The constant festivities of the holidays, Super Bowl and Mardi Gras are finally over, meaning it’s a great time to talk about detoxing the healthy way. With a number of celebrities touting the many benefits of detox diets, it’s hard not to wonder if there may be some validity to the claims.
Detox diets allege to “purify” the body, making such claims as accelerated weight loss, increased energy, clearer skin and improved sleep patterns. The theory is that toxic substances stored in the body that cause harmful effects are turned into soluble substances that can be flushed from the body. Various detox diets include particular eating plans, fasting, juicing, colonic cleansing, herbal preparations and raw foods.
Detox advocates contend that our toxic levels have increased in concert with our exposure to environmental toxins such as chemicals and pollution, and pesticides, antibiotics and hormones in the food we eat. Our eating habits have changed as well: consumption of processed foods, artificial sweeteners and various food chemicals has increased in recent years. Detox supporters claim that our body’s ability to rid itself of these toxins is compromised by our increased exposure to these hazards
The Little Known Risks of Detox Dieting
Scientific studies have yet to prove the effectiveness of any detox diet. There are a number of risks associated with some, including dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, nutrient deficiencies, fatigue, a sluggish metabolism from severe restriction of calories and weight gain once a normal diet is resumed. Drastic or restrictive diets can also cause an increase in cortisol levels, the stress hormone that promotes fat storage. In reality, none of these diets can change the form of toxins in the body to release them. The body’s own ability to metabolize food, along with the help of detoxifying organs like the liver and kidneys, is all you need to purify and maintain a healthy body, especially when combined with a healthy diet.
How to Detox the Healthy Way
There are ways to “eat clean” or “detox” so that your body will not have to work as hard to purify the system. Instead of suffering through a drastic diet, follow these simple guidelines:
- Don’t starve yourself: Ask anyone who has tried a severe calorie-restricted diet if they lost weight. Most will say yes, but then ask if they kept the weight off. The lesson? Deprivation is sure to backfire.
- Don’t go cold turkey: Most detox plans require cutting out alcohol, caffeine or sugar entirely. While there’s nothing wrong with eliminating these items from your diet, it is important to do so gradually so that you won’t suffer any side effects or withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches.
- Buy organic produce when possible to avoid excessive pesticide residue: Organic food can be expensive. If you can’t afford to shop organic every time, focus on those fruits and veggies that absorb these chemicals most readily, such as apples, strawberries, peaches, lettuce, spinach, celery and red bell peppers.
- Focus on cruciferous vegetables: Vegetables like broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, cauliflower and cabbage are natural detoxifiers.
- Buy organic dairy products and meat: If you have to limit organic food purchases due to budget constraints, the best bang for your buck is in organic dairy and grass-fed meats that are hormone and antibiotic free. Recent studies show evidence of antibiotic resistance that can stem from overexposure to antibiotics present in the foods we eat.
- Avoid processed foods: These are typically found on the inside aisles of the supermarket, and are too often loaded with sugar, salt, preservatives and/or chemicals. Read labels; if the product contains something you can’t pronounce or recognize, put it back.
- Select fish with lower levels of toxins: The rule of thumb is to choose fish that are smaller and younger because the larger, older fish consumed more pollutants while in the water. Good choices include salmon, herring and sardines. Fish with higher toxin levels (including mercury) are tuna, tilefish, shark, swordfish and king mackerel.
- Up your intake of omega-3 fatty acids: Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, walnuts and flaxseed, can help reduce inflammation.
- Drink plenty of water: It is easy to forget to consume water when your detox plan includes juicing and vegetables with a high water content. Staying hydrated with plain, filtered water will keep energy and metabolism revved up.
Reduce Toxins for Good
Look for a detox plan that caters to your individual needs, be they weight loss, overall improved health or clearer skin. To preserve your mental edge, select a diet that isn’t too restrictive and lasts no longer than two days. Instead of returning to unhealthy habits just because you completed a detox diet, incorporate healthy and permanent changes into your daily routine. Remember: any diet plan should include the healthy foods you enjoy in order to have lasting results.