This article will highlight the pros and cons of following a detox diet for weight loss. It highlights the best detox diet plan for not only trying to ‘detox’ but for sustainable healthy eating over all.
You may be thinking about a detox because of a period of overindulgence such as a luxurious holiday or perhaps comfort eating through the cold Winter season. Or perhaps you need a springboard to launch into a healthier eating regime. What ever your reason, can the infamous ‘best detox diet’ help you feel better and even help you lose some weight?
There are many different types of detox programmes and detox diets for weight loss, all typically including a period of fasting followed by a strict diet of raw vegetables, fruit, fruit juices and water. In addition, some detox diets advocate using detox diet recipes with certain herbs and other supplements along with colon cleansing (enemas) to help empty the intestines and to encourage weight loss. Detox diets for weight loss, or detoxification diets, are very popular, but that does not mean they are scientifically proven or even safe over the long term.
How does detoxification work in our bodies?
Our bodies have a natural in-built detox system (made up of the digestive tract, the urinary system and the liver) that helps to process all the toxins and chemicals our bodies are exposed to through alcohol, tobacco, pesticides, pollution, etc. Most ingested toxins are efficiently and effectively removed by the kidneys and liver and excreted in urine and stool.
The rate at which this happens, however, varies from person to person. Some people’s bodies deal with toxins quickly and effectively while others’ may allow them to linger for a dangerously long time. Here’s how it works:
Phase 1: The liver activates the toxin, making it a highly reactive molecule (free radical). If phase 1 detoxification does not work effectively then toxins build up in the body.
Phase 2: The reactive molecule is then chemically modified to yield a more soluble toxin which can then be expelled from the body.
Do you really need a detox diet plan?
A detox diet plan approach may have many pros. It gets you thinking about how eating habits affect health and wellbeing. It encourages you to make a special effort to change your eating habits and to cut down on fatty, salty and sugary foods and to eat more fruit and vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and fish whilst cutting back on caffeine and alcohol. In addition, it gives you an ‘I’m taking charge of my health’ buzz, boosting self-confidence and motivating you to keep on following a healthy lifestyle.
Ideally, you should mostly be eating a healthy balanced diet, so an actual ‘the best detox diet’ as such would not be necessary or beneficial. But there are times we need a little nudge in the right direction to get back on track after overindulging or a kick start for a healthier eating plan.
Principles of a balanced detox diet plan (and general healthy eating!):
- Eat light and eat often.
Why? Light meals will ease your digestion.
- Eat as much plant foods as possible.
Why? Plants are high in antioxidants and phytochemicals.
- Choose foods that are high in fibre.
Why? This facilitates colon health and increases the feeling of fullness.
- Focus on unsaturated and essential fats.
Why? These promote general wellbeing and include nuts, seeds, avocado and olives.
- Choose higher fibre or Low Glycaemic Index (GI) foods.
Why? This helps control your blood glucose levels and keeps you feeling fuller for longer.
- Choose foods that are high in nutrients, including vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Why? These nutrients are essential for good health and helping our bodies function at their best.
- Drink plenty of hydrating fluids
Why? Water and herbal teas help our bodies to flush out toxins and to stay hydrated.
- Eat liver and kidney friendly foods
Why? These foods are known to facilitate detoxification process (cruciferous, allium and diuretic vegetables*).
If you are keen to support your liver then include these foods as much as possible into your meals:
- Cruciferous vegetables: brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, turnips, watercress
- Allium vegetables: chives, garlic, leeks, onions, spring onions, green onions, shallots
- Diuretic foods: cucumber, celery, cranberries, watermelon, parsley, fennel, celery, green beans, asparagus.
Is there a downside to detox diets for weight loss?
Some detox diets for weight loss programmes are little more than fad diets or fasts.
It’s better to be balanced and try to incorporate the principles of balanced, healthy eating rather than simply going on the best detox diet or trying to do a ‘system spring-clean’ with special detox diet recipes.
It’s also important to consider possible side effects. Among other problems, detox diets can lead to fatigue, dizziness and nausea. Although a detox diet could help you lose weight fast, safe and sustainable weight loss should be not too drastic, about 0.5 to 1kg per week. Losing weight too fast may result in weight gain soon after the detox diet is stopped!
Keep in mind that a detox isn’t a quick fix. Real and lasting body cleansing does not come through a fast, in a pill or a footpad – real and lasting detoxification is the result of a long term change in awareness, choices and lifestyle.
