What's the Deal with Detox Diets?
It seems everyone is talking about "detox" or considering a "cleanse." Detox diets often are misunderstood — especially since your body already comes equipped with a detoxification system. Understanding how detox works may help clear up some confusion.
How the Body Naturally Detoxifies
Detoxification is how your body transforms and removes toxins from your body. It’s happening all the time; the process uses important nutrients from the diet. Toxins fall into two main categories:
- Toxins that are made in the body during regular metabolism - these include lactic acid, urea and waste products from microbes in the gut
- Toxins that come from outside the body and are introduced by eating, drinking or breathing, or are absorbed through the skin - these include pesticides, mercury in seafood, lead from car exhaust and air pollution, chemicals in tobacco products and drugs or alcohol
Because toxins are potentially dangerous to your health, they need to be transformed and excreted through urine, feces, respiration or sweat. Each person's ability to detoxify varies, and is influenced by environment, diet, lifestyle, health status and genetic factors. This suggests that some people may require more detoxification support than others.
Toxins Can be Stored in Fat Cells
Further, if the amount of toxins you’re exposed to exceeds your body's ability to excrete them, the toxins could end up being stored in fat cells, soft tissue and bone, negatively affecting health. This is the rationale behind practices that support the body's own detoxification capabilities, but more research is needed on this.
Most detoxification programs recommend removing highly processed foods, and foods that cause sensitivities, such as dairy, gluten, eggs, peanuts and red meat. They also recommend eating mostly organically grown vegetables, fruit, whole, non-glutinous grains, nuts, seeds and lean protein. Other programs recommend fasting, a potentially risky practice for some people, which may actually suppress detoxification pathways in the body. This is why many health practitioners advise against fasting.
Plenty of non-credentialed people claim to be experts in detoxification; however, there is a lack of research at this time to support its use. Plus, detoxification programs vary widely and may pose a risk for some people (such as people with health problems, those with eating disorders, those who take multiple medications, and pregnant or breastfeeding women).
8 Ways to Support Your Body's Natural Detox
Detoxification support doesn't need to consist of a rigorous plan; doing some or all of the following can support your body's natural detoxification:
- Stay hydrated with clean water
- Eat 5-9 servings of fruit and vegetables per day
- Consume dietary fiber each day from vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and whole grains to help maintain bowel regularity
- Include cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli and Brussels sprouts, berries, artichokes, garlic, onions, leeks and green tea. These support detoxification pathways
- Consume adequate amounts of lean protein, which is critical to maintaining optimum levels of glutathione, the body's master detoxification enzyme
- Eat naturally fermented foods such as kefir, yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut — these may help promote a healthy gut
- Consult your health care provider or registered dietitian or nutritionist if you're interested in taking vitamin or mineral supplements to fill any gaps in a healthy diet