The phrase “cleanse diet” or “detox diet” is often overused and over-marketed. There is an abundance of healthcare products promising to offer a body cleanse. They are often in the form of over the counter supplements, and/or a restricted eating plan. Some of these diet plans include eliminating solid food and practicing a juice fast. While many of these cleanse diets promise a quick fix, the best solution to better health long-term is by practicing a healthy lifestyle that reduces our exposure to toxins and supports our detox system daily by consuming whole, real foods. In this post, we’ll review common sources of toxins, how our body’s detox system works, what some detox foods and liquids are, and how to make better health choices every day.
Sources of Toxins
The standard American diet contains a multitude of toxins that can leave our body feeling bloated or otherwise distressed as well as contribute to weight gain. These include:
- Processed foods: high fructose corn syrup, trans-fats
- Medications used improperly
- Heavy metals: mercury, lead, aluminum, etc
- Chemicals: pesticides, herbicides, cleaning products, etc
- Allergens: such as food, mold, dust, pollen, and chemicals
To rid these toxins it is important to eat healthy foods and practice a healthy lifestyle. A cleanse requires more than just healthy eating habits. Exercising and regular sweating are also important components of detoxing your body. (1)
The process of eliminating toxins occurs naturally in the human body. In addition to environmental toxins, our body also produces toxins through its normal chemical reactions. Our immune system recognizes foreign chemicals in the body, with the goal of eliminating these substances. A combination of tissues aid in the detox system of our body. The lungs prevent the inhalation of toxic substances, and the skin helps decrease the absorption of harmful chemicals. Our digestive system eliminates toxic substances through vomiting or diarrhea. (2)
The most important organs contributing to the detoxification process are the kidneys and liver. The kidneys filter toxins from our blood and excrete them via urine. The liver changes the chemical structure of many toxins and therefore plays a huge role in filtering our body. (2)
Foods for Liver Health
An anti-inflammatory diet consisting of polyunsaturated fats and antioxidants helps to promote proper liver function by relieving oxidative stress in our body. (3)
The fatty acids found in fish oil play a significant role in the anti-inflammatory activity of the liver. (3)
A Mixture of Fruits & Veggies
Fruits and vegetables high in polyphenols and carotenoids have many health benefits. Polyphenols and carotenoids are shown to decrease inflammation and relieve oxidative stress. (3) It is best to eat a combination of fruits and vegetables as opposed to focusing on one or two.
- Sunflower oil
- Olive oil
Foods for Kidney Health
The best way to protect our kidneys is by preventing conditions that cause kidney damage: diabetes and high blood pressure. This means choosing foods that are good for your overall heart health. A good rule of thumb is limiting sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams per day. (4)
Here are some ways to support healthy kidney function:
- Cook with a mixture of spices instead of salt
- Avoid foods with added sugar
- Consume fresh fruit, vegetables, and whole grains
What is a Cleanse Diet?
A cleanse diet is said to help rid the body of toxins that build in the body. These diets may promote weight loss as they are usually low in calories. (5) This weight loss can also be attributed to water weight leaving the body. Detox plans typically involve eating specific foods, juicing, colon cleanses, and/or fasting. While a cleanse diet may encourage weight loss, these quick fix diets can actually be harmful if they are severely restrictive in caloric intake or nutrient variation. A better approach is to consume a variety of foods and liquids daily which support the detox system and body as a whole.
Detox Foods and Beverages
Juicing programs are a popular component of many detoxification diets. By using a juicer and drinking fresh juices and/or healthy smoothies, dieters have the ability to incorporate more fresh fruit and vegetables in their diet. Again, this can be very beneficial if you are adding juices in supplement a varied diet. Drinking fruit juices can increase your daily intake of antioxidants, vitamins, and soluble fiber (what source?).
Researchers believe there may be a link between good health and a high dietary intake of juice. (6)
- Kale juice is thought to improve cholesterol levels
- Carrot juice may relieve oxidative stress on our cells
- Lemon juice may in reduce heart disease risk
There are a few potential negatives of a juice cleanse (6):
- Too much juice may contribute to type 2 diabetes in women
- Insoluble fiber of fruits & vegetables is lost in the juicing process
- May cause weight gain in some individuals (fruit juice is high in sugar)
- Juices do not have a lot of protein (muscle mass may be lost)
Green tea is often used in detox diets due to its anti-inflammatory components. Consuming green tea has been associated with a lower risk of cancer and multiple chronic diseases (7). Green tea is especially high in polyphenols, which function as powerful anti-oxidizing agents. Studies show green tea may lower blood pressure and therefore lower the risk of heart disease. During animal studies, green tea has caused a reduction in blood glucose levels, as well as weight loss (7).
Weight Loss Foods
Currently, there are no published studies proving the effectiveness of a juice cleanse or “fad” detox diet. As previously discussed, our body has its own detoxification system (the kidneys and liver). The best way to equip our detox system is by consuming the proper amount of water and a healthy diet full of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
While there is little evidence for detox programs, there are foods believed to aid in weight loss. It is no surprise that replacing parts of your daily meals with fruits and vegetables will help you lose weight. There are some ways to cut calories each meal to achieve your desired weight (8).
- Cut down on your cereal consumption by adding fresh fruit to your bowl.
- Replace one of the eggs in your meal with more vegetables.
- Add more vegetables to your lunch sandwich instead of meat and cheese.
- Add more vegetables in place of meat or noodles when consuming soup.
- Be sure fruits and vegetables are the majority of your plate.
- Replace a cup of pasta or rice with vegetables.
Other helpful tips:
- Steam your vegetables
- Avoid high-calorie sauces and dressings
- For canned foods choose those without added sugar
- Eat whole fruit instead of fruit juice/dried fruit
A cleanse diet or weight loss program can help you jumpstart a healthy lifestyle. However, the best way to live a healthy life is to consistently make good decisions. When creating a shopping list be sure to include plenty of lean proteins, healthy fats, and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. In today’s health-conscious society the ideas of clean eating and superfoods are more popular than ever. While there is a lot of hype surrounding these terms, the easiest way to be health conscientious is by avoiding toxins, processed foods, and exercising regularly.
- Detoxification to Promote Health: A 7-Day Program. University of Wisconsin Integrative Medicine. https://www.fammed.wisc.edu/files/webfm-uploads/documents/outreach/im/handout_detoxplan.pdf.
- “Organ Systems: Detoxification.” Accessed February 26, 2019. https://peer.tamu.edu/curriculum_modules/OrganSystems/module_3/index.htm.
- Morisco, Filomena, Paola Vitaglione, Daniela Amoruso, Barbara Russo, Vincenzo Fogliano, and Nicola Caporaso. “Foods and liver health.” Molecular Aspects of Medicine 29, (2008): 144–150. doi: 10.1016/j.mam.2007.09.003.
- “Preventing Chronic Kidney Disease.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Last modified October 2016. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/chronic-kidney-disease-ckd/prevention.
- ““Detoxes” and “Cleanses”.” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Last modified September 24, 2017. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/detoxes-cleanses.
- “Juicing — Fad or Fab?” Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School. Last modified July 2015. https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthy-eating/juicing-fad-or-fab.
- Chacko, Sabu M, Priya T Thambi, Ramadasan Kuttan, and Ikuo Nishigaki. “Beneficial effects of green tea: A literature review.” Chin Med 5. (2010): 13. doi: 10.1186/1749-8546-5-13.
- “How to Use Fruits and Vegetables to Help Manage Your Weight.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last modified November 9, 2015. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/healthy_eating/fruits_vegetables.html.