a 24-hour water-only fast prior to starting the up-to-10-day cleanse. Like many cleanses, it is recommended you stay home for the extent of the diet to ensure you’re following the guidelines. And you’ll need to have time to prepare the produce through chopping, peeling, straining, blending, etc. You may experience possible discomfort while “toxins leave the body,” caffeine withdrawal headaches, lightheadedness, nausea, irritability and vomiting.
6. JUICE CLEANSE
This cleanse claims to mobilize toxin-containing fat stores, Boeh explains. It typically lasts at least three days and consists of fresh vegetable and fruit juices. Prior to the cleanse, cut out caffeine, sugar and processed foods to decrease the likelihood of headaches and cravings, she says. You’ll drink 32-96 ounces of juice each day, half coming from veggie greens, and then you’ll drink warm water between the juices to “promote elimination.”
Pros: The book Juice Fasting and Detoxification by Steve Meyerowitz claims the diet will increase energy, improve mental alertness, heal chronic ailments without drugs, promote weight loss without the hassle of diets, and maintain stamina without hunger.
Cons: Besides the fact that it’s nutritionally incomplete with negligible protein and fat, it’s also pricey. Juicers start at $300 and it costs about $65-$70 dollars a day to maintain the diet. Boeh warns that juice cleanses can be dangerous for people with diabetes, people undergoing chemotherapy, or people with kidney compromise. Lastly, when you make juices (on any diet), you must consume them as soon as you make them because valuable phytochemicals begin to break down as soon as the juice is made, she says. “When juicing, the pulp or skin is typically removed and discarded, meaning we miss out on the fiber that we need to help regulate bowel function and stabilize blood sugars,” she explains.
7. THE PH CLEANSE
This cleanse allows for consumption of nuts, vegetables, many fruits (with certain exceptions) and whole grains, but prohibits meats, most dairy, sweets, artificial sweeteners, condiments and alcohol. “Supporters claim that consuming more carbonated beverages, energy drinks, sugar, refined grains, dairy and meat lowers the body’s pH and leaves us more susceptible to illness,” Boeh says. “By eliminating these low pH foods, you become more alkalotic, or more ‘balanced,’ boosting the immune system and making us less favorable hosts to chronic disease.” The diet recommends frequent saliva pH tests (our body likes a pH of 7.35-7.45) and two enemas daily.
Pros: Alkalotic foods tend to be plant-based: whole grains, vegetables and nuts. Eating more of these is always good, Boeh says. The diet claims to “resolve” chronic conditions and pain, improve skin complexion, increase energy levels and provide a better sense of well-being and mental clarity.
Cons: Twice-daily enemas can lead to dangerous electrolyte imbalances, that ironically the cleanse reports to correct. Dehydration and bowel perforation are also possible. Reactions may include diarrhea, fatigue, dizziness, nausea and headaches as “toxins leave the body.”