Detox diets – do we need them?


Tempted to try a detox diet?  We’ve all heard of them – diets that will hopefully detoxify or cleanse the body of impurities, giving you a fresh start, from the inside out.  They vary greatly in their recommended applications: anything from cutting out all possible sources of sugar, to eating only vegetables and drink only water for days and weeks at a time.  Other common detox diets include:

• Fasting for short periods of time
• Consuming only fruits and vegetables
• Cutting out wheat and dairy foods
• Consuming a limited range of foods
• Avoiding caffeine and alcohol
• Using a range of detox solutions, including pills, lotions and potions. 

Exploding the myths
Detox diets are not scientifically valid, or necessary for health.  In fact, extreme detox diets can harm health by excluding important nutrients from the diet.  The body is a well-developed system that has its own built-in mechanisms to detoxify and remove waste and toxins. Our body constantly filters out, breaks down and excretes toxins and waste products like alcohol, medications, products of digestion, dead cells, chemicals from pollution and bacteria. 

There are no pills or specific drinks, patches or lotions that can do a magic job of ‘cleansing’ your system. If you have over-indulged on alcohol, for example, the liver works hard to break down the alcohol into products it can remove. 

Being well-hydrated is a sensible strategy, but drinking too much water can be as dangerous as not drinking enough. It sounds predicable, but for the vast majority of people, a sensible diet and regular physical activity really are the only ways to properly maintain and maximise your health. 
People often say they feel better when detoxing and connect that feeling to what they are/are not eating. However, not smoking, drinking less alcohol, getting enough sleep, fresh air and exercise will also help you feel healthier and more energised.  This is more likely to be the cause of feeling better rather than lotions, potions or food exclusions.

A balanced diet 
It does make sense to avoid excessive intakes of caffeine, alcohol and high-fat, high-sugar foods and eat some fresh foods, which a lot of the ‘detox diets’ suggest. 
However, if you want to maintain optimal health then the best approach is a balanced diet, with at least five portions of vegetables and fruit a day; small portions of wholegrain carbohydrates; lean meat, fish and alternatives like beans and pulses and low fat dairy products. Keep to sensible alcohol and caffeine limits too. 

If you are looking to lose weight then consider reducing portion sizes, and don’t forget to be active every day. This is the most sustainable approach to weight management.  


Conclusion
Detox diets are marketing myth rather than nutritional reality. They sound like a great concept and it would be great if they really delivered all that they promised! Unfortunately, many of the claims made by detox diet promoters are exaggerated, not based on robust science and any benefit short lived. 

While they may encourage some positive habits like eating more fruit and vegetables, it’s best to enjoy a healthy, varied diet and active lifestyle rather than following a detox diet. 

This information was compiled by the BDA Association of UK Dietitians. 

Further information: 

You might also want to read this post on fad diets. 

Did you know?
Pick n Pay is committed to promoting health and wellbeing among South Africans, and employs a Registered Dietitian to provide free nutrition-related advice to the public.  Contact Leanne Kiezer via the Pick n Pay Health Hotline on 0800 11 22 88 or healthhotline@pnp.co.za to start your nutrition conversation.

You can also visit www.adsa.org.za to find a dietitian in your area who is registered with the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA).