The notion of detoxing has become increasingly popular in recent years. A quick search on social media and you’ll find everyone from celebrities to self-proclaimed wellness gurus extolling its virtues. However, these fad detox diets are often pointless – and at worst harmful to our health. Thankfully, there’s a better way: following a natural detox diet plan that supports your body’s ability to cleanse and detoxify.December 27, 2022 5:51 pm December 28, 2022 5:00 pm
Most of us have heard of the concept of a detox. From alcohol detoxes to digital detoxes, they’re all the rage in a world so fond of excess. But what does detoxification actually mean?
Detoxification is basically a process of removing toxic substances from something – in this case, the body. The Cambridge dictionary defines ‘detox’ as “a period when you stop taking unhealthy or harmful foods, drinks, or substances into your body for a period of time, in order to improve your health”.(1) So far, so good. But what are the toxic substances that we need to rid our body of on such a detox plan? Here’s where things get more complicated.
In some cases – such as treatment for drug or alcohol abuse – the toxin you’re aiming to remove is obvious. However, most of the trendy detox diet plans you see don’t specify exactly what they’re supposedly eliminating – or how.
That doesn’t mean such toxins don’t exist. The body can become contaminated with certain types of harmful substances, for example environmental pollutants and waste products from digestion. Under normal circumstances, our bodies are more than capable of filtering out, breaking down and excreting these. This means that most of us don’t need to cleanse with expensive supplements or a highly restrictive detox meal plan.
However, there are plenty of actions you can take to support your body’s natural powers of detoxification.
How the body naturally detoxifies
Our bodies are amazing. They are constantly working to eliminate potentially harmful toxins and keep us healthy. The process is fairly complex and includes action by multiple organs, from the skin to the lungs.
One of the most important players when it comes to natural detoxification is the liver. Among its many functions, the liver filters your blood and takes in potentially damaging substances. It then converts these into something less toxic, and/or removes them from the body.(2) As a well-known example, the liver metabolizes alcohol and other drugs to get them out of your system.
Likewise, the kidneys also filter your blood to remove toxic substances and waste products. These are then excreted in your urine.(3)
Of course, these systems don’t necessarily manage to eliminate all the toxins we expose ourselves to. For instance, you can still get lung cancer from smoking or liver cancer from drinking too much alcohol. That’s why it’s always wise to be conscious of what you’re putting into your body.
If you’re in good health and haven’t been exposed to dangerous substances, there’s nothing special you need to do to detoxify yourself. Your body takes care of the hard work for you! Yet that’s not what someone trying to sell you a fad detox diet plan would have you believe.
What is a detox diet plan?
A detox diet plan is usually a short-term regimen designed to purge toxins from the body. There are all sorts of different versions out there, but they tend to have a few characteristics in common.
For instance, most detox plans involve restricting both the amount and type of food you eat. One familiar example of this is the juice cleanse, where you only consume juices made from fruit and vegetables. A number of detox diet plans also prescribe a period of total fasting when you first begin. Others require you to completely cut out specific food groups or substances. These could be things like sugar, wheat, dairy, caffeine, alcohol, salt and/or processed foods.
Some detox meal plans additionally insist that you take certain supplements, herbal teas, or similar products while following the regimen.
Another frequent trait of detox diets is claiming you’ll get tons of amazing benefits if you stick to the program. From dramatic weight loss and increased energy to gorgeous hair, skin and nails, they often seem to promise the world. But you know what they say about things that sound too good to be true…
Dispelling the detox diet plan myth
The reality is that the majority of detox diet plans simply don’t work. To begin with, they’re unnecessary. As discussed above, the body has its own sophisticated and highly effective ways to eliminate toxins. It doesn’t need us to do anything drastic to flush them out!
Secondly, although such dramatic calorie reduction does often lead to weight loss, that weight loss doesn’t tend to last. Once you return to your normal eating habits, you’re likely to put most or all of it back on.(4) Similarly, all those other unbelievable results the diet promises are probably not going to materialize.
That’s not to say that there are no benefits to following some form of detox meal plan. For example, cutting out alcohol and processed food for a while can be a great way to feel healthier. The key, however, is ensuring that after your detox, you don’t fall back into the same bad habits.
By its nature, a detox diet plan is a temporary fix. You’re more likely to be successful in improving your wellbeing if you make changes that are less radical. These are generally more sustainable in the long run.
The dangers of a fad detox diet plan
Unfortunately, the problem with detox diets is not just that they’re usually ineffective. Sometimes they can actually be damaging to your health.
When you severely restrict your calorie intake in this way, you risk not taking in enough key nutrients. This could leave you feeling lethargic and lightheaded, plus prevent the body from functioning at its optimum.(5) As such, those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, underweight, or have chronic health issues should avoid these detox diets.
Many detox diet plans also include the use of laxatives and other supplements, which you could overdose on. There’s even a risk of overdosing on water, which can lead to nausea, headaches, drowsiness, seizures and death.(6)
It’s not only your body that drastic detox diets can be harmful for – it’s also your mind. Restricted eating can result in an unhealthy relationship with food, and potentially develop into disordered eating or orthorexia nervosa. The latter is an eating disorder in which a person becomes obsessively fixated on healthy eating.
This isn’t to say that you should give up on the idea of a detox plan! It simply means you’re better off finding a sustainable and healthy way to support the body’s natural detoxifying functions.
"The best way to detox is by supporting the body’s inbuilt ability to do so."
A better alternative: the natural detox diet plan
Rather than chasing after unreliable fads, we recommend following a tried-and-tested natural detox diet plan. There are a few key pillars to focus on in order to get the maximum benefit:
1. Eating a healthy diet rich in naturally cleansing foods
Lots of foods are both cleansing and delicious, so with them your detox meal plan won’t feel like a compromise.
It goes without saying that fresh vegetables should be a major component of your diet. And when it comes to detoxing, there are plenty to pop at the top of your shopping list. For instance, beetroot is rich in nitrates, which relax the blood vessels and improve blood flow.(7) This helps to ensure that the kidneys and liver can function at their best.(8) Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, kale and cauliflower are also fantastic options.
Another tip is to consume foods that are bursting with antioxidants. These natural molecules help to fight the damage caused by free radicals and other similar toxins. This may then reduce your risk of a range of conditions, such as heart disease and cancer.(9) Some of the best sources of antioxidants are bilberries, walnuts and coffee.(10)
One of the most effective things you can do to detox is also one of the easiest: drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated is vital for your body to function at its optimum level, and that includes removing waste products. Water transports a variety of such toxins and removes them from the body via urination, breathing and sweating.(11) Therefore, if you’re dehydrated, it will impair this natural detoxification.
Although you don’t need to follow a highly restrictive detox diet plan, it’s good to cut back on certain things. This includes sugary beverages and highly processed foods. Studies link these with a range of chronic diseases, including obesity, heart disease and cancer.(12) They can also hinder the ability of your liver and kidneys to detoxify the body.(13)
Of course, it’s fine to allow yourself a treat every now and again!