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Fact File - Detox Diets

15.06.2016

The word ‘detox’ often becomes the buzzword after the festive season or if we have over-indulged in too much food, highly processed foods, alcohol or wish to lose weight. There are a number of claims made from detox diets, such as, having more energy, rapid weight loss or getting rid of cellulite, but do they really work? This fact sheet explores the myths of detox diets and provides a sensible and healthier way to feel good.

 

Our Body & Detox

These diets are based on removing toxins from the body by eating, drinking or excluding certain foods. Our own body has an efficient system to remove toxins, for example, alcohol and chemicals through a number of organs such as the liver, gut and skin. If we did not have these systems in place, toxins would build up and we would rapidly become ill. The simple truth is, is that there is no evidence to show detox diets do this and if anything, can be dangerous.

 

Types of Detox Diets

Detox diets vary, but common variations include:

  • Excluding dairy and wheat foods or a major food group. Dairy foods are rich in calcium and protein which are required for healthy bones. Excluding these long-term without replacing with other calcium rich sources can lead to brittle bones later in life. Excluding these foods can contribute to weight loss, which is often the claim of the diet, weight loss occurs because one is simply restricting the diet and consequently less calories are consumed.
  • Diets consisting all or mostly of fruit and vegetables with plenty of water. Although fruit and vegetables are overall, a healthy part of the diet, omitting major food groups such as protein rich, dairy, lean meat and vegetarian alternative foods and whole grains means that you are severely restricting your mineral, protein and calorie intake. These diets claim to help you lose weight, feel less bloated, reduce cellulite or improve skin quality. This is simply happening because you are consuming more antioxidants than usual and a low calorie diet - but this is not sustainable.
  • Detox diets can potentially result in deficiencies, low energy levels and temporary rapid weight loss due to calorie restriction (rapid weight loss is mainly from water and carbohydrate stores). The reality is that once one stops a restrictive diet, usually weight is regained, leading to yo-yo dieting and previous eating habits.

 

Detoxing

If you feel the urge to detox, there are a few simple changes you can undertake long-term which will make you feel better, help manage weight and can be carried out for life as a healthy plan. Below are some tips:

  • Include at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables daily for antioxidants, fibre, and vitamins as part of your dietary intake.
  • Avoid as much as possible highly processed foods, for example, sugary drinks, shop bought cakes, chocolate, biscuits and readymade meals. Cook from scratch.
  • Aim to drink water rather than caffeinated drinks to keep you physically and mentally alert. We need about 1.6 to 2 litres of fluid a day to stop us getting dehydrated.
  • If you drink alcohol, keep within the recommended limits (no more than 14 units a week with at least 2 consecutive alcohol free days).
  • At each main meal, aim for your largest portion to be from vegetables, include a wholegrain food such quinoa, rye, brown rice, oats, buckwheat, corn and spelt and a lean protein source such as pulses, fish, lean meat or vegetarian alternatives for a balanced meal and sustained energy.
  • If you need to snack, avoid foods high in sugar that provide only a short energy burst, but then an energy dip; fresh fruit and chopped vegetables are an ideal snack.
  • Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast, as you are more likely to have low energy levels, feel hungry and therefore snack on sugary foods later.
  • Regular exercise will help control your weight. Physical activity also plays an important role, not only for weight control, but for your health. The recommended minimum levels of physical activity is at least 150 minutes a week (2 ½ hours) of moderate intensity, for example brisk walking and cycling. Or half this amount as vigorous intensity, for example, running, circuit training. Also undertake weight-bearing exercises twice a week, for example carrying groceries or exercising with weights.

 

This factsheet is intended for adults as a general guide only and not a substitute for professional advice or a diagnosis. If you are on certain medication or suffer from a medical condition, seek individual advice from your health care professional. Date produced December 2015.

 

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