Are Cleanse Diets Healthy?

Detox diets are everywhere, but cleanliness may not be next to godliness when it comes to the body. Are these popular juice fasts, master cleanses and detoxification diets really necessary?

“There is no evidence that those detox diets do any kind of detoxification in the body,” says Andrea Giancoli, MPH, RD, dietitian and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in Hermosa Beach, Calif.

One of the reasons that people, especially celebrities, embark on master cleanses and detox plans is that there are a lot of overweight and obese people in our society, and people are looking for the quick fix, explains Giancoli. Detoxes and cleanses promise quick weight loss.

What’s more, there’s a paranoia in today’s culture that our bodies are full of toxins and that we must detox in order to rid ourselves of these offensive chemicals.

“In reality, if you really want to detox your body the best thing to do is have a diet that has plenty of fiber, plenty of fruits and vegetables, a lot of whole grains, a lot of plant foods so that your immune system, your liver, kidneys, lungs and other organs in your body can naturally do their job to detox you on its own,” says Giancoli.

“We need to have more trust in our body’s ability to do that, but we also need to feed our body the right foods so that it can be at its best.”

The fact is we have a natural detox system in our body that works very well when treated well. The liver does a great job of flushing out waste every day, our lungs breathe out pollutants, our kidneys filter out toxins, and our digestive system lets things pass through that we don’t need.

Worse, Giancoli warns that juice diets and cleanses only lead to water weight loss. Depending on how long people do this, they’ll lose water weight and then start losing lean tissue mass where muscle breaks down, a huge no-no which is only increasing your fat to lean muscle ratio.

Detoxing has also become the umbrella term for a lot of different diets. Sometimes the word may be used positively, as in feeding your body a healthy diet of natural, whole foods, and other times the word typically means drinking nothing but a fluid concoction of lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper or some such for days, which is supposed to flush poisons from the body. The latter detox diet is the one to skip.

Interestingly, you may be creating toxins when you go on these detoxes for a very long time, says Giancoli. When you’re not eating and you’re taking in very few calories, you start to break down muscle mass, which creates nitrogen compounds that your body has to excrete. After a period of time not taking in enough calories, the body will make ketones, which are acidic substitutes