Detox diets sound great – they claim that you will not only lose weight, but also rid your body of all sorts of harmful toxins and be so much healthier for it. According to this report from the BBC, it’s probably best not to rush into one without considering several points.
What's a detox diet?
Detox diets vary, but they typically advise restriction of the diet to raw vegetables, fruit, water and yoghurt - with strict avoidance of foods such as meat, fish, alcohol and stimulants (including coffee). The recommended duration of this regime also varies, but may be prescribed for up to a week or ten days.
After a week on such a minimal and limited diet, it's not surprising that people report feeling lighter and less lethargic. These are symptoms of a lack of calories rather than the elimination of toxins from the body. Headaches are a common side effect of caffeine withdrawal along with tiredness and irritability in some people.
Do they work?
Although detox diets may make you feel better, the scientific basis for such a stringent diet is somewhat lacking and there's little evidence that there's any good to be gained from following them.
Of course, it's true to say that food isn't all pure nutrients and the average diet will inevitably contain some toxic substances (alcohol, for example). Fortunately, the human body is well equipped to deal with such toxins, and they are effectively removed and excreted by the liver within hours of consumption.
The basic misconception of detox diets, however, is that fruits and vegetables are low in toxins while meat and fish lead to the accumulation of harmful substances in the body. In fact, the opposite is often true; vegetables such as cabbage and onions are high in naturally occurring toxins, while meat and fish often have low levels. The greatest irony is that the liver, the body's detoxification organ, can most effectively breakdown and eliminate toxins on a high-protein diet such as one rich in meat and fish.
Of course, fruit and vegetables are very important components of a healthy diet, but the idea that you should exist solely on such foods for days on end isn't consistent with the principle of a healthy balanced diet. Your daily diet should contain at least five portions of fruit and vegetables as well as lean meat, carbohydrates and dairy products.
Eating a healthy diet on a daily basis will help the body function properly and it shouldn't be necessary to pursue a detoxification regimen. However, if you do find the urge to detox, use it as an excuse to kick-start a new healthy eating regime.