The New Year is the traditional time for setting ambitious health and fitness goals. And when January rolls around we all inevitably hear the word ‘detox’ thrown around by friends, family and work colleagues. But what does detox really mean? Do these diets offer any real health benefits? And do we really need one?
What is detoxification?
In medical terms, detoxification is defined as the removal of poisons or toxic substances when large amounts have been consumed. It is only useful when the amount or type of substance is more than our body’s natural detoxification systems are able to handle1.
What is a detox diet?
Specific detox diets vary and can include anything from:
- severely reducing intake (and in some cases avoiding entire food groups)
- following strict raw food diets
- performing enemas or colonic irrigations
- taking large doses of vitamin or herbal supplements
- attempting juice fasts.
They are based on the theory that the human body accumulates toxins and we need regular purification1. While some people do report feeling more energised during a detox, others report feelings of extreme fatigue, nausea, diarrhoea, constipation, hunger and irritability.
Is a detox diet worth it?
So is a detox really worth it, and are there any health benefits? At present, there is little convincing scientific evidence to support the use of a short-term detox, and there is little evidence to suggest any commercial detox is effective at removing toxins from the body1. As humans, we are very fortunate as we have an in-built natural detoxification system: our skin, lungs, intestines, lymphatic system, kidneys, liver and gallbladder! These organs are extremely effective at removing any toxins from the body and work around the clock to do so!
How to change your lifestyle naturally
The common view amongst experts is that commercial detox programs are unnecessary: a waste of time, money and effort—and can have undesirable side effects. If you have over-indulged over the festive season, or just feel like your body needs a break, try incorporating some of the following suggestions into your life to support physical and mental health. No detox required!
- Consume plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables – remember, variety is key; so try and include as many different coloured fruit and vegetables as possible.
- If you regularly consume highly processed, refined carbohydrates (such as white bread or pasta) try switching these to their wholegrain equivalents.
- Consume a variety of lean proteins (including lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes and nuts/seeds).
- Reduce your intake of highly processed, sugar-laden foods such as cakes, chocolate, ice-cream or soft drink.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day.
- Use plenty of fresh herbs and spices in cooking (such as garlic, turmeric, ginger, parsley or rosemary) and reduce the amount of salt used in cooking.
- Reduce your intake of alcohol.
- Reduce intake of caffeine. If you are a heavy caffeine drinker try switching one cup of coffee a day to a cup of green tea and see how you go from there.
- Get plenty of rest. Aim for at least 7-8hours per night.
- Get active. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on most days of the week. Find a sport or activity you love, grab some friends and get sweaty!
- Make time for yourself. Set aside at least 30 minutes every day where you do something just for you, whether that is reading, practicing yoga or mastering a new hobby.
Are fad diets a good long-term solution?
Remember, fad diets (such as detox diets) aren’t a good long-term solution. It is much better to make small, sustainable changes over time rather than relying on a quick fix. An Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) can help tailor a diet plan suited to your individual needs and lifestyle.
See a dietitian
The advice given above is general in nature. For more individualised advice, I am available for appointments at The Psych Professionals Loganholme and Capalaba. To book an appointment, call (07) 3801 1772 for the Loganholme practice or (07) 3823 2230 for the Capalaba practice.
1 Chachay V. Do you really need a detox? The Conversation 2016 Jan 05