Detox diets and recipes (short for detoxification) have become incredibly popular.
People promote many different ways of detoxing your body, ranging from simple recipes to more complex diets and approaches like enemas.
A prime example of this is the 1 week detox diet plan.
But, do detox diets and recipes actually do what they claim?
In this post, we take a look at the theory behind detox diets and whether detoxing offers any potential health benefits at all.
What is a Detox?
The basic concept of detox is to clean out the toxins in your body.
In theory, this is supposed to improve overall health, make people feel better and give them more energy.
Many advocates of detoxing will say that the process really does do just that. The same is true for products like Flat Tummy Tea.
That all sounds great, but there is never any proof.
In some cases, people even recommend detoxes as a way of treating specific conditions like gastrointestinal disorders, or as a way of combating environmental exposure to potential toxins (1). The prevalence of these diets suggests that there is some scientific evidence behind their use – but there really isn’t.
Few studies have been conducted on detox diets and there is very little evidence to support the use of detox diets (2).
The Science Behind Detoxing
To really look at detoxes, we have to look at their underlying concept, toxins.
Detoxing focuses on the idea that we are exposed to a range of toxins as we go about our lives. Those toxins can come from the environment and the diet, and can potentially be damaging.
But, it doesn’t work that way.
If our body truly could build up toxins without being able to excrete them, then we would all be seriously unhealthy or even dead.
The body already has a wide range of systems to balance the needs of the system and remove any potential toxins.
Now, there are still some chemicals that don’t get removed from the body, such as some organic pollutants and heavy metals.
But, those chemicals are heavily controlled and you don’t find them in many products today.
Additionally, a detox wouldn’t be able to get rid of these compounds any more than the body is already able to.
After all, these compounds are often stored in the blood or in the fat tissue (6,7). So, a detox isn’t going to do much that your body can’t already do on its own. The site Precision Nutrition offers a detailed examination of this topic as well, including a consideration of what detox diets can and cannot do.
The Toxins Themselves
In theory, it should be really easy to tell whether detoxes work – simply by looking at the levels of specific toxins before and after the detox treatment.
Yet, most detox products don’t even have specific toxins that they are targeting.
A group of scientists looked into this by contacting 15 different mainstream products that claimed to detox (8).
Across those 15 products, the scientists found out the following information:
- The definition of detox varied from one company to the next
- In most cases, the companies admitted to simply renaming things, like cleaning, as detox
- Little to no evidence was provided to back up the claims
From those outcomes, the scientists argued that detox tends to be a marketing term.
Furthermore, the scientists noted that some of the approaches suggested as part of detoxing were potentially dangerous.
You can see a similar pattern with the 1 week detox diet plan and with the range of recipes that this type of diet plan promotes.
For example, I found one detox juice recipe online that uses the following ingredients:
- Ice cubes
All of those ingredients are healthy and that juice would be really good for you – but it wouldn’t do anything about toxins at all.
So, in this case, the creator simply took a healthy juice recipe and called it a detox juice. You can find countless other examples as well, such as this list of 47 Detox Drinks from Bembu.
In many ways, detoxing is a scam.
Often, it works like I mentioned above, where the detox label is just slapped on a product that doesn’t really do anything out of the ordinary.
Other times, companies actually go to lengths to make it seem like the products are doing their job.
For example, there are foot pads that claim to help you detox, and they turn brown.
People take that color change as evidence that the product detoxes, but in reality the color change is simply a reaction between a compound in the food pad and sweat from your foot (9).
Likewise, some tablets have polymerizing agents that change the way your poo looks.
This does the same thing – tricks consumers into believing that detoxes work.
Detox Diets and Weight Loss
Detox diets are also often used as a way to lose weight.
Again, this is an area that hasn’t been the subject of much research (10).
Nevertheless, the nature of detox diets means that they probably do help you lose weight.
So, you could theoretically do the 1 week detox diet plan to lose weight.
The reason for this is that most detox diets also decrease the amount of calories that people consume.
Often that calorie restriction is pretty severe.
Any diet that dramatically reduces your calorie intake is going to result in weight loss.
But, a detox diet is only a short-term approach.
Unless you significantly change your eating and lifestyle, you’re likely to regain any weight you lose.
At the end of the day, a detox diet simply isn’t an effective long-term strategy for weight loss.
It is more effective to focus on approaches that will help you to lose weight in the long-term and don’t put your health at risk.
The Hype Around Detoxes
Often, you will find a large number of people promoting the advantages of a detox, while few people argue that it isn’t effective.
Why is that if detoxes don’t really work?
One reason is psychological.
If a person really believes that something will make them feel better, then they often will feel better.
In some cases, this happens because the person sees a pattern that isn’t there.
In other cases, the person’s belief may actually play a role in how healthy they feel. That outcome isn’t actually unusual and it’s known as the placebo effect.
There is another reason too.
Detoxes do involve a number of healthy practices.
For example, a detox diet often involves decreasing or cutting out processed food, while increasing consumption of health and natural food.
Those changes alone can make a person feel much better – especially if they normally eat a lot of processed food.
But, that doesn’t mean that the detox actually removed any toxins from your body.
The Dangers of Detox Diets
Detox diets are presented as safe and healthy, but this isn’t always the case.
In fact, many detox diets and approaches can cause severe harm.
There are a few main ways that this can happen.
The first is poorly designed detox diets.
Many detox diets are quite radical and that can be a huge problem.
For example, some detox diets are liquid diets, where the participant eats little to no solid food.
Doing this means that the person is also consuming little fiber, which can affect many different functions in the diet.
In fact, detox diets are frequently extreme, dramatically changing what a person eats for a week (in the case of the 1 week detox diet plan) or for a different period of time.
Often people end up following these diets without really knowing specifically what the different components of the diet are supposed to be.
For example, many detox diets also involve the use of supplements, laxatives and/or diuretics.
So, in many cases a detox will mean that you spend a lot of time in the bathroom.
In fact, many detox advocates view this as a good thing, as it is an indication that you are clearing your body out.
But… that isn’t what it means at all.
Instead, you are basically forcing your body to excrete more than it wants to or needs to.
For one thing, that approach can easily cause dehydration and you may also be placing considerable strain on your body.
The second way that detox diets can cause harm is that they often become addictive.
Many detox diets might be okay once a year or something like that.
But, if you ended up doing that type of diet every few weeks (or even more often), then the impacts on your body are likely to be quite substantial.
After all, many detox diets are already aggressive and may have unanticipated impacts on the body.
When this type of diet is followed frequently, the potential for a negative outcome significantly increases.
Another issue is the rhetoric that surrounds detox diets.
Often people are told to expect extreme symptoms as they detox.
Extreme symptoms are always something to be concerned about – and any dietary approach that causes extreme symptoms should be approached with caution.
Realistically, our symptoms are how our body tells us there is something wrong.
If we ignore those warnings, then we could majorly damage our health.
Best Practices for Detox Diets
Detox diets often sound like an easy button. They are promoted as a way to ‘reset the clock’ or ‘give your body a break’. But, in reality they offer very little and may even be dangerous.
At the very least, anyone who tries a detox should talk to their doctor about it. Doing so can help to reduce the chance of any negative outcome from the detox. My other suggestion is simply take the time to research anything you are going to try.
After all, some detox recipes and detox diets are nothing more than a healthy eating approach that has been rebranded as detox. Such approaches may help you to improve your health, especially if they involve eating less processed food and more fresh food.
Likewise, some detox diets may focus on decreasing stress, increasing water consumption and increasing exercise. All of those are approaches are also good for improving health.
But, be aware that detox diets simply don’t work like people claim they do and they don’t help to remove toxins. Realistically, you are better off looking for a non-detox diet and lifestyle approach than trying to find a safe detox diet.
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Have you ever tried a detox diet? If so, how did you find it?