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Why the words "Detox" and "Cleanse" make dietitians cringe

This might come across as another long rant, but repeat after me: there is no such thing as a cleanse or detox. As a dietitian, I am flabbergasted when other dietitians jump on the cleanse bandwagon to appeal to a larger crowd and endorse products that clearly have no scientific backing. Why? Here’s the scoop…Slide1

Detox diets and celebrity cleanses have been highly popularised in the media with promises of clearing your body of toxins, boosting your immune system and losing excess fat. To this day, there is no scientific evidence to prove that such diets work or that they purify your body of toxins acquired from our environment such as pollution, bad diets, caffeine and so on. We have to keep in mind that our bodies are perfectly designed to get rid of toxins without the aid of any miracle detox! Our own detoxification network includes the liver, lungs, kidneys and skin.

Let’s start with the liver…Your liver is a complex detoxification system, which includes a number of processes. It acts as a blood filtration system, removing toxins as well breaking down compounds that are produced after metabolising nutrients and toxins that are acquired externally such as environmental toxins. The liver’s detoxification processes require a variety of nutrients such as B-vitamins, amino acids, fat-soluble vitamins, glutathione and many more, which emphasises the importance of balanced, healthy eating. Once the toxins are broken down to non-toxic compounds, they are then excreted in urine, stool or bile (b.i.l.e: fluid produced in the liver that carries waste products as well as cholesterol to be excreted by the body). If our bodies weren’t designed to excrete toxins in a beautifully efficient way, we would be dead or currently being admitted to the closest intensive care unit. 

Now, those little bean-shaped gems – your kidneys, are an incredibly sophisticated waste disposal system as well that filter your blood and remove excess fluid and unwanted waste. Forming urine is also part of this excretory system, where it then travels to your bladder and is eventually excreted. These processes work 24 HOURS A DAY. D.A.I.L.Y. So what’s with the detox and cleansing craze?

Detox diets and cleanses involve a range of methods that claim to help the ‘purification’ process that can include certain detox concoctions, herbal supplements, juicing as well as making extreme dietary changes. Such changes can vary between severe restrictions or fasting to cutting out certain food groups. These diets can last anywhere between a few days to about a month. Now, some of these changes encouraged on a detox or cleanse can be part of a well-balanced diet sans the fasting, juicing or miraculous purification by starvation, juicing or cutting out certain food groups.

The cleansing industry, especially with juices, has a lot of money in it. I have personally met health professionals including dietitians that would benefit from the promotion and marketing of cleansing and juicing programs so yes, the sad truth is: detox diets and cleanses are the perfect bait for gullible people wanting a quick fix. Unfortunately, people marketing such products benefit both financially and gain a following as well. 

The other temptation trap of detoxes is weight loss. Yes, you would lose weight on certain programs because your calorie intake is usually extremely low. Generally, major food groups such as dairy, meat, breads and cereals are banned leading to a cut in the amount of calories you consume. Weight loss achieved on such diets is generally temporary where you will put the weight back on once normal eating is resumed. The long-term effects of such diets include:

  • Possible nutrient deficiencies
  • Adverse effects on your metabolism
  • Developing unhealthy eating habits such as yo-yo dieting and placing unnecessary food restrictions

So where do dietitians stand, including myself? Strict regulation of false claims should one day take effect. This should also include penalising health practitioners that promote and practice pseudo-science, benefiting from the public’s ignorance. Furthermore, people need to shift their focus from quick fixes and magical cures to embracing a lifestyle change that involves eating a large variety of foods within moderation, avoiding foods high in fat and sugar and keeping active.

By eating foods that support your body’s detoxification system and cutting out those high in artificial ingredients, unhealthy fats and processed sugars, you would simply be on a “natural” cleanse without the need of wishy washy concoctions and cleanses that are simply based on a scam. 

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