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Do You Need a Detox Diet?

Katherine Brooking, RD - Blogs
By Katherine Brooking, MS, RDRegistered dietitianMarch 03, 2015
From the WebMD Archives

Thinking about a “detox diet?” As a dietitian, I get questions all the time about the potential benefits of “detoxing” or “cleansing” or “fasting.”  We often hear of mega-watt celebs — everyone from Beyonce to Gwyneth — crediting liquid diets for their fabulous figures.

And with the rise in popularity of the BluePrintCleanse and similar plans, I’m seeing more and more people turn to so-called detoxification programs to lose weight, shed belly fat, clear acne, and even increase fertility… just to name a few! But before you forsake your fork, know the myths and facts about juice cleansing.

What is a juice cleanse?

Juice detox or cleanses have different regimens, but the basic requirement for most is a diet consisting of only fruit or vegetable juice (some include nut milk) for a period of one day to several weeks. Daily total calories also vary from plan to plan, but most are very low (as little as 800) to up to 1800 daily. Many of the weight loss plans are 1600 calories per day or below.

Cleansing and weight loss

Most experts (this one included) do not recommend juice fasting as a way to lose weight. If you’re itching to shed pounds, a drastic cut in calories may seem like the fastest way to see instant results.  However, when you eat less food for a prolonged period of time, your metabolism slows down to conserve energy. Then, when you go back to your usual diet, your lowered metabolism may cause you to store more energy, so you will likely gain back the weight you lost and possibly even put on more weight when eating the same calories you did before the fast.

On the plus side, some people successfully use juice cleanses to help banish bad eating habits. If you’re struggling with too many sweets, fast food or packaged foods, a day or two of drinking juice can be a way to “jumpstart” a new pattern of eating.  However this does not work for everyone. Some people end up feeling more hungry and grumpy with juice alone, and then go into eating overdrive as soon as the fast is over. What’s the long-term solution for weight loss? Regular exercise combined with a calorie-controlled diet of fruit, vegetables, whole grain, lean protein, and healthy fats.

Juice fasting to “detoxify” the body

Most juice cleanses include a “detox” phase during which dieters are instructed to drink only water, juice or herbal teas to help rid the body of toxins. But there is scant scientific evidence showing that fasting will detox or cleanse your body. The truth is our liver, kidneys and digestive system are well designed to rid the body of waste – there is no need to ‘cleanse’ our body through juice or other types of fasts. In some people, severe calorie restriction can produce feelings of happiness or even euphoria. But beyond a few days, fasting isn’t actually doing a body good as nutritional deficiencies may result.

If you’re considering any type of fast, it is important that you check with your doctor first. For most people juice fasting for a few days is harmless, but for others, it can be dangerous. Cleanses are not advised for pregnant and breastfeeding women, the elderly, and individuals with certain health conditions like diabetes.

The Bottom Line

Though detox diets may not live up to all the claims, for most healthy people, a day or several days of juice cleansing will not cause harm. But for lasting, long-term weight loss, hold on to your fork and keep eating healthy meals and snacks.

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About the Author
Katherine Brooking, MS, RD

Katherine Brooking is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition education from Columbia University. She is dedicated to helping people have better health and live richer lives through sound nutrition and good lifestyle choices.

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