We all know someone who has tried a detox diet and swears by it, or perhaps we have even tried it ourselves. Phrases like “detoxifying the body” and “purifying the system” sound logical and immensely reassuring. After all, we know that toxins are bad for us, so it follows that detoxifying the body with a cleansing diet can only be a good thing – or is it? We may reason that there can’t possibly be any harm in following a diet that encourages us to consume lots of water and natural foods such as fruit and veg. How can that be bad for you?
The truth is, as with many other fad diets that advocate eating only certain types of food, detox diets can cause damaging side effects, especially in teenagers and people with health problems.
But first things first: let’s examine what we mean by “toxins”. Toxins are chemicals or poisons that are harmful to the body. Toxins are caused by the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the water we drink. In food, toxins are caused by the chemicals that are used to grow and prepare food. Harmful toxins can also come from contaminated water, and polluted air. Our bodies have a superb way of dealing with toxins by processing them through the kidneys and liver, and eradicating them through its waste system, via sweat, urine and feces.
People who advocate detox diets believe that not all toxins are effectively eliminated from the body. They believe that residue toxins continue to linger in the digestive and gastrointestinal systems, skin, hair, and lymph glands, causing health problems such as lack of energy, chronic headaches, nausea, and even weight gain. The thinking is that by abstaining from certain foods and fasting for a fixed period of time, it will purge the body of its “poisons”. In actual fact, the human body is a remarkable machine that is more than well equipped to purify itself.
“Detoxing the body” can take on many forms; from rigorous cleansing diets, to cleansing the colon. Wild claims have been made about the benefits of detoxing the body; especially by companies selling detox supplements. Claims include preventing dreaded diseases (cancer), increasing energy levels, improving mental concentration, and even significant weight loss.
The truth is that there is no scientific proof that supports the theory that detox diets actually eliminate toxins faster or more thoroughly than the body itself, or indeed that the “purging” of toxins can actually make you healthier or more energetic.
Eat right and trust your body to do the rest
The basis of most detox diets is to eat lots of fruit and vegetables, and drink lots of water, and this is obviously a good thing. However, the problem arises when you eat these foods to the absolute exclusion of everything else.
Your body needs nutrients from other foods such as protein (meat, eggs, peas, beans), and calcium (milk, cheese, yoghurt). It can be harmful to stop eating foods from all the major food groups, and anyone considering embarking on a rigorous detox diet should be well advised to first consult with their doctor or a registered dietician. The bottom line is to eat healthily and sensibly – and trust your body to do the rest.