Detox diets and cleanses are incredibly trendy these days, and there are seemingly endless programs to choose from. As a Holistic Nutritionist, I always recommend a foods-based cleanse to begin with, as subjecting our body to an extreme liquid or fasting detox can actually do more harm than good, for most people. To learn more about a simple, effective and safe detox, check out our article, here.
In this article, instead of focusing on the many types of detox diets you can do, we will get into the nitty-gritty of the actual health benefits of detoxing. Given the amount of toxins we are exposed to on a daily basis, a good quality detox plan is not only beneficial, but necessary.
What is a detox?
Let’s start with the basics, as there is quite a bit of confusion around the topic of detoxing. A detox diet aims to help the body rid itself of toxins. Of course, the human body has many natural detox pathways via the liver, urine, sweat and feces. While it is a complex process, the liver neutralizes toxic substances, and then releases them from the body (1). A diet specifically for further detox claims to help the bodies vital organs rest and recover, support and increase liver function, and give you a “boost” of important micronutrients.
Detox diets come in many forms, although most involve some sort of fast (water, juice or broth), and are followed by a period of clean eating. Some include smoothies, supplements, herbs, teas, enemas, and other methods of promoting detoxification.
The bottomline is that a detox diet does not have to be confusing, and it should not be a terrible experience. Simply cutting out processed and inflammatory foods, refined sugar, alcohol and certain other foods and beverages that are part of the SAD (Standard American Diet), this is both incredibly effective for detox and sustainable.
Naturopathic Doctors (NDs) in the United States regularly use food based cleanses and detox diets to treat and support a variety of medical conditions (2).
Now, let’s take a closer look at the many benefits that come with undergoing a smart and safe detox program.
Health Benefits of Detoxing
1. Eliminating toxins from foods, beverages and hygiene products
Out of the many toxins we are exposed to on a daily basis that we have little to no control over, such as environmental toxins in the air we breathe, toxins that come from the food and beverages we consume are largely controllable. Many health experts agree that toxic load (the amount of toxins our body is able to handle) is responsible for a considerable amount of diseases in modern day society (3). Buying organic produce (fruits and vegetables), along with organic and grass-fed meat and wild fish, seriously decreases the amount of toxins you take in on a day to day basis.
And it doesn’t stop at food. Personal hygiene and home care products are often laden with toxic chemicals that can be harmful to our health. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) offers a comprehensive list of which companies use toxic ingredients, and which do not. Simply cutting these toxins out offers huge health benefits in and of itself.
2. Increased energy throughout the day
While a detox diet might cause some fatigue early on (particularly for those who had a diet high in toxins beforehand), many people report feeling improved and more sustained energy during and after a detox diet. A major part of any good detox should be adequate hydration with clean water, and studies show that even mild dehydration (a fluid loss of under 3%), frequently causes headaches, anxiety, mood disorders and decreased cognitive performance (4).
3. Resetting your food choices
The number one goal of a high quality detox plan should be long-term, sustainable change. By undergoing a detox diet, you will not only be supporting your bodies detoxification pathways (as discussed above), but you will be resetting the way you eat, and the choices you make.
Consider this: A 2007 study conducted by researchers at UCLA concluded that dieting does not work, based on the fact that the vast majority of dieters gain back all of the weight (if not more) within a maximum of five years time (but often less), and that many actually would have been better off without dieting, in the first place (5).
This means that an effective detox diet aimed at cutting out toxic foods and controlling cravings can significantly help in changing your habits in the long term.
4. Controlling cravings
It is a myth that cravings are controllable with just will-power alone. The truth is, cravings are based in hormonal imbalances, and need to be addressed and controlled as such. Cravings significantly impact binge eating and weight gain (5), and a smart detox plan can nip them in the bud.
5. Curbing food addiction
Food addiction is serious business, and is more than just your standard food cravings. Like any alcohol or drug addiction, people who are more biochemically prone to addiction can become addicted to food (6), and junk food manufacturers take full advantage of this by placing chemically addictive substances in their products. For individuals with a high level of dopamine receptors, they can become addicted to food just as they would get addicted to a drug (7), as modern-day junk foods create a surge of dopamine to be released in the brain (similarly to cocaine, for example).
A detox diet that focuses on eliminating addictive foods and chemicals can greatly support recovering from a food addiction. Dietary changes mixed with certain herbs and supplements can be especially effective.
Again, addiction is serious and should not be confused with less problematic cravings. See this article by Authority Nutrition if you suspect you might have an addiction.
6. Giving your body the micronutrients it needs
Micronutrient deficiency is one of the leading causes of disease and even mortality (8). The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points out some of the most common links, such as iron deficiency and anemia, iodine deficiency and thyroid conditions, vitamin A deficiency and degenerative eye disease, and zinc deficiency and respiratory and other immune conditions (9).
By undergoing a diet centered around nutrient dense superfoods and beverages, you will be ensuring that your body gets the essential vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants it needs for optimal health. And, many micronutrients are absolutely necessary for the bodies detoxification pathways to function properly (10).
7. Managing stress
A study published in Clinical Endocrinology found a link between high cortisol levels and fatty liver disease (11). Cortisol is our main stress hormone released during times of acute and chronic stress. When levels are higher than normal over a long period of time, this can cause a host of problems, including decreased liver function. By focusing on a detox diet high in blood sugar balancing foods, you will hormonally help to regulate cortisol levels, therefore actually working to manage stress on a chemical level.
In conclusion, embarking on a whole foods based detox program can have massive health benefits. Increased energy, reduced cravings and lowered stress levels are just some of the many ways you will leave your detox diet feeling better. And remember, the mark of a truly successful detox is that you are set on the path of positive and long term change.
( Read this next: Detox Diet 101 (Everything You Need to Know) )