Debunking Detox Diets

Posted on Monday, January 27th, 2014

Written by Tayler Musclow (Masters of Applied Nutrition student)

Most of us look to the holidays as a time to get together with friends and family, hopefully get in a little R&R, and enjoy some great food. However, once the holidays are said and done, we look forward to the New Year to get ourselves back on track and even make some changes to our health. I'm sure we have all heard new years resolutions that start with "I want to lose weight, so I'm going to go on a diet". You might have even heard people say, "I'm going try this 4-day juice cleanse" or "I'm doing a detox". Cleanses and detox diets have gained much attention in the media recently. Primarily, this is due to their celebrity endorsement, and also because they trick people into believing that they can miraculously improve their health in a matter of days, and even lose weight in the process. Surely the idea is enticing, but the real question is do these cleanses actually work and are they good for us?

First, let's have a quick anatomy and physiology lesson. All of the cells within your body make waste products, and this is normal! Your liver carries out many integral functions, however its major function is to remove these waste products, or, as the media likes to portray them - "toxins". Let's keep in mind here that the media has a tendency to exaggerate. By using the word toxin, it sounds more life threatening and gives people a sense of urgency that they need to be removed. Therefore the media prefers to use toxins over waste products, which in terms of these detox diets mean the same thing. Back to our lesson - the liver breaks down the waste products so they can be eliminated either in the form of a solid, liquid or a gas. Solid waste products are eliminated from our bodies through our feces. The kidneys work in tandem with the liver to remove liquid waste products from our blood, which is then excreted through our urine. The lungs function to filter the air we breathe and remove un-wanted particles by eliminating them as a cough or sneeze. Finally, waste products are also excreted through our skin every time we sweat. As you can see, our bodies are very well equipped to eliminate wastes so that everything runs smoothly.

So if our bodies are so well equipped to eliminate these "toxins", why should we need to follow a special diet to cleanse the body? The answer is simple, we don't! Many studies have been conducted on these detox diets to test their claims about how and if they eliminate toxins. To date, there is no scientific evidence to support these claims. Most recently, CBC's Marketplace conducted their own test to try out some of the popular detox diets, producing similar results. But I'm sure you're thinking; what about the pollutants and chemicals we are exposed to everyday in the air and in our food? It is true, we are in contact with these environmental contaminants, but there is no clear evidence to suggest that these everyday exposures are truly harmful. If you really want your body to be the healthiest it can be, try some of these helpful tips to allow it to naturally detoxify itself everyday!

Detox Tips

  1. Drink more water.

    Adequate water intake keeps you hydrated and promotes urine production to ensure those waste products are being removed.
  2. Exercise regularly.

    Doing some form of activity once a day that causes you to sweat will keep you feeling great and your body healthy.
  3. Avoid cigarettes if you can.

    Cigarettes are full of highly toxic chemicals such as arsenic and hydrogen cyanide. Why expose your body to these chemicals if you don't have to?
  4. Reduce your alcohol intake.

    Alcohol is very hard on the body, and especially the liver, making it work double time to remove waste products.
  5. Choose natural, whole foods more often.

    These foods are rich in vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that your body needs. Processed food items often have additives (those unpronounceable words on the ingredients list) meant to increase the shelf life of the product. These additives are not found naturally in the food item and should really be avoided where possible.
  6. Eat more fibre.

    Fibre helps to bind some of the waste products found within the digestive tract, which is then excreted in the feces. Easy ways to boost your fibre intake are choosing whole grain breads and/or cereals more often - look to the ingredients list, if the word "whole grain" appears as the first ingredient you've got a winner. Also aim to increase your intake of fruits and veggies to increase the fibre in your diet.

The long and short of detox diets and cleanses is that they are marketing ploys to make money. Their main claim to fame is that they can provide quick fixes. Even more enticing is the idea that you can lose weight on these diets. Yes, it is true that you can lose weight, as would anyone if you eliminated solid foods from your diet and only drank juice for several days. However, many individuals who experience weight loss from a cleanse gain the weight back and then more once they return to their regular eating habits. Why? Because their old eating behaviours never changed; they were just replaced with an unrealistic way of eating that was impossible to sustain lifelong. When evaluating products and diets like these, you should ask yourself, "is this something that I could do for the rest of my life?". If the answer is no, than you probably shouldn't be doing it.

It is easy to get caught up in the idea of a quick fix, but when it comes to our health there is no such thing as a "quick fix". Making sustainable lifelong changes to our health takes time. In particular when adopting healthier eating habits, it is important that you set realistic and achievable goals for yourself. It is unrealistic to think that overnight you will instantly start eating 7 servings of fruits and vegetables if this is something that you aren't used to doing. So, instead of looking to these diets as a way to temporarily rid yourself of poor eating habits, why not improve your eating habits all together? In the long run, your body with thank you and you will be a much healthier and happier you!

If you are interested in learning how to make healthy changes to your eating habits, drop by Health Services and make an appointment with the dietitian. We are here to support you on your journey towards a healthier you!

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