It’s all too common to just not feel very good. We’re stressed and tired, our backs hurt. A lot of us are carrying around extra weight. We have headaches and heartburn. Stomach troubles are always lurking. And there is a weird dry patch on your elbow. Yeah, a detox sounds like it might just do the trick.
It’s hard to ignore the endless stream of internet sites and media that demonizes all kinds of foods, claiming they cause everything from autism to Alzheimer’s. It’s easy to buy into the idea that food is what’s causing all that ails us because we just need a reason for why we don’t feel good.
There are hundreds of detoxes on the market and every self-proclaimed health guru has their own version. Most “detoxes” are some kind of fast where you go without a certain food or food group for a certain period of time with the intention of removing toxins from the body or giving your digestive system a break. Ranging from popular juice fasts where you only drink juice to raw food fasts where you only eat raw foods, proponents of these fad diets advertise dramatic results from glowing skin to weight loss. Some require costly supplements or teas. Many cut out entire food groups. But “detox” means different things to different people. And “detox” might just mean money for the promoter.
But don’t I need to get rid of the toxins?
One of the mysteries of detox diets is what toxins we are trying to get rid of and where are they coming from. There is little evidence that toxins are being stored in our body because our livers and digestive systems are overloaded or clogged. If that were the case you would need medical detoxification STAT! Detoxification in medical terms is very different than the dietary detox promoted in the media. Ingestion of poison, like an overdose of drugs, that causes organ systems to stop functioning requires medical detoxification. While it’s not the best choice, fast food and junk food or a generally unhealthy lifestyle just doesn’t fit into this category.
The dictionary definition of a toxin is this: A poisonous substance produced by a living organism. Toxins can be products of ordinary metabolism (such as lactic acid), can be produced to kill or immobilize prey (such as the toxins in snake venom), or can be produced for self-defense (such as the cyanide produced by several plants). Toxins produced by bacteria cause disease.
It is natural part of life to be exposed to toxins in our environment. But our bodies have systems in place to help us eliminate those toxins. And these systems have backup systems and those systems have more backup systems if the primary system was ever to fail. Our liver, our kidneys, our lungs, our skin and our immune system are constantly working together to get rid of the “bad” stuff and put the “good” stuff to use. As far as giving our gut a rest, the body generally works under the “use it or lose it” principle. So there is no need to stop eating solid foods or only drink lemon water in order to give it a break. This could actually have the reverse effect and hinder nutrients from being absorbed.
The Problems with Detox Diets
- There are lots of risks – Some risks of detoxing include irritability, fatigue, and low blood sugar. People with diabetes should be especially careful because supplements and inconsistent carbohydrate intake can wreak havoc on your blood sugar, causing it to go too low or too high.
- They lack sufficient calories and balanced nutrition – When you are cutting out food groups or restricting calories your body might not be getting the nutrients it needs to support its natural “detox” systems. You may lose weight on a “detox” but it’s probably because you’ve been starving yourself, not because of the magical ingredients in a supplement or because your juice is green.
- They are often spendy – Buying special detox mixtures or loads of organic fruits and vegetables, or purchasing supplements that have no evidence to do what they claim to do is a waste of your resources. Buy a gym membership or a nice comfy pair of walking shoes instead!
- Quick Fixes are not the answer – What you do every day over your lifetime matters more than what you do in a span of a few weeks. “Eating clean” for a 10 day detox will not be what negates the bad habits you have had in place for the last 10 years.
- No Proof! – There is literally no scientific evidence that confirms “detoxes” are necessary or even do what they claim to do.
So what can you do to feel better?
Nutrient dense foods give us energy as well as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help our bodies function. Ultra-processed foods are missing a lot of these. The only sound “detoxes” out there are the ones that advocate cutting out the junk food and sticking to whole foods that include all the food groups. But this is hardly a “detox”, this is what we should be striving for on a daily basis
- Eat a balanced diet – The answer is much simpler than you think. Basically make half your plate vegetables, eat fruit every day and keep treat foods to 1-2 times per week.
For more info on how to eat a balanced diet visit ChooseMyPlate.gov.
- Include whole grains – Make a quarter of your meal or snack whole grain. Whole grains are a quality source of carbohydrates and also offer important vitamins and minerals. They are also an excellent source of fiber which is a natural colon cleanse helping to sweep waste through the large intestine.
For more on whole grains including recipes and how to cook them check out the Whole Grains Council.
- Cook – Make most of your meals at home. Meals Made at home tend to be lower in sugar, salt, fat and calories and higher in nutrients.
Need some fresh recipe ideas? Check out FoodHero.org for healthy, tested and taste approved recipes that don’t take a ton of time.
- Stay Hydrated – Choose water most often and avoid sugar sweetened beverages all together. Does your water need a kick? Try adding fruit or herbs to your water. Lemon and cucumber or pineapple and mint are just a few winning combinations to try.
So do you need a detox?
Science says no. Keep your money and spend your energy making healthy choices on a daily basis!