Cleanses & Detox Diets—Are They Safe?
Find out why these extreme diets may not be all they're cracked up to be and what to try instead.
My friends and family often use me as a sounding board for their own personal diet questions-this is what happens when you're a Registered Dietitian. One question that seems to come up often is some variation of, "Should I go on a cleanse or try a detox diet?" Whether they want to lose weight or they think it's a way to detox their body, plenty of people look to cleanses as magical cure-alls.
Some cleanses are nothing but juice for days and while juice can be a great way to add produce to your diet, by itself it's not exactly giving you all your nutrients. Other cleanses allow for only fruits and vegetables or only soup. No matter which one you try, chances are it is extremely restrictive and may actually cause you to gain weight in the long run.
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Here are some reasons you might want to rethink starting a detox diet, plus a healthier plan to clean up your diet.
Your metabolism will slow down
Pictured recipe: Vegetable Weight-Loss Soup
Certain cleanses are super-extreme: nothing but lemon water for two weeks-no, thank you! Almost all cleanse diets require you to drastically cut calories, which will slow down your metabolism.
When you severely restrict calories, your body goes into a type of "starvation mode." It tries to hang on to the energy-read: fat-that it has. As a result, the weight you do lose will likely be a mix of water weight and muscle mass, not fat.
Losing muscle mass slows your metabolism even further. Your new, slower metabolism will make you more likely to gain weight once you stop the cleanse and start eating again.
Your body detoxes for you
You may feel the need to cleanse or detox after eating rich and indulgent foods, but it turns out you don't need to at all.
Our body is equipped with its own lines of defense against toxins. Our gut, kidneys and liver work together to filter out what our bodies don't need. It's a fine-tuned system and unless it's broken, as in kidney or liver disease, it works pretty well.
People with good overall health don't need to "cleanse"-their body is already on the job.
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You'll miss out on key nutrients
When you restrict your food intake on a cleanse diet, you're probably going to miss out on key nutrients like healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and proteins.
Even cleanses that include fruits and vegetables, which are the less-restrictive types compared to liquid-only cleanses, will likely be lacking in heart-healthy fats-which the body needs to absorb certain vitamins and to make hormones-and protein, which is necessary for building and maintaining muscle and other body tissues.
Try a healthy clean-eating plan instead
Pictured recipe: Roasted Salmon with Smoky Chickpeas & Greens
Instead of a full-out cleanse, try a healthy clean-eating plan. Cut back on things like salt, sugar, processed foods (which are typically high in sugar and salt) and alcohol.
Focus on upping your intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins (like chicken breast and beans) and healthy fats.
Occasionally "re-setting" your diet by cleaning it up can be a helpful reminder of how many times you might be swinging by your coworker's candy jar or eating a few too many slices of bacon. Plus, we all could stand to eat more vegetables.
Since most cleanses and detox diets are short term (just a few days) your body should be able to get by. But, long term you're not doing your health any favors and will very likely gain any weight you've lost back when you finish. Instead of putting your body on a rollercoaster, we recommend cutting back on sodium, added sugars and refined grains and focusing on all the healthy nutrient-rich foods you should be eating more of anyway-whole grains, fruits, vegetables, proteins and healthy fats.