In U.S. News and World Report, dietitian Tamara Duker Freuman takes down New Year’s detox diets and cleanses (especially those involving only juices or expensive supplements). In the short-term, these diets are likely to be neither harmful nor beneficial, she says — so skip the expense and deprivation of juice fasts and detox regimens in favor of a healthy, whole foods diet.
“I believe cleanse marketers overstate their products’ health benefits, relying on a combination of pseudo-science and a flawed understanding of basic human physiology to sell them,” writes Freuman.
Juicing programs don’t actually “detox” anything. Marketers of cleanses throw around the vague term “toxin,” without providing any specifics as to which toxins their regimen is purported to remove. To be sure, we all encounter a host of toxins in our modern lives environmental ones like mercury, pesticides, and BPA; and food-borne ones like pesticides, PCBs, aflatoxin from peanut butter, and heterocyclic amines (HCAs) from charred meat. Our bodies even create toxins as metabolic byproducts of foods we eat, like nitrosamines from processed-meat preservatives or ammonia from protein (of both plant and animal origin). But I’ve yet to see a shred of scientific evidence to indicate that any ingredient in these juices—including lemons, herbs, green veggies, or cayenne pepper—has demonstrated any clinical utility in neutralizing or eliminating such toxins from the body at all, let alone doing so more effectively than the body’s own “detox organs” in the setting of a reasonably healthy, solid-food diet.
Meanwhile? Juice diets don’t normally support optimal functioning of the body’s detox organs, anyway — meaning your detox diet could be worse for detoxifying than simply eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet. Your liver, intestines and kidneys work together to “process toxic substances like alcohol and drugs into safe byproducts, neutralize and excrete the toxic ammonia that results from normal protein metabolism, prevent harmful carcinogens from being absorbed into the bloodstream, and remove heavy metals from the body,” explains Freuman.
“But to enable the intestines to trap carcinogens in the stool and escort them out, you need a steady flow of fiber. To support the liver’s ability to maintain an abundant supply of the mega-potent detoxifier called glutathione, you’ll want to feed it lots of sulfur-containing cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. To prevent damage to the delicate blood-filtering mechanisms in the kidneys, you’ll want to make sure your blood sugar levels stay low. In general, this type of dietary support for the body’s detox organs is not optimally achieved through a juice-only diet.
I so much want to share everything she said, but I’ve copy-pasted enough already, so go read the whole thing here. Freuman debunks a few more juice/detox diet claims and adds that “if you don’t have $60 per day to shell out for fresh-squeezed snake oil,” you should check in this week for her “common-sense approach to clean eating.”