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Detoxing – is it necessary?

Detox diets claim to cleanse, purify and detoxify our bodies from ‘chemicals’ and ‘toxins’ built up inside our organs, helping to initiate weight loss and feeling better overall. Some of these detox diet programs can cost anywhere from $20 to $600 per week!

But, what even is “detoxing”, what is involved, and is it really necessary?

The detox diet procedure and claims:

Although there are multiple ways to ‘detox’, and many companies claim their way is the best way, they’re actually all quite similar. Often, they are made up of juices from fruit, vegetables, or pre-mixes. In addition, some promote the use of herbs, pills, pre-mixed powders and in recent popularity, the use of enemas as a form of ‘colon cleansing’.

Along with this, detoxing usually comes with the elimination of many foods and drinks, in particular dairy, meat, grains, starchy vegetables and caffeinated drinks. Some programs can last anywhere between 2 days to 12 weeks, with some promising substantial health benefits, including weight loss, cleansing benefits for the liver or kidneys and increased energy levels.

As these are all claims made by detox diet programs, it’s a good idea to dig deeper into the facts. What does scientific evidence suggest?

Here are the facts:

Healthy individuals have a magnificent system, which works to remove waste products and toxins from the body. Toxins enter the body after the exposure to harmful substances like pesticides, but may also be a result from normal digestion of every day food. For example, after the digestion of protein, ammonia is released. The liver is then responsible for converting ammonia to a substance called urea, which then gets filtered through the kidneys and eliminated through urine.

Any wastes the liver cannot use are in fact converted to another substance, and are carried by the bile to your digestive tract, or by the blood to the kidneys, for excretion. Our lungs and immune system, along with the liver, kidneys and digestive tract, are all primed to convert or neutralise such toxic substances, ensuring the body is safe at all times.

With this in mind, what does the evidence say about detox diets? Investigations into the detox diets have shown that research results are flawed by the methodologies and the small sample size of participants. These flaws mean that the research is not conclusive, therefore not very reliable.

Are there negative impacts?

While it’s true that drastically cutting out food will have some short-term benefits, like weight loss, it is of importance to note that there are some serious down-sides to detoxing. With weight loss comes muscle loss, because detox diets strips the body of the nutrients that are essential for muscles and organs, like proteins, healthy fats, iron and calcium. These nutrients form the basis for allowing cells to function normally, so to protect and enhance the ability of the organs to maintain homeostasis (when the body feels happy and at balance). So although a fast weight-loss approach may seem desirable, depriving the body from vital nutrients will hinder the body’s ability to function at its best.

Furthermore, some adverse effects of detox and cleansing diets have been documented. These dieting approaches can cause dehydration, cramping, and bloating. In the long-term,

this may alter the way bowels work, may cause fatigue, mood swings, irritability and bad breath!

This approach is not a long-term solution:

Yes, anyone with efficient will-power has the ability to go on a detox diet, however, due to the negative impacts discussed, it is very difficult to stay on such restrictive diets for a long time.

If an individual does indeed experience weight loss while on this diet, as soon as the detox comes to an end, the weight lost will come back on, often with interest. Through the restriction of food, the body tends to drop water weight initially, therefore, as soon as food is added back in, this water weight will come back on. This experience usually makes individuals feel as they have failed, and thus a cycle of yo-yo dieting may commence. There is conclusive evidence suggesting that yo-yo dieting leads to detrimental health consequences.

What can you do instead?

As an Australian population, we drink too much alcohol, eat too many processed, fatty and fried foods, and we definitely do not meet the recommended intakes of fruits and vegetables.

Therefore, before jumping on an extreme fad diet like the detox diet, check in with your current eating and lifestyle habits. Are you eating too many processed food and additives? Are you a smoker? Maybe you’re having one too many alcoholic beverages each week?

All of these aspects of your lifestyle have a big impact on your body, and changing just one habit at a time can have extraordinary effects on your overall health.

A detox diet is not the answer to feeling healthy and supporting your organs. Rather, including plenty of healthy nutritious foods each day, while reducing your unhealthy habits can promote much more positive and sustainable results.

What you can start off by doing is:

  • Eating five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit each day.

  • Snack on fruit in the morning, and vegetable sticks with your favourite dip in the evening

  • Reducing the amount of soft drink and alcohol you’re drinking, and aim for at least two alcohol-free days per week.

  • Drink some bubbly water instead, and avoid having soft drinks and alcohol accessible in your house

  • Making your favourite take away meals at home – this will inevitably cut much of the saturated fat, sugar and salt found in fast food.

The bottom line:

It is not necessary to go on a detox diet. Our organs do a fantastic job at excreting ‘toxins’ from our body already. So, to support our hard working system, and keep our organs healthy, we should increase our intake of fruits and vegetables, ensure we choose water as our main drink of choice, and limit our intake of processed, high fat, high sugar foods and drinks.

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