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Cleansing and Detox Diets

September 30, 2013 by Dean Simmons, Registered Dietitian

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Diet plans and products that claim to cleanse and detoxify (detox) our bodies are everywhere - in magazines, bookstores, the popular press and on the Internet. Do they live up to their claims? Are they safe?

Cleansing and detox diets appeal to our inner desire to become healthier and more vibrant versions of ourselves. They're built on the idea that our bodies are burdened by a build up of toxins that comes from the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. Promoters of these diets view the body as a house that has collected too much dust and grime and requires a little 'spring cleaning' to operate at its best.

The Claim The Reality
Cleansing and detox diets often come with big promises for health benefits. There isn't enough scientific evidence on the effectiveness of these diets to support their claims. 

Our bodies are burdened by a build up of toxins.

There is no scientific support for the idea that our bodies need to be detoxified (except for cases of acute poisoning) or that detox diets actually remove toxins.

Cleansing and detox diets are safe.

There are a wide variety of cleansing and detox diets. Some may be safe for healthy people, but should be avoided by those with a higher risk of side effects including people with diabetes, low blood sugar, eating disorders, growing children and teens, pregnant women and older adults.

Possible side effects include: low blood sugar, lack of energy, nutritional deficiencies and development of an unhealthy relationship with food.

If short-term cleansing and detox diets promise the equivalent of 'spring cleaning' then eating a healthy well-balanced diet, getting enough sleep and activity and managing our stress levels is the equivalent of keeping the house clean all year round. Our bodies are pretty amazing at filtering harmful contaminants (i.e. toxins) that enter our bodies. Each of us is well equipped with natural detoxifying systems (thank you liver, kidneys and intestines). The liver removes waste from the bloodstream and then sends it to the kidneys for removal in the urine. The intestine excretes solid waste after nutrients and water has been absorbed. Keeping our bodies well nourished throughout the year allows these systems to work at their best.

If you're considering a cleansing or detox diet, it’s recommended to:

  • Consult your doctor, especially if you have a medical condition. 
  • Ask a pharmacist about the safety of the herbal cleanses or laxatives included with some programs. 
  • Speak with a Registered Dietitian @ 8-1-1 to ensure that the eating plans being recommended are nutritionally sound.

Recommended Resources:
Dietitians of Canada: Detox and Cleansing Diets - Fact or Fiction?
The Globe and Mail: Do detox diets really work?


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