Are You Planning a Cleanse or Detox? Read This First
Thinking of doing a cleanse or detox? Our dietitian weighs in on the pros and cons.
You hear a lot about the supposed health benefits of a cleanse or detox, designed to eliminate toxins from your body. There are many claims about various detox regimens, which could be in the form of a fast, diet, drink or powder.
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Removing toxins has questionable benefits, including:
Sounds great, right? What you may not realize is that our bodies naturally detox! Our digestive tract, liver, kidneys and skin are responsible for breaking down toxins for elimination through urine, stool or sweat. Here we talked to registered dietitian Kate Patton, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD, to get the low down on detoxes.
The theory behind cleanses is that, by eliminating solid foods or specific food groups, you are eliminating toxins, Patton says. “That supposedly gives your digestive system a break, allowing it to heal and better absorb nutrients in the future,” she explains.
Solid foods are often replaced with drinks like water with lemon, maple syrup and cayenne pepper; green tea; or freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices. Cleanses can last from a day to a month.
The truth is, there is no conclusive medical evidence that your digestive tract will heal from skipping solid foods (unless you have a digestive disorder such as Crohn’s disease or gastroparesis), Patton says.
“Solid foods are actually helpful,” she notes. Fiber, found in plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables, slows digestion, helps with nutrient absorption and removes toxins via stool. Your digestive tract uses probiotics from fiber to nourish your intestines with beneficial bacteria, which helps maintain immune health.
“Cleanses aren’t effective for long-term weight loss,” Patton says. “The weight you lose from a cleanse is a result of losing water, carbohydrate stores and stool, which all return after you resume a regular diet.”
For athletes, losing carbohydrate stores means losing your body’s preferred fuel source during exercise. So a cleanse isn’t appropriate while training for any sport. If you choose to do a cleanse or detox, do so for no more than two days during a recovery week when you are doing little to no exercise.
Before you decide to cleanse and spend big bucks on a magic drink or pounds of freshly juiced fruits and vegetables, Patton says to be sure to weigh the benefits and drawbacks.
Whatever you decide, remember that your body is meant to detox itself. “A balanced diet of whole foods such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains and legumes is healthy for your entire body and won’t interfere with your ability to exercise,” she says.