Is it time to purge ourselves of detox diets?
With the summer party season almost behind us, many are seeking make amends for their overindulgences by jumping on the diet and detox bandwagons. Detox diets are hugely popular because they appear to offer a quick-fix solution – but do they really help rid the body of the ‘toxins’ created by an unhealthy lifestyle, and do they do anything to actually improve health?
No, says Tim Crowe, an associate professor in nutrition at Deakin University, who explained that, ‘the premise that our bodies need to be ‘cleansed’ of toxins built up from our lifestyle is not supported by scientific evidence’. This view is reinforced by a recent review of studies of eight popular detox diets published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics.
Professor Crowe said that, while a lot of the things many detox diets recommend cutting out are not bad, our bodies actually do a perfectly good job of removing any toxic substances that we encounter; ‘If you cut out alcohol, stop smoking and eat less junk food, you will feel better. But that’s not because you’re eliminating toxins. You’re just putting less rubbish in your body.’
According to Crowe, we actually encounter toxic substances all the time. For example, fruit and vegetables contain natural insecticides that could be harmful to our bodies. But our kidneys, liver and gut effectively neutralise such substances within hours of eating them, converting them into products that can be passed out of our bodies.
Crowe explained that ‘there are no special herbs, juices or diets that enhance that process. You won’t find any evidence that following any of these programs means you will eliminate more toxins full stop.’
What’s more, detox diets can also be harmful, said Crowe; ‘some can be very extreme; they can eliminate whole food groups, particularly dairy foods’ and this means that you can miss out on important nutrients.
Crowe also explained that drastically cutting kilojoules can cause stomach and bowel problems, feelings of tiredness, aches and pains, and bad breath.
‘While you will lose a lot of weight quickly, this is because you’re losing mostly fluid and your carbohydrate stores, rather than stored fat. You regain that weight as soon as you start eating normally again.’
The bottom line, according to Crowe, is that detox diets are unnecessary and possibly damaging to your health. If you are serious about improving your diet, you need to make changes that last well beyond a few weeks or months, eat more fruit and vegetables and less processed foods, cut back on alcohol, and amp up the exercise.