Updated: Nov 16
A significant number of people start the new year, or, when the need strikes go on a ‘detox’ diet or cleanse, often involving products bought online or in the store. If you are considering doing this take a moment to consider that many of the claims are little more than marketing and in some cases might cause more harm and stress than actual health.
If you are thinking of kickstarting your health – fantastic! Just be aware that most of the beneficial results from a detox or cleanse can be gained by simply allowing your body, primarily your liver and kidneys, to do their job. Supporting this – and other – natural bodily function with proper nutrition and lifestyle is the best way to proceed.
As ever, please talk to your doctor or medical practitioner most familiar with your medical history before implementing any changes in diet, exercise or lifestyle, especially if you are under treatment. Links to any supporting studies or resources are shared at the end of page.
To detox you don’t need to starve yourself on juices or mega dose on supplements, pills, powders or potions. Often these actions or items simply replace the unhealthy things that we have been putting into our bodies during the preceding weeks. So stopping those dietary behaviours will quickly provide benefit.
Better yet, rather than using ‘detox’ products (often low calorie, meal substitutes with potentially unregulated or harmful ingredients within) consume nutritious whole foods that support healthy bodily function with enough calories and nutrients. That's not to say that a vegetable, herb or fruit rich smoothie doesn't support health - it just that it shouldn't be the only thing that one consumes over several days.
Where to Start?
Avoid harmful habits e.g. smoking, alcohol. If you stop adding toxins to the body it can focus on healing and ‘normal’ function.
Limit caffeine and tea to before midday. A morning coffee, but not a massive sweetened and creamed beverage, can be health promoting. Beware of the lasting effects of caffeine that can affect sleep.
Drink plain water; avoid soft drinks, sports beverages and fruit juice.
Drinking enough water is a great way to start feeling better.
Eat ‘whole’ or ‘minimally processed’ foods; avoid processed and packaged foods. Processed foods, often high in salt and fats, promote low-grade and chronic inflammation. Focus on eating whole grains, legumes, raw fruit and vegetables.
Avoid fried or roasted foods. Focus on soups or braised dishes. Gently cooked foods and meats, without browning, are healthier for the body than those that have been ‘fired’.
Exercise. A little exercise, within your limits, is highly beneficial. Dependent on your current level of fitness and health: walk, run, stretch, practise some light calisthenics or mobility exercises.
Go to bed at a reasonable time; turn off the small screen an hour before anticipating falling asleep. Aim for 8 hours actual sleep. If you don’t achieve it you will have maximised your chances for proper rest.
Take note: when changing your eating practices, you may feel worse for a few days before you feel better. Changes in your blood sugar, gut microbiome, caffeine withdrawal and hydration all play a role in how you feel. This may account for the sensation of ‘detoxing’ (the poisons 'coming out') before you actually start to feel better. In some cases the new diet might also wean you off foods that you have intolerances too, for example, you might not know have realised that you have lactose intolerance (70% of the world's population does) until you stop consuming dairy products.
Want an easy nutritional win? Twice a day, eat fresh fruit with a small palmful of (unsalted, raw) nuts and seeds. This provides your body with a little natural sweetness, fibre, protein, healthy fats, minerals and health promoting phytochemicals. Make sure that you regularly drink water and are properly hydrated. These are two health promoting habits that you can carry forward into the rest of the year.
What happens after the detox? Back to the same routines? The best way to detox is to live a healthy lifestyle. Work on your cardiovascular fitness and strength training, get sufficient quality sleep and destress. Health doesn’t mean that you cannot enjoy indulgences and celebrations - life IS for living - but it does mean supporting your body and mind to achieve long-term health, performance and vitality. And to be able to successfully deal with occasional, celebratory abuse!
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Tahreem A, Rakha A, Rabail R, Nazir A, Socol CT, Maerescu CM, Aadil RM. Fad Diets: Facts and Fiction. Front Nutr. 2022 Jul 5;9:960922. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2022.960922. PMID: 35866077; PMCID: PMC9294402.
Jung SJ, Kim WL, Park BH, Lee SO, Chae SW. Effect of toxic trace element detoxification, body fat reduction following four-week intake of the Wellnessup diet: a three-arm, randomized clinical trial. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2020 Jun 22;17:47. doi: 10.1186/s12986-020-00465-9. PMID: 32582363; PMCID: PMC7310262.
Klein AV, Kiat H. Detox diets for toxin elimination and weight management: a critical review of the evidence. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2015 Dec; 28(6):675-86. doi: 10.1111/jhn.12286. Epub 2014 Dec 18. PMID: 25522674.
Obert J, Pearlman M, Obert L, Chapin S. Popular Weight Loss Strategies: a Review of Four Weight Loss Techniques. Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 2017 Nov 9;19(12):61. doi: 10.1007/s11894-017-0603-8. PMID: 29124370.
Nakamura Y, Walker BR, Ikuta T. Systematic review and meta-analysis reveals acutely elevated plasma cortisol following fasting but not less severe calorie restriction. Stress. 2016;19(2):151-7. doi: 10.3109/10253890.2015.1121984. Epub 2016 Jan 7. PMID: 26586092.