Juice fasts, green smoothie cleanses, raw food challenges, detox kits…do any of these actually cleanse your body of toxins, or are they simply marketing ploys?
A quick google search of the word detox will produce millions of search term results. There is a plethora of websites and online health “gurus” eagerly waiting to sell you their latest green smoothie cleanse or raw food detox diet plan, but do any of these diets actually contribute to health or help rid the body of toxins?
Before I get into my lengthy explanation about why most cleanse and detox programs don’t work, I’ll give you the chance to skip ahead and offer you a solution that does work for clearing toxins from the body. Hint: This is not a fad diet!
What Does it Mean to Detox?
From a clinical standpoint, detoxification usually takes place in medical detox facility or treatment center staffed with doctors and nurses to help patients safely withdraw from drugs or alcohol. Another type of medical detox is performed in the case of an accidental drug overdose. Neither of these two scenarios are what we are referring to when discussing nutritional detoxification.
In the world of health and wellness, the term detoxification refers to ridding the body of toxins, chemicals, and heavy metals, as well as harmful metabolites produced within the human body. Proper detoxification does not involve depriving the body of food by going on a juice fast or taking laxatives to purge the bowels.
In fact, it’s just the opposite!
The body requires specific nutrients plus fiber and sufficient protein (amino acids) for metabolic detoxification pathways within the liver to work properly(1). If certain nutrients are lacking in the diet, or if digestion is compromised in any way (due to food intolerances, antacids, frequent antibiotic use, lack of good gut bacteria), our natural detoxification processes will be disrupted and toxins will store in the fatty tissues of the body instead of being neutralized and eliminated(2)(3)(4).
The problem with strict raw food diets is that they are not necessarily balanced, nor are they appropriate for everyone. As a holistic nutritionist, many of my clients have digestive issues such as IBS, food intolerances, or Celiac disease. Anyone suffering from either acute or chronic digestive disturbances should avoid high fiber, raw food diets, which can aggravate digestive problems. It is best to treat the root cause of digestive issues, rather than follow a fad diet that claims to be a “cure-all”. Human beings are much more complicated than one-size-fits-all, quick-fix diets that don’t take into account that each and every one of us are biochemically, metabolically and genetically unique – with different health challenges.
Exclusive raw food diets can also aggravate thyroid imbalances due to something called goitrogens, which is a substance found primarily in raw cruciferous vegetables. Goitrogens disrupt the production of thyroid hormones by interfering with iodine uptake to the thyroid gland. In moderate amounts, raw goitrogen containing foods (broccoli, kale, spinach) won’t normally cause any issues. However, for those with even a subclinical thyroid condition, an over consumption of these foods when eaten raw can create enough of an imbalance to pose a problem. Studies show that steaming or cooking these foods deactivates goitrogenic potential, while also making these foods easier to digest, which is why I don’t recommend strict raw food diets. Again, balance is key – having a combination of cooked and raw foods in the diet.
Water fasts and juice cleanses are also something to be wary of. Fasting can leave the body weak and malnourished. And although juicing can be a healthy addition to a well balanced diet, juice lacks fiber and sufficient amounts of protein to supply the body with the correct amino acids that are needed by the liver. Fad diets of any kind are not a good solution for creating balance in the body.
What about over-the-counter detox kits?
These products are usually a combination of liver supporting herbs and laxatives that come in pill or powder form. Some of these kits actually contain beneficial herbs that help support and cleanse the liver. My main concern with these type of cleanse kits is that they lack fiber in whole food form, and they do not address diet or nutritional deficiencies. Many people are overfed but undernourished. We survive on inflammatory, processed foods all year long, then think we can simply push the “reset” button by completing a 10 day detox in a box.
Detox kits also contain an herbal laxative component that stimulates the colon, giving the impression that the bowels are being detoxified because of more frequent bowel movements. Laxatives however, push waste through the digestive system in an unnatural manner. If the diet is not balanced with the right kind of fiber for healthy and natural elimination, sometimes there is rebound constipation once the cleanse is finished. Another issue with laxatives is that they can prevent the body from absorbing nutrients coming from food.
There is an ideal time that it should take for food to move through the digestive system in order to properly absorb the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants from what we eat. This is called “bowel transit time”. Anything that speeds up our bowel transit time could potentially lead to malabsorption of nutrients. Not only do we need sufficient nutrients in the diet to obtain and maintain optimal health and vitality, but detoxification mechanisms are highly dependent on vitamins, minerals, amino acids and antioxidants.
But wait, doesn’t the body naturally detoxify? Isn’t that why we have a liver?
Yes! The human body has an amazingly efficient detoxification system but if the diet contains inflammatory, nutrient deficient food, the body will have a difficult time processing and eliminating problematic substances. The body works 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to clear unwanted waste, disarm free radicals, rebuild and repair tissue, and neutralize toxins. Detoxification is a natural, ongoing process – a full time job! When the correct levels of nutrients are provided in the diet, the liver and other organs of detoxification operate efficiently.
The problem however, is that many people do not eat the right kinds of foods to provide the body with the nutrients needed by the liver to neutralize and eliminate the vast amount of toxins we are exposed to on a daily basis.
Poor digestive health affects every system in the body. If your body isn’t able to efficiently absorb the vitamins and minerals from your food, you could still face nutritional deficiencies despite eating a very healthy diet. Deficiencies, whether they are due to lack of intake or lack of absorption can lead to a weakened immune system and detoxification processes that are inefficient!
So, what’s the solution?
You don’t need to completely give up on the idea of doing a detox, we just have to look at it in a different way. As discussed above, the wrong way to detox is to deprive the body of food and nutrients or to flush the bowels with laxatives. We can however, support the organs of detoxification by following a natural whole foods diet, nourish and support the liver, and optimize our digestive system.
I receive questions regarding cleansing and detoxing on a weekly basis, which is why I developed an easy to follow, self-paced online eCourse, which will walk you through the process of proper detoxification.
The information provided in this course will teach you how to create healthy, life-long habits that will optimize your body’s own natural ability to detoxify by supporting phase 1 and 2 liver detoxification pathways. You will also learn how to boost glutathione, known as the body’s master antioxidant!
The Eat Heal Love – Everyday Detox is a nutrient-dense wellness program designed to optimize your body’s ability to naturally cleanse using whole foods!
This Program is Designed To:
• Support and cleanse the liver
• Correct nutritional deficiencies
• Improve digestion and elimination
• Naturally cleanse the digestive system
• Optimize your natural ability to detoxify
• Restore balance in the intestinal system
• Guide you in following a whole foods diet
• Help you develop a healthy relationship with food!
This program includes a 7-day sample meal plan and over 50 naturally detoxifying, liver supporting, recipes!
* All recipes provided give options for those who are following a completely plant-based diet and for those who eat moderate amounts of high quality animal protein. This program is inclusive and suitable for both lifestyles.