“Detox” almost seems like it’s becoming the new “fat free.” There are the juice cleanses and the supplements and many, many things on Goop.* Detoxes promise to remove toxins from your body and result in all sorts of benefits resulting from that from weight loss to clear skin to happiness. But I’ve got some disappointing news for consumers of the $3.4 million juicing market – your body already does all that. And unless we’re talking forcibly removing actual poison (which you would do with ipecac or some other laxative/emetic), you don’t need to “cleanse” or “detox.”
The body’s natural detox happens in the liver.
The liver plays a number of important roles, including detox. During digestion, food is broken down by enzymes in the stomach (though enzymatic breakdown of carbohydrates begins in the mouth), then the bolus is passed to the intestines. In the small intestines, the body absorbs nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. The liver processes many of the nutrients absorbed through the intestines, and processes them into forms the body can use. It also stores nutrients like vitamin A, iron, and glycogen. And, most important for the point I’d like to make, it filters toxins like ammonia out of the blood. The liver also metabolizes alcohol and other drugs. Alcohol poisoning happens when you drink faster than you can keep up.
So then why do some cleanse diets work?
You could argue that some of the longer, less juice based “cleanse” or “detox” diets work because they can results in some (mostly water based) weight loss, and can result in more energy and an overall sense of “feeling better.” One reason this happens could be placebo effect – because you were following a diet, you perceived some of the more subjective benefits like mood or energy. It could also be that some of these cleanses – like this Dr. Oz Grapefruit one – just represent a lower calorie, healthy diet. Calorically, I’d estimate this detox to run you about 1500 calories, and it consists of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Of course you feel better, you’re getting a on of vitamins and minerals! Of course you lost weight, you ate less than 1500 calories for a week, and little salt so goodbye water weight!
Of course, the downside is I’m guessing after 7 days of this diet – especially if you’re coming into the gym – you’re ready to lose it unless you get a pizza. So you do, and then everything else you’ve deprived your self of for 7 days. It can only take a weekend to undo the results of the detox diet you just suffered through.
The problem with detox diets is that you don’t need detoxing, and then what comes after?
So you finished your detox. Now what? How about this: skip the detoxes and cleanses, and choose a calorically appropriate, generally healthful diet. Choose salads with lean protein, fresh vegetables, a healthy fat, and light vinaigrette. Scrambled eggs with fresh fruit. Grilled chicken and roast vegetables, or quinoa with a side of green vegetables. Choose these things about 90% of the time (because life happens, don’t feel bad about it). Eat enough to be satisfied, and avoid being stuffed or starving. You’ll feel good because this diet also includes plenty of vitamins and minerals, but you won’t have dumb, pointless rules, and you will be able to eat the amount of energy you need, ensuring you can get into the gym for the other, equally important aspect of weight loss and health (physical activity).