Cleanses & Detox Diets—Are They Safe?

Are cleanses and detox diets really a good idea?

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. But are cleanses and detoxes as healthy as they’re hyped up to be? Here are some reasons you might want to rethink starting a detox diet, plus a healthy plan to clean up your diet. 

—Lisa Valente, M.S., R.D.


Foods to limit for a clean diet

Slower Metabolism

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.

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Foods to limit for a clean diet

Unnecessary Detox

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.

Related: 10 Ways to Eat Clean

Foods to limit for a clean diet

Nutrient Shortfall

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.

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A Healthy Clean-Eating Plan

Instead of a full-out cleanse, try a healthy clean-eating plan (like this week’s worth of clean dinners). Cut back on things like salt, sugar, processed foods, alcohol and saturated fat. Focus on upping your intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins (like chicken breast and beans). Occasionally "re-setting" your diet by cleaning it up can be a really 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.

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