What Is a Detox Diet?
What Is a Detox Diet, and Who Needs It?
Yo-yo dieter Oprah went on the 21-Day Cleanse back in the summer of 2008, singer Beyonce Knowles has admitted to following the Master Cleanse to shed 20 pounds for her movie role in Dreamgirls, and actress Gwyneth Paltrow sent out a newsletter this January from her lifestyle Web site, GOOP.com, touting a weeklong elimination diet. "I need to lose a few pounds of holiday excess," she wrote. "Anyone else?"
Such celebrities seem to buy into so-called "detox diets" as a way to drop pounds fast. But the real premise of a true elimination diet or cleanse program (both types of detoxification diets, or "detox diets" for short) is to facilitate the removal of toxins and pollutants from your body. How? By cutting out your intake of contaminants, so you'll gradually eliminate unhealthy substances like pesticides, smog and pollution, alcohol, and caffeine from your body.
"There are a lot of people who believe that because we live in a world with so many environmental pollutants and medications that people are taking, the liver is overstressed," explains Mary Jane Detroyer, a New York-based registered dietitian and exercise physiologist. "The whole idea of a detox diet is to rid toxins from the body, because the liver is overloaded and needs some outside help."
But do our bodies actually need a special diet to cleanse itself? Not really, says Dawn Jackson Blatner, an American Dietetic Association spokesperson and FITNESS advisory board member. "Our bodies have organs such as the liver, kidneys, skin, lungs, and digestive system to remove these unnecessary substances every day without the help of any special detox diet or potions to help it along."
Compared to how many people try fad detox diets, few people actually need it. (To see if you do, Detroyer recommends getting your liver enzymes checked out by your physician. "If they're elevated, that means your liver is stressed," she says. Several factors can cause elevated levels, such as medication, excessive alcohol consumption, or being overweight.)
However, if you still feel inclined to embark on a detox plan, dieter beware: "For most healthy people, doing a detox for a few days won't lead to any long-term health problems," says Blatner. "However, for someone who has conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, digestive issues, or women who are pregnant, children or teens, and elderly, these extreme changes to their diet can mean anything from dizziness to fainting to coma since the diets affect electrolyte and blood sugar balance."
And even if you don't suffer from any of those conditions, taking on a long-term cleanse (ahem, Oprah) can lead to a host of other problems, such as vitamin and mineral deficiency and muscle breakdown -- not really surprising when you're doing something extreme like drinking nothing but lemon water with maple syrup and cayenne pepper for 10 days, as the Master Cleanse encourages.
Still, there may be one good side effect from starting a detox plan: "A healthy person following a short-term detox diet may get a bit of a mental jump start into eating healthier and exercising for the rest of the year," Blatner concedes.
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