Henry Ford Health System Logo

Detox diets: Separating fact from fiction

This story is provided and presented by our sponsor.

Bethany Thayer, MS, RDN
Liquid detox diets can shed pounds in a hurry, but they can also harm your body.

Whether they call it “a detox,” “juicing” or “the master cleanse,” countless Hollywood A-listers are crediting a form of fasting for their flawless skin and fabulous figures.

While the specifics vary, most detox plans tend to be very low in calories, hovering around 1,000 daily. That’s more than 1,000 calories lower than what the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) believes inactive men and women need daily (2,000 calories per day for women and 2,400 calories per day for men).

Some involve fasting or only living on liquids while others allow fruits and vegetables. The most extreme of the lot require taking herbs and supplements while you cleanse your colon (with enemas) to empty the intestines. The goal: to give your body a break from digestion.

But despite the increasing popularity of these plans, there’s very little scientific evidence to support the need to give your organs a digestive vacation. In fact, detoxing in this way may rob your organs of vital nutrients. So before you ditch your fork (and plate!), consider these five detox myths:

1. You will lose weight.

Sure, a detox might help you shed a few pounds because you are consuming so few calories, but once you resume your normal diet the weight will return.

2. You’ll rid your body of harmful toxins.

Our livers, kidneys and colons are remarkably effective at eliminating toxins, no matter what we eat, drink or breathe. The proof is in the toilet bowl. Ironically, most detox diets restrict the nutrients your organs need to do their job, which is to detox you.

3. Any symptoms you are experiencing means the detox is working.

Detoxers typically experience headache, fatigue, nausea, dizziness and bad breath. The creators of detox diets will say those symptoms are a sign that toxins are on their way out. More accurately, they’re what happen when you don’t eat and drink enough calories. Specifically, ketosis (when our bodies use fat for energy instead of carbohydrates) can cause bad breath, and the headache could be from caffeine withdrawal.

4. You’ll feel better/have more energy.

Since detox diets typically nix sugar- and fat-laden processed foods, it makes sense that some people feel better during a “cleanse.” Trouble is, a few days of fasting ups the ante for nutritional deficiencies, which could lead to dizziness and fatigue. A better approach: limit high-calorie, low-nutrition foods for life—not just during a 7-day detox.

5. You’ll reverse a chronic condition.

While most people can safely do a short-term fast, detox diets can be harmful for people with certain medical conditions. In people with diabetes, for example, they can lead to dangerously low blood sugar levels.

If you’re struggling to start 2016 off right and want to do a cleanse to jumpstart a new eating pattern, try this instead: Eat “clean” by making half of your plate fruits and vegetables, one-quarter whole grains and the last quarter lean protein, then top the meal off with a glass of low-fat or fat-free milk.

Doing this helps you eat more whole foods that don’t have a lot of processing. You’ll not only get the nutrients you need to detox efficiently, you’ll also feel better to boot.

Still not seeing results? Contact your primary care doctor or a registered dietitian for guidance.

Bethany Thayer, MS, RDN cautions that while detoxing reduces calories, it also robs your body of vital nutrients.

Bethany Thayer, MS, RDN, is director of the Henry Ford Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. She enjoys communicating with people about healthy living and eating and was a national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for 9 years. Beth is the president of the Michigan Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which also named her as the Outstanding Dietitian of the Year in 2012.

To make an appointment or find a doctor, visit henryford.com.

For more tips on healthy eating and more, visit our health and wellness blog at henryfordlivewell.com and subscribe to receive a weekly email with our latest posts

This story is provided and presented by our sponsor Henry Ford Health System. 

More from Henry Ford Health System