Debunking detox diets

I hear a lot of celebrities talk about their favorite detox diets or weekend cleanses. But they are usually paid promotions. And the companies the celebrities stump for must spend more on advertising than on their actual products.

In my view, no quick “detox” diet that you endure over one agonizing weekend, or week, will help you achieve true, long-term good health. Some recent research backs up my stance — and shows just how little science there is to support these trendy products.

No short cuts to long-term health

Most fad detox diets are so restrictive, you can only follow them for a few days. For example, one “cleanse” prescribes you drink six to 12 glasses daily of lemonade with maple syrup (sugar) and cayenne pepper. You ingest this drink as your only source of sustenance. It supposedly eliminates “toxins” as well as “cures” every kind of medical condition.

Sure — citrus fruit, with vitamin C, and cayenne pepper offer health benefits…but you only really reap all the benefits if you include them as a part of a balanced diet. And there’s nothing “balanced” about living on lemonade alone.

Unfortunately, the “detox” products you see advertised on television and social media are no better.

In fact, a recent investigation of 15 commercial detox products couldn’t find any scientific evidence about their safety or effectiveness. The companies didn’t provide the names of any of the specific chemical “toxins” against which their products were supposedly effective. Nor was there any consistent definition of what “detox” even means. Given this lack of basic information, it would not even be possible to scientifically study their effects on a given toxin, if any.

Original concept of “detox” dates back thousands of years

The basic concept of “detoxing” is actually a good one. It dates back to the 19th century with naturopathic medicine. And much further back, thousands of years in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. In natural medicine, it’s a way of restoring the body, mind, and spirit to their most cleansed, balanced and healthful state.

But the idea is to incorporate high-quality foods into your regular, daily, diet that promote healthy digestion and GI function. As I recently reported, poorly digested foods can indeed lead to formation and circulation of “toxins.” And research links these toxins with cancers and kidney diseases.

Of course, there are some sources of toxins you should be aware of, and be careful to avoid.

For instance, processed foods — and commercially grown produce and meats — contain chemicals that can cause serious harm. But opting for organically raised foods can alleviate this concern.

You also want to avoid heavy metal toxins — such as cadmium, lead and mercury — at all costs. Your body can’t handle them, even if found in food.

For example, some fish contains mercury. But by choosing your sources of fish carefully all year long, you don’t have to miss out on this important part of a healthy diet as seafood contains essential fats, vitamins and other bioavailable minerals. I always recommend buying wild-caught instead of farm raised fish. (For more information on which fish to avoid, see the Daily Dispatch How to navigate the murky waters of healthy fish consumption.)

Overall, clean living doesn’t happen overnight or even over a weekend or a week. You should strive to avoid toxins 365 days a year.

9 simple tips for healthy, toxin-free living

Here are some tips you can follow to help keep your body toxin-free year-round:

  1. Avoid processed snack foods.
  2. Choose organic foods. (Only organic foods are guaranteed not to come from genetically modified seeds grown with pesticides.)
  3. Eat beef, poultry and dairy that come from free-range, grass-fed animals.
  4. Read the labels of consumer products and stay away from products that include: triclosan, tributyltin, bisphenol A, diethylhexylphthalate, and perfluorooctanoate.
  5. Do not use pesticides in your home or on your lawn. (there are plenty of natural plant “pesticides,” as I have reported in my Insiders’ Cures)
  6. Avoid cleaning with harsh chemicals. Use vinegar and baking soda instead.
  7. Avoid toxic sunscreens and personal hygiene products filled with harmful chemicals.
  8. Choose organic skincare products.
  9. Avoid storing food or water in plastics. Choose stainless steel or glass instead.

Next time I will tell you more about avoiding pesticides and other toxins in the environment without doing a “detox” program.