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Person pouring a green smoothie into a glass, unaware of potential detox diet dangers. An illustrated piece of broccoli on a fork is below.

April 27, 2023 • read

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Are food detoxes and cleanses worth it?

Remember the low-fat food craze in the ‘90s or the Atkins Diet in the ‘00s? These were just a couple of diet fads that have come and gone over the years. They often lead to quick weight loss that isn’t healthy or sustainable. Yet, one diet trend has stuck around for many years and is still popular today: juice cleanses and detoxes.

Whether you’re eliminating certain foods or only consuming liquids, are cleanses and detox diets effective? And more importantly, do the restrictions and hard work offer health benefits?

Keep reading below to discover if the juice (cleanse) is worth the squeeze.

What’s a cleanse?

Cleanses and detoxes are touted as ways to pause the digestion of processed foods, eliminate harmful toxins from your body, lose weight quickly, and promote overall health. Celebrities and social media influencers are known to talk about or push their detox diet plans, which can make them sound more appealing and suggest they are safe and effective. If you’re unsure of what cleanses or detox diets are, they may include:

  • Liquid-only diets
  • Fasting for defined periods of time
  • Restricting your diet to specific foods
  • Incorporating certain supplements, herbs, or other products

Despite all the information circulating about how cleanses and detoxes are good for your health, the research suggests something very different. Indeed, the consensus among experts is that removing entire food categories or sticking to a liquid diet isn’t effective — either for your health or for losing body weight.

If you’re following a detox diet for weight loss by fasting, for example, short-term weight loss almost always means you’re more likely to put the weight back on — and then some. Additionally, long-term fasting isn’t sustainable or healthy and can cause vitamin and nutrient deficiencies, low blood sugar, and other significant health concerns.

As for what comes out of your body when you follow a detox diet or which toxins are eliminated, there’s no proof of that either. The good news is that your body does this on its own, mainly through your kidneys and liver. So, the health effects of a detox or cleanse wouldn’t even be as productive as what your body is already doing naturally.

So, now that you know it isn’t necessarily good to do a detox or cleanse, what can you do instead to optimize your health and help keep your body’s natural detoxification system healthy?

Sleep

Sleeping seven to nine hours every night allows your body to recharge so that your organs can eliminate toxic waste. A recent study in mice also showed that the space between brain cells might increase during sleep, allowing the brain to flush out toxins built up during waking hours. This is a big deal because previous studies revealed toxic molecules in neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and dementia build up in the space between brain cells. Getting the proper amount of shut eye may help reduce your risk.

But with life being so busy, how do you get a good night’s sleep anyway? Start by:

  • Using your bed only for sleep, rest, or intimate moments. Don’t watch tv, eat, or snack on your bed. This way, when your head hits the pillow, your body knows it’s time to sleep.
  • Keeping your bedroom quiet, cool, and clean. The optimal sleep temperature is 18°C.
  • Adjusting the amount of caffeine you drink and when you drink it. A Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine study suggests avoiding caffeine six hours before bedtime, but if you’re sensitive to its effects, you may want to stop drinking it earlier in the day.
  • Winding down with the same bedtime routine every night. Keep your phone out of your room (the blue light disrupts your body’s internal clock), read a book, or have a warm bath or shower.

Limit alcohol

While it’s ok to enjoy an alcoholic beverage, the truth is there are no health benefits to drinking alcohol. And drinking excessively means your liver can’t function properly, so it isn’t able to perform its daily task of removing toxins and wastes.

If you don’t drink, it’s best not to start. If you drink, stick to no more than two drinks per week. Consuming more than this can impair your liver function and increase your risk of certain cancers, cognitive disease, cardiovascular disease, and more.

Eat antioxidant-rich and fibre-dense foods

Your body doesn’t detox when you start eating healthy foods, per se. But certain foods can be “detoxifying” because they have properties that aid your body’s natural detoxification process. Grapefruit, spinach, ginger, and turmeric are all good options. Other beneficial foods and drinks include:

  • Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and brussels sprouts. Not only will these increase your fibre intake, but they have sulphur-containing glycosides, which activate detoxification enzymes and clear free radicals.
  • Allium vegetables, including garlic and onions. These veggies enhance the body’s detoxification process by reducing toxins.
  • Green tea. It’s high in antioxidants, which support your body’s detoxification system.
  • Lemon water. This refreshing drink helps stimulate the liver and flushes out toxins.
  • Wild blueberries. They contain anthocyanin (a group of antioxidants), which gives them that deep blue colour and helps neutralize free radicals.

While making dietary changes, you should also consider cutting down on prepackaged, highly-processed foods. Eating large quantities of processed foods is linked to diseases such as cancer and diabetes, which can also affect detoxifying organs. Instead, reach for a balanced diet of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats, and pair it with an active lifestyle.

Exercise

Exercise has many benefits, including preventing obesity, lowering blood pressure, and improving sleep. But it also reduces inflammation, which helps maintain your liver and kidneys.

If you’re looking for exercises that support your overall health but want to start small, try an aerobic activity, like walking or swimming, and strength training, such as lifting weights. You can also add NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) to your routine to increase your activity levels. NEAT accounts for everything you do outside of sleeping, eating, and exercising, such as gardening, reorganizing your home, or walking the dog.

Finally, be wary of exercises that claim to help your body detox, like hot yoga. While this type of exercise still offers health benefits, sweating up a storm during yoga won’t detoxify your body.

Drink plenty of water

Drinking fluids is crucial to help your body’s detoxification process. Your kidneys rely on water to flush toxins out of your system. If you aren’t drinking enough, your kidneys can’t function properly, which can lead to a build-up of toxins.

So, just how much water should you drink per day? You’ve likely heard that eight 8-oz glasses of water is optimal, but the jury’s out on that one. Instead, drink consistently throughout the day, whether you feel thirsty or not. A good rule to follow is if it has been a while since you last drank water, it’s time to fill up your cup.

The final say on detoxes and cleanses

If you’re trying to determine if you should do a cleanse, how to remove toxins from your body, or how to detox your body to lose weight, don’t turn to restrictive detox diets or juice cleanses. With no scientific evidence proving they’re worth it, instead, help your body continue its natural detoxification process by eating healthy meals, being physically active, and getting plenty of sleep.

But even if you want to change your eating routine, it’s best to speak with a healthcare provider first to ensure you meet all your nutritional requirements and prevent potential harm.

If you want to follow a healthy eating plan but aren’t sure where to start, a registered dietitian on Maple can help. You can connect with the dietitian from your phone, tablet, or computer at a time that works for you. During your online appointment, the dietitian will discuss your goals and create a customized meal plan that suits your needs and lifestyle.

For help with weight loss or to maintain a healthy weight, a weight management consultant might be the right option for you. They’re nurse practitioners trained in weight management who can give you the counselling and tools you need to manage your weight and reach your goals, which may also include prescription weight-loss medication.

Start your healthy eating or weight loss journey with the guidance of a Canadian-licensed healthcare provider online. Reach out today and get the support you need from the comfort of your home.

This blog was developed by our team and reviewed by a medical professional.

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