Who shouldn’t detox?
If you suffer from any illnesses, are pregnant, or have problems such as heart disease, diabetes, low blood sugar or kidney problems, please consult your doctor or dietitian before following any new eating plan.
A guide if you plan to do a healthier balanced ‘detox’:
Instead of fasting or trying out unproven detox diet recipes, try this approach for a healthier lifestyle.
On waking – have a large glass of warm water infused with fresh lemon, mint and ginger.
1. Fruit, salad and/or vegetable (include as many cruciferous, allium and diuretic vegetables as possible)
2. Low GI, higher fibre carbohydrate (legumes, beans, lentils, barley, sweet potato, oats, sweet corn, wheat free bread)
3. Healthy fat (nuts, seeds, olives, avocado, cold pressed oils)
Breakfast ‘detox diet recipe’ ideas
Fresh fruit smoothie using 2-3 fresh fruits, a handful of nuts and lots of ice. Optional: Add oatbran for a fibre boost.
Sliced pear wedges and banana dipped into natural nut butter.
Rolled oats served with grated apple or berries sprinkled with cinnamon.
Light meal ‘detox diet recipe’ ideas
COOKING TIP: Prepare meals using garlic and onions and use lots of fresh herbs (coriander, parsley, mint, etc.)
Roasted veggies using leeks, Brussels sprouts, sweet potato, squashes, etc. roasted with fresh herbs, garlic and olive oil.
Barley or sweet corn salad prepared with selection of chopped allium and diuretic vegetables such as spring onion, asparagus and cucumber.
Vegetable stirfry using cabbage, carrots, onions, sweet peppers, mushrooms, etc.
Large rocket and watercress salad with spring onion, sweet peppers, cherry tomatoes, olives, etc. Toss in chickpeas or sweetcorn or serve with wheat free bread.
Fresh fruit, fruit bars, small amounts of pure fruit or vegetable juice or dried fruit. Selection of crudités and hummus dip. Nuts, trail mix, seeds.
Drink as much fluids (water and herbal teas) as possible. Remember that fresh fruit & vegetables tend to be high in water content so having many of these foods in your diet will also boost your water intake. Aim to keep your urine lightly straw-coloured and copious.
The following supplements may be effective during a detox plan. Always speak to your health care practitioner or dietician before using any supplementation.
• A good multivitamin, mineral and antioxidant supplement(s)
• Essential fatty acids – omega 3 (providing 500 mg or more of EPA/DHA per capsule)
• Digestive support: Glutamine and probiotics (friendly gut bacteria).
• Optional: Milk thistle, Dandelion root.
What to avoid when on a detox:
• Sugar in all forms including high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, fructose, invert sugar, honey, syrup, etc.
• Dairy such as milk, cheese, cream, etc.
• Avoid processed foods in packets, boxes, tins, bottles.
• Chocolate, cakes, biscuits, pastries, processed meats, sweets, crisps, cream, deep fried food, fizzy drinks
• Fried foods
• Meat, particularly higher fat meat such as mutton, processed meats, lamb, sausages, etc.
Around the world, including here in South Africa, braais and barbeques are a popular way to socialise. But braaied meat, in excess, can be harmful not only to your waistline but also to your health. Don’t panic! I’m not suggestion you abandon your meat feast, just follow these guidelines to minimise toxins from meat (especially if you’re a regular outdoor chef):
- Cooking temperature is the most important factor in the formation of toxic substances in meat. Frying, char grilling and braaing produce the largest amounts of toxins because of the high temperatures that are reached and this negatively affects the fat in the meat.
- Time is also a factor. The longer meat cooks, the more chance there are of toxins.
- Smoked foods make use of chemicals that may form potentially harmful compounds. Similarly, the nitrates used to treat meat such as ham, polony, processed sausages and bacon to produce their characteristic pink colour also produce harmful compounds. Minimise your intake of foods treated with nitrates.
- Use lean cuts of meat and poultry and pay attention to how you cook it. When possible, pre-cook meat in the microwave and then finish off on the braai or grill.
- Keep meat portions small so that they need less time to cook. The ideal portion is that which fits into the palm of your hand.
- Avoid eating charred or burnt meat.
So there may not be a best detox diet out there but there is an approach to healthy eating that can help support all your body functions better. Follow the basic principles in this article such as eating more fruit and vegetables and I assure you that you will feel more sprightly, improve your health and possibly lose some excess weight too.