What You Need To Know Before Starting A “Detox Diet”

What You Need To Know Before Starting A “Detox Diet”
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Broth cleanse, juice cleanse, detoxing: we often see these words on social media, as a number of influencers and celebrities vouch for them. Many of us are probably curious about what these “cleanses” are, what they do, and if they even work. Well, the best thing to do is to straighten out the facts.

OneLife.ph spoke with nutritionist-dietitian Enah Eunice Calanog about the different types of detox diets and cleanses, their benefits, as well as their risks. 

What are detox diets?

Detox diets claim to “cleanse” the body of toxins that could result to weight loss, better digestion, glowing skin, and the like. According to Calanog, “These diets are mainly composed of water, raw fruits and vegetables mostly in their juiced or blended state, and sometimes also with the addition of teas, herbs and spices, and supplements.” 

What are toxins, anyway?

“Detox,” short for “detoxify,” means “to remove harmful substances.” Several detox products in the market claim to flush out toxins from our system, but it’s important to understand what these toxins are and why we need them flushed out.

“In the context of nutrition and health, toxins are substances which are harmful for the body. One of the most prominent ways in which toxins can be introduced in our body is through the ingestion of contaminated food,” says Calanog. “There is actually a collection of practices which sets food standards, ensures its safety and quality aimed at ensuring consumer health protection. However, truth be told, it is impossible to completely eliminate our exposure to all toxins as it is present almost everywhere, every day.”

According to Calanog, the effects of toxins in the body have been overly marketed to promote toxin-cleansing products, attracting millions of consumers “when in fact, our liver, kidneys, lungs, and even our skin already do the job of filtering and eliminating most of these toxins from the body. More often than not, what detox diets do is supplement this natural detoxing in the body and help it detox itself.”

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Detoxing vs. fasting

Calanog explains that “detoxing” is the strict intake of only fruits and vegetables, fruits and vegetable juices, sometimes with the addition of teas, herbs and spices, as well as supplements.

Fasting, on the other hand, has a lot of types, but its general characteristic is the partial or complete abstinence from food only for a certain duration of time. “Usually, the type of food allowed to be taken during a fast is not indicated so a person can eat whichever they want as long as it is during the period between fasts,” she adds. 

Is detoxing effective for weight loss?

Being on a detox diet may cause you to lose weight, but Calanog emphasizes that it is not specifically because of the effect of the detox cleanse, but rather, the concept of calorie deficit.

A calorie deficit occurs when you are taking less amount of calories than what is typically required by your body. “Detox diets are significantly low in calories, and severe calorie restriction may result in slower metabolism which, in the long run, may disrupt the body’s hormonal balance,” says Calanog. “That weight you lose when on a detox diet is mainly contributed by water and probably some from your carbohydrates stores which you will just regain after you finish taking that detox diet and when you start eating solid foods again. To emphasize, in losing weight, what you want to shed off is the excess body fat.”

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What are the different types of detox diets?

There are several types of cleansing diets being marketed online. Calanog discusses everything you need to know about each kind.

Bone broth cleanse

Claims: Because of its calorie-restricted nature, this cleanse can help you lose weight. Calanog says, “A bone broth cleanse, as characterized by a low-carb/paleo diet with intermittent fasting on the side, promotes greater fat loss as carbohydrates are not readily available. This cleanse diet claims to have a positive effect on its users through improved blood sugar [levels], youthful skin, better gut health, lesser inflammation and joint pain.”

Risks: “It includes a very limited amount of carbohydrates, which are the primary source of energy of our body, not to mention the sole source of energy by our brain except when in a prolonged starvation state,” Calanog explains. “It treats carbohydrates as if it is the enemy and the one causing these ‘toxins’ to build up in the body. Nutrition-wise, due to its restrictive nature excluding dairy, legumes and grains, it potentially robs one of specific nutrients that are also important for your body such as fiber, starch, vitamins and minerals.”

Moreover, Calanog says that generally restricting yourself of food can cause you to overeat after the detox period. “It ruins one’s overall normal healthy relationship with food, disregarding hunger and satiety cues for the sake of complying with the diet’s numerous guidelines.”

 Colon cleanse

Claims: Colon cleanses are said to aid in weight loss, resulting in less bloating and distention; increase your energy level; help you have clearer thinking and an enhanced immune system.

Risks: Colon cleanses can cause nausea, vomiting, and stomach cramping. “You are only losing fluids and clearing your bowels but not actually fat, which makes it unsustainable and may only do good in the short term,” explains Calanog.

“As certain colon cleanses contain laxatives, it can cause dehydration, reduced bowel health, nutrient deficiencies and electrolyte imbalances. It can also affect the bowel’s natural tone and be reliant on taking these cleanses to irrigate the bowel.”

Without fiber, your regular bowel movement is also disrupted. “There are also findings that it can cause bowel perforations where the wall in the colon ruptures, increasing the risk of bacteria present in the gut [and] spill over [in] the abdomen,” Calanog adds.

 Juice cleanses and detox smoothies

Claims: Juice cleanses claim to boost the immune system, improve digestion, flush out toxins, provide more energy, and help you lose weight. It increases your intake of fruits, which are full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Risks: While it sounds promising, these cleanses can increase your cravings, cause fainting, headaches, as well as muscle and bone loss.

“It is also extremely low in calories resulting in possible weight cycling. There could also be muscle loss which, together, slows down metabolism and contributes to weight gain in the future,” Calanog explains. “Despite its high vitamin and mineral content, it’s almost devoid of protein and healthy fats and certain micronutrients such as Vitamin B12. Even fiber is stripped out especially in juices as the  process involves extracting the juices from the fruit and vegetable itself, leaving the pulp and sometimes, the edible skin.”

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In summary

Overall, Calanog does not recommend undergoing detox diets or cleanses. “Despite the overwhelming appealing promises of these cleanses, it is not widely supported by the scientific community as there are more anecdotal reports of the effects of these cleanses than there are research showing its effectiveness in eliminating toxins from the body,” she says.

As an advocate of holistic nutrition, Calanog recommends consuming whole, fresh foods rather than relying on quick fix diets that can do more harm than good.

“It makes people question the power of adopting lifestyle changes as one of the best health-promoting strategies. Instead of going for these short-term solutions or diets, one can start working on building healthy routines and habits with food to achieve sustainable practices that favors their lifestyle.”

Before trying out products and practices hyped by social media, it is best to be informed. Do your research, and most importantly, consult your doctors and nutritionist-dietitians for advice.

For more information, you may reach Enah Eunice Calanog, RND through enaheunice@gmail.com.

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