Detoxes are more popular than ever; everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow to Khloe Kardashian promotes them as a quick way to flush toxins from your body and improve overall health. Detoxes usually take the form of drinks or smoothies, but they can also be done simply by removing certain foods from your diet. Detoxes or detox kits can be bought ready-made but are most often completed by combining everyday ingredients from your local supermarket.
While your body is readily equipped to detox on its own, there are steps you can take to supercharge your body’s ability. Your liver and kidneys work 24/7 to remove toxins that build up naturally in your body during metabolizing as well as those introduced through eating, drinking, breathing, and taking medication. Sometimes, these factors can overwork your body’s natural detoxification abilities, especially if you engage in unhealthy lifestyle behaviors, such as drinking alcohol excessively, smoking, eating a diet high in processed foods, or being sedentary.
The most common detox diets remove large groups of food from your diet for up to several weeks; they are often referred to as elimination diets. These can reset your body and help it function at maximum efficiency, especially if you eliminate foods that can cause disruptive symptoms. Typical detox or reset diets avoid things like alcohol, sugar, processed foods, and excessively salty foods. These diets also tend to focus on eliminating foods that are high in saturated fats and trans fats, low in protein and micronutrients, or full of heavily processed ingredients. Eliminating these can help you lose weight and experience other potential benefits.
Foods to focus on might include:
- Fermented foods, like kimchi, kombucha, and miso
- Fiber-rich foods, like artichokes, bananas, and whole grains
- Foods with lots of micronutrients, which include vitamin B6, magnesium, and zinc, such as:
- Broccoli (calcium)
- Spinach (potassium)
- Sweet potatoes (vitamin A)
- Berries (fiber and vitamin C)
How to Know If You Need to Detox
Gut imbalances are the most common sign you may need to detox your body. Not only are they uncomfortable, but constipation and bloating are signs of your digestive system being overwhelmed by your current diet or other outside forces.
As much as everyone jokes about being constantly tired, chronic fatigue is no laughing matter. If you find yourself unable to stay awake without stimulants (like coffee), you may need a detox.
We all have a fondness for sweets, but sugar should be an occasional treat. When you seem to be craving sugar constantly, especially if you experience sudden urges that aren’t satisfied by your usual indulgences, it might be time to detox.
Health Benefits of Detox Diets
Some detoxes claim to act as a general reset, while some claim to provide more specific assistance, including:
- Weight loss
- Treating stomach or digestion issues
- Relieving anxiety and depression
- Helping with headaches and migraines
- Providing relief from skin issues, like eczema and chronic acne
Removal of Toxins
Your kidneys, liver, and digestive system naturally remove toxins from your body – that's their job. Poor diet, excessive alcohol, and other medical conditions can lead to your body becoming less efficient at removing toxins. This is when a detox may help – by temporarily removing the extra stress, your body can perform at its best again.
Rest and Reset Your Organs
When a detox involves fasting or an all-liquid diet, this is sometimes referred to as a gut rest. Gut rest means zero digestion, no secretion of hormones related to digestion, and no release of digestive enzymes. While this may allow for temporary weight loss and symptom relief, once you reintroduce food, your symptoms are likely to reappear. This is why completely liquid diets are usually reserved for medical treatments, like preparing for a colonoscopy or after a surgery.
Common Ways to Detox
Detoxes work primarily by restoring balance to your gut. There are several ways to achieve this. Detoxes might include fasting or intermittent fasting (IF), drinking juices or smoothies, or eliminating entire food groups, like alcohol, caffeine, and sugar.
Unlike gut rest, IF is done by eating only between certain times. This is said to aid the body’s ability to digest food more effectively. While calories consumed during the evening count the same as calories consumed during the day, your metabolism works much more efficiently while you are awake and active. IF is commonly used in conjunction with other forms of detoxing.
Drinking Fruit and Vegetable Juices
The most well-known kind of detoxing is perhaps the juice cleanse. This involves only consuming certain types of fruits and vegetables and either juicing them or blending them whole to make smoothies.
Juicing involves the removal of all pulp and fibrous materials from fruits and vegetables. The most common ingredients in juice cleanses are carrots, celery, apples, lemons, and kale. Juicing fruits and vegetables provides a concentrated shot of vitamins and minerals without having your body work to digest the fiber found naturally in the skin and pulp. However, the removal of these nutrients concentrate the sugars found in fruits and vegetables, which is why some juices can be incredibly high in sugar content and can, therefore, be less healthy than you may think.
Blending, or making smoothies, is another way to up your intake of essential vitamins and nutrients involved in detox diets. While some people prefer juices, blending fruits and vegetables – skin and all – provides a much higher level of fiber. This higher fiber concentration aids in digestion, controls blood sugar, maintains bowel health, and lowers the risk of heart disease.
If you’re curious about any food allergies you may have, eliminating certain foods or food groups in batches may help solve the mystery of any symptoms you’re experiencing. Not just food allergies but intolerances or sensitivities to foods, like lactose intolerance or a gluten sensitivity, can be discovered by eliminating and then slowly reintroducing certain foods.
For example, if you suspect you are gluten sensitive, try eliminating gluten from your diet. If your symptoms disappear when gluten is eliminated or reappear when you reintroduce gluten, you may have a gluten sensitivity. Always consult your healthcare provider before starting a new diet plan, including the removal of certain foods or food groups.
The most important thing to consider when starting a detox diet is safety. No detox diet should be started without first consulting your doctor. Cutting out too many foods too quickly can lead to mood swings, headaches, skin breakouts, and coldlike symptoms. This is generally caused by a sudden lack of the vital nutrients your body craves. However you choose to detox, ensure you are getting the recommended amounts of macronutrients and micronutrients.
How Long Should a Detox Diet Last?
Detox diets can last anywhere from 24 hours to several days – it all depends on the type of diet you’re doing and the results you’re looking for. Generally, fasting, gut rests, or juice detoxes should last no more than 48–72 hours. This ensures a reset of your body, not a shut down. You can’t exist on juice alone.
Dangers of Prolonged Detox Diets
Prolonged detox diets can be dangerous. When done incorrectly, detoxes can lead to anemia, fatigue, head and muscle aches, low blood sugar, low blood pressure, and nausea. Long-term effects can be even more serious, including disordered eating, digestive issues, and muscle breakdown from a lack of nutrients.
Getting What You Need
Detox diets should always include the recommended amount of nutrients for your body to provide the maximum benefit. Your body naturally detoxes, so detox diets should only be used when a specific need arises and after consulting your doctor. Detoxes are quick fixes, and focusing on long-term, healthy living should be the priority. Detox diets are no replacement for a well-rounded, antioxidant-rich, sustainable diet.
Looking for direction? Watch the latest episode of our YouTube series, A Health Coach Explains Detox, where Carly, an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, talks through why we should think differently about detoxing.