The Truth About Detox Diets (cont.)

There are multiple concerns about detox diets: They are based on unrealistic fears; dieters' lack of understanding how the body works; and they are unnecessary, unrealistic, not sustainable and potentially dangerous.

Most people don't feel great on low-calorie, nutrient-poor diets. Potential side effects include but are not limited to low energy, low blood sugar, muscle aches, fatigue, feeling dizzy or lightheaded, and nausea. Prolonged fasting can lead to more serious health problems. Colon cleanses are not recommended because they can alter your body's electrolyte and fluid balance.

Are they safe? It depends on the plan and how long you stay on it. Fasts lasting a day or two are unlikely to be dangerous for most healthy adults. But high-risk people, the elderly, anyone with a chronic disease, pregnant women, and children are advised against any type of fasting.

Healthier Way

You can detox in a healthy way, says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD author of Doctor's Detox Diet. "Extremes like colonics, starvation, and prolonged juice cleanses are not recommended, but if you view detox diets as a way of clean eating, then it means eating natural, less-processed foods that are closer to the earth without artificial ingredients," she says.

Gerbstadt's two-week plan encourages lots of water, whole fruits, vegetables, fiber, lean protein, low-fat dairy, and whole grains. It allows 1,500-1,600 calories per day that to reduce bloat and help shed up to 3 pounds a week. "The plan is not restrictive, satisfies hunger, can be followed long-term, and focuses on getting more fluids, fiber, and [limiting] alcohol," says Gerbstadt, who is also an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokeswoman.

Her top 10 list of natural detox foods include: green leafy vegetables, lemons, watercress, green tea, broccoli sprouts, sesame seeds, cabbage, psyllium (powdered fiber), and fruits. "Beyond weight loss, minimally processed foods are healthy, nutrient-rich, contain fewer chemicals, and the fiber and fluids speed up transit time to relieve gastrointestinal issues like constipation," Gerbstadt says.

So instead of a detox fast, opt for a healthy diet plan that you can stick with long-term. Healthy diets provide at least 1,200-1,500 calories per day and include a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean protein, beans, healthy fats, and plenty of fluids -- along with regular physical activity.

Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, is director of nutrition for WebMD. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.


Frank Sacks, MD, researcher and epidemiologist, Harvard School of Public Health; professor of cardiovascular disease prevention, Harvard Medical School.

Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD,spokeswoman, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; author, Doctor's Detox Diet.

Connie Diekman, MEd, RD, nutrition director, Washington University, St. Louis; author, Everything Mediterranean Diet; past president, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Edited on March 02, 2012

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Last Editorial Review: 3/2/2012 7:46:47 PM