How does a detox diet work?
Lasting anything from 24 hours to a few weeks, ‘detox’ diets vary but often involve:
- Fasting for short periods
- Eating only fruit and vegetables, or their juices
- Cutting out major food groups, such as wheat/gluten and dairy
- Avoiding caffeine, sugar or alcohol
- Supplementing with a ‘detox’ solution, pill or tea
What can I eat on a detox diet?
Detox diets range from fruit fasts, that cut out whole food groups, to restricted short-term diet plans that focus on eliminating key foods such as wheat or dairy. As such, the food and drinks you eat will depend on the specific regime you elect to follow.
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What should I avoid eating on a detox diet?
Most ‘detox’ diets omit or limit caffeine, salt, sugar and alcohol, as well as refined and processed foods, however, other food groups may also be excluded depending on the diet you follow.
What is the evidence for a detox diet?
There is no scientific evidence to support the need or the value of a ‘detox’ for weight loss. This is because our bodies are designed to repair, regenerate and detoxify themselves. We have specific organs like the liver, kidneys, skin, digestive system and lungs as well as enzymes in our cells that work hard to break down and eliminate toxins and internal waste products.
Will I lose weight following a detox diet?
Although a 2017 review suggested that juicing and ‘detox’ diets may lead to an initial weight loss because of the severe calorie restriction, much of this weight loss will be water, stored glycogen and waste products. The majority of it will be regained once normal eating patterns are resumed.
Is a detox diet healthy? A nutritionist’s view…
While there are very few benefits to ‘detox’ diets, it may be argued that they help you think about what and when you are eating and encourage the consumption of more fruit, vegetables and water with less processed foods, caffeine and alcohol. Eating only whole, unprocessed foods may help retrain your palate so you’re less likely to want foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar.
That said, by cutting back on key nutrients like protein you’re far more likely to compromise rather than support your body’s ability to detoxify. Some ‘detox’ diets claim to help you break unhelpful habits but this may be an oversimplification, as habitual, emotional or comfort eating can be the result of complex behaviours which are unlikely to be resolved by a short-term eating plan.
Detox diets can be extreme and, when followed for a sustained period of time, may lead to dangerous nutritional deficiencies and imbalances. Plans that advocate the use of specific supplements can be expensive and have limited evidence to support their use. Detox diets may trigger unhealthy eating patterns and behaviours, especially in teenagers, this may impact long-term health. Furthermore, if you follow a restrictive or prolonged detox you may experience:
- Lack of energy, fatigue and dizziness
- A possible increase in cravings because of food restrictions
- Nutrient deficiencies.
With no scientific support that a ‘detox’ is effective or sustainable, and with the prospect of most dieters putting any weight loss back when they return to their regular eating patterns, ‘detox’ diets are not what they’re touted to be. Nevertheless, cutting back on processed foods, alcohol and sugar, cooking homemade meals (if that is permitted by the plan) made from fish, lean meats, fruit, veg and wholegrains, reducing your intake of alcohol and caffeine and drinking more water may make you feel better. In addition, by adopting a time-restricted eating regime – such as finishing your evening meal at 7pm and not eating again until 7am – may help regulate your blood sugar levels, support gut health and weight.
Who shouldn’t do a detox diet?
While following a ‘detox’ diet may encourage some positive habits, like eating more fruit and vegetables or drinking more water, there is no need to severely restrict your diet or take supplements or teas unless you have been advised by a medical professional. This is because your body is well equipped to detoxify and remove waste, so the best strategy for dealing with over indulgences is to get back to enjoying a healthy, varied diet combined with an active lifestyle.
It is advisable to refer to your GP before starting any new dietary regime especially if you are under 18 years old, elderly, have a pre-existing medical condition, are on prescribed medication, have a history of disordered eating or are pregnant or breastfeeding.
If you are considering attempting any form of diet, please consult your GP to ensure you can do so without risk to health.
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This page was reviewed on 15 January 2024 by Kerry Torrens.
Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a BANT Registered Nutritionist® with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.
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