Juice cleanses, vegan cleanses, detox cleanses. Various types of cleanses are extremely popular right now, as are the myriad of products you need to purchase to help your body detoxify. As a Registered Dietitian, it's hard not to just brush cleanses off as another unfounded nutrition trend. But, every year I see a new “detox” method popping up, so clearly it is something I can’t ignore. Here are a few of my thoughts on why you don’t need a vegan cleanse or any cleanse to get the health benefits you are looking for.
Why Do You Want to Detox?
I totally understand the desire to “detoxify”. After the holidays or maybe a vacation, many of us feel icky. Too much alcohol, sugar, and less-than-healthy food doesn’t really lead to ideal health. Maybe you think that detoxing will let you drop the extra weight you have been carrying around. It’s easy to think that feeling unhealthy means you are full of “toxins”, but this is not really true. The body is actually a pretty good detoxifier all on its own.
Your Body: A Detoxification Machine
We live in a toxic world. Air pollution, pesticides, environmental chemicals, processed foods all cause havoc on our bodies. But, our bodies are pretty good at getting rid of unwanted toxins and chemicals all on its own. The liver, kidneys, and digestive system all work really hard to neutralize and eliminate anything harmful. Without the hard work of these organs we would not survive a single day in the environment we live in.
Dangers of Detoxing
Most detox programs involve the elimination of a food group or subsisting on juices alone for a period of time. Depending on how much you eliminate, this can cause more harm than good. Cleanses, particularly those that involve temporarily going vegan or only eating vegetables, are too low in calories and protein. Not eating enough protein will lead to a break down of muscle and can slow down your metabolism.
Inadequate calorie intake sets you up for low energy and blood sugar crashes. At some point your body is going to rebel against the starvation and set off a cascade of hormones to get you to eat more. This will lead to extreme hunger and binging on unhealthy food, probably the opposite of what you intended.
Finally, many of the “cleanse” products are laxatives that can actually cause the loss of beneficial gut bacteria and high quality nutrients. This can lead to digestive issues and vitamin deficiencies if used long-term.
What to Do Instead of a Cleanse
Instead of buying special products or avoiding entire food groups to cleanse, simply work on reducing your exposure to toxins to lighten the load on your detoxification organs. A great place to start is by eliminating alcohol and caffeine. Aim to drink at least 15 cups of water a day instead.
Boosting your fiber intake is the best way to “cleanse” your digestive tract. Fiber acts as a brush all along your gut, cleaning out any toxins. Shoot for 30 or more grams of fiber daily to keep things moving along.
Finally, focus on eating whole, unprocessed foods. You don’t need to go vegan completely, but do consider adopting a more plant-based diet. The goal is to have your diet be about 75% plants with as much variety as possible. The other 25% can be high-quality protein. Try to choose organic, hormone-free, and pesticide-free when you are able.
Even if your diet isn’t perfect or completely organic all the time, simply drinking more water and eliminating processed foods will support your body’s natural detoxification processes. There is no need to purchase any products, potions, or stop eating entire food groups to help your body naturally achieve its most vital state.
Yours in Health-
Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD
IVL’s Community Registered Dietitian