Detox Diets Debunked

image “By restricting what you eat for a period of time you can rid your body of any built-up toxins, and probably shed a few pounds while you are at it.” With ads for various versions of the so-called detox diets appearing in magazines, health food stores, and on the Internet, detox diets are hard to ignore. It’s no wonder, then, that as other diets have come and gone, the popularity of detox diets has remained. But do these diets really work? The concept of detoxifying one’s body through diet has been around for centuries. Today, there is a plethora of detox diets—from one-day fasts to five-day juice diets to three-week detox programs. Although the diets may differ, what they all have in common is a focus on severe food restriction for a limited time period.

The Case for the Detox Diet

The main premise of detox diets is that detoxification through diet is the only way to rid our bodies of the chemicals and toxins that seep into our bodies through air, food, and water on a daily basis. Proponents believe that if not removed, these toxins build up, eventually leading to damage and diseases, such as cancer.Although there are thousands of variations on the detox diet, the most common type allows fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds, but not other commonly eaten foods such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy, wheat, sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. A variation on this is the juice diet, which allows only juiced vegetables and some fruits. Finally, there is fasting, which basically means consuming only water, although in some cases herbal teas and fruit juices are okay. It should be noted that fasting is also commonly done for religious or spiritual reasons, not just for health. Advocates of detox diets claim that following the diet will result in benefits such as:
  • Improved complexion
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased bloating
While these may be real benefits of a detox diet, it is interesting to note that the most likely explanations are not so mysterious. Weight loss and decreased bloating can both be attributed to calorie deprivation. Less salt intake will also decrease bloating.

Scientific Evidence Lacking

To date, there has been little research on the various detoxification diets, and as a result, there is no scientific support for or against any of their health claims. Instead, both pro and con arguments rely on what is known about the functioning of the human body, as well as toxicology (the study of toxins).What we do know is that certain components of many of the detox diets are actually quite healthful, including:
  • Focus on fruits and vegetables. It is not new news that fruits and vegetables are healthful, and the most recent dietary guidelines have upped the recommended daily servings for these foods. For example, the United States Department of Agriculture's ChooseMyPlate project recommends making half of your plate fruits and veggies. These nutritious options are low in calories and packed with vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants that all work to promote health and fight disease
  • Reduced calorie intake. Detoxification diets reduce total calorie intake by eliminating whole groups of food, such as meat and dairy. Since most Americans consume too many calories, reducing total calorie intake a bit would be beneficial and most likely lead to gradual weight loss. The catch is that these diets often reduce calories too much, which may lead to nutritional deficiencies and side effects such as fatigue and headaches.

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