The Lemon Detox Diet? The raw food trend? Fasting? HFG nutrition director Catherine Saxelby and nutrionist Rose Carr give us the lowdown.
What does a detox diet involve?
Catherine explains: “A tiny number of detox diets are healthy – they focus on eating whole foods and removing foods that lack nutritional value from the diet. But most involve fasting for a certain number of days and then gradually reintroducing certain foods into the diet. Some also encourage colonic irrigation or enemas to ‘clean out’ the colon, while others recommend drinking heaps of water, special detox herbal teas or taking supplements.”
What about detoxes where you eat all your food in its raw form? Aren’t they healthy?
Catherine explains: “Raw food diets, or ‘Raw Foodism’, encourage you to eat at least 75% of your food uncooked or dried; the rationale being that the cooking process destroys the enzymes which help us digest our food. While raw foods are high in vitamins and minerals, this diet requires you to avoid potatoes, rice and grains; leaving you hungry, at risk of B vitamin deficiency and sometimes, lacking in fibre. Raw Foodism also requires you to replace fish and meat with nuts and seeds. The problem with this is salad vegetables and nut products don’t contain all the amino acids of meat – which makes this diet not only restrictive and impractical for everyday life, but also leaves you at a risk of nutritional deficiency.”
What’s the science behind detoxing?
Nutritionist Rose Carr explains: “The basic idea behind detox diets is to temporarily give up certain kinds of foods thought to contain ‘toxins’. People who support detox diets believe our body needs a helping hand to cleanse out all of the unwanted toxins that build up over time. They believe toxins don’t always leave our bodies during the elimination of waste. These ‘toxin-rich’ foods are usually high in saturated fat and kilojoules and are extremely processed, so it’s little surprise you might feel healthier afterwards. Supporters of detox diets claim we feel better because the toxins have been ‘eliminated,’ but there is no scientific evidence to support this, or the idea that detoxes help the body rid itself of toxins faster than normal.”
I’d like to try the Lemon Detox Diet to help me kick-start my weight-loss, but my mum thinks it’s a waste of money. Would you recommend it?
Rose explains: “The lemon detox is really just a starvation diet. It involves not eating. At all. Instead, you drink a mixture of lemon juice, cayenne pepper and a ‘special’ syrup, as well as drinking a laxative tea. This does not supply you with essential daily nutrients, is high in sugar, and you get less than 1700kJ a day (the average intake is about 8700kJ, or a balanced weight-loss diet is around 6000kJ a day). In other words, it’s basically a fasting diet.
While weight-loss will occur initially, the downside is that the diet is extremely low in protein, which means a lot of the weight lost on the scales is fluid and muscle mass – and that won’t help you with long-term weight-loss or maintenance.
Furthermore, when you start eating properly again, you’ll put all the weight back on, usually more! I do not recommend this diet for anyone.”
If we’re not meant to go on detoxes, how do I get rid of toxins in my body?
Catherine explains: “People think detox diets work because they force you to avoid ‘toxin-rich’ foods (aka ‘junk food’). But the simple truth is, you wouldn’t need to detox if you ate those foods in moderation to begin with. There’s no point in being ‘healthy’ for a week or a month – you’ve got to take a long-term view. That doesn’t mean avoiding foods, such as cake, forever. After all, none of us want to live on carrots and cabbage leaves for the rest of our lives. Success in healthy eating comes from balance.”
Rose adds: “Our bodies have a number of systems already in place to eliminate waste. Our kidneys remove waste as urine; perspiration expels toxins through our skin; our intestines break down and eliminate waste in faeces; our lungs prevent toxins trying to enter, remove dust and fine particles and breathe out carbon dioxide waste; our livers detoxify alcohol and drugs and filter our blood; and our immune system ‘seeks and destroys’ toxins. If you’re concerned that your systems aren’t working properly, you should see your doctor!”
How can I spot a detox fad?
Detox diets come in many forms, but look out for anything that makes wonderful claims, relies on ‘success stories’ rather than science, depends on special products or supplements, or promises extremely fast weight-loss.