Written by: Sue Scharf RD(SA):
People often feel that they need to “detox” when they feel run-down, lethargic, bloated, and that they are carrying more weight than they should be. Articles in the media, popular magazines, and on the web often promise an instant cure from these symptoms – and typically recommend a “detox diet” accompanied by supplements.
MYTH “Detox diets flush toxins out of your system”
TRUTH Your body is already an expert at eliminating toxic substances from your system, no matter what you eat or drink. Toxins do not build up in your liver / kidneys / colon, or any other part of your body. The body has an inbuilt process whereby all toxins and waste products are eliminated (usually via the liver / kidneys / colon).
Diets that promise to “detox” your liver or “cleanse” your colon, by means of adding in supplements, should be avoided. Not only are these diets and supplements not good, but they could actually be extremely dangerous.
MYTH Detox diets improve cholesterol levels, prevent heart disease and help treat diabetes; also treat colon disorders.
TRUTH Detox diets DO NOT improve blood pressure or cholesterol levels. There is no positive effect of a detox diet on heart disease. A detox diet is dangerous for those with diabetes, and may cause severe low blood glucose levels with subsequent long-term damage. Long-term colon issues may result as a consequence of repeated “colon-cleansing”.
On the contrary, a correct “clean” eating plan WILL lower cholesterol, reduce weight and blood pressure and will assist in the management of diabetes, thus preventing long-term complications. See end of article for ideas.
Typical detox diets are usually short-term, and not intended for the long term, and can range in length from 3 -7 days and even up to 3 months.
The type and method of detoxing will vary from diet to diet, but does usually involve some form of fasting for a period of 24-48 hours; or alternatively drinking only fluids in this time period. Some detox diets allow some foods, usually fresh fruits and vegetables, and/or vegetable/fruit juices. The logic used by the authors of these diets, is that this assists in flushing the body. As mentioned in the beginning… the body does not need assistance in “flushing of waste products”: it will flush automatically (unless the liver or kidneys have failed, for which hospitalization and dialysis may be indicated!).
Those following a fad-detox diet often report one or more of the following symptoms:
- Low energy levels
- Low blood sugar levels
- Muscle aches
- Feeling dizzy and light-headed
- Hungry and weak
None of these symptoms are good! They are a sign that the body is running low on fuel, which could cause serious damage to the body, and possibly even result in injury.
What a Detox diet usually involves
- Limitations of detox diets are that they usually consist of very few foods, and are extremely monotonous.
- The diets require minimal food preparation and cooking.
- Expensive products are often recommended on the web: herbs / powders / pills / enemas. These are not worth their price and can be dangerous.
- Exercise during a strict food-restriction is not recommended, and often not even do-able due to low energy and blood sugar levels.
This type of diet is not recommended at all; especially for people who are pregnant / breastfeeding; and is also contra-indicated for the elderly, those with hypertension, or who are underweight.
The alternative to Detox
Use a short-term or even long-term eating plan that is considered “clean” for your body:
- Whole unprocessed foods
- Plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables
- Whole-grains at regular intervals throughout the day
- Lean sources of animal protein (eggs, lean meat, chicken and fish), soya and other plant-based proteins, such as legumes and nuts (also seeds).
- A minimum of 2l water per day (herbal teas can also be used)
Include exercise: and make a continued habit of exercising
Exclude alcohol, sugar, honey, refined starch foods (cakes, pastries, flour, biscuits etc), also fried and fatty foods.
In conclusion, short-term detox diets can be damaging and energy-depleting, with potential serious consequences such as injury-on-duty or driving accidents etc.
There are many other ways to get your body healthy and “clean”, (even after a period of unhealthy lifestyle habits): develop a good routine of planning in healthier food choices (as per above “alternative plan”) at regular intervals throughout the day, drink plenty of water, and exercise consistently. Energy, vigour and good health will then be your reward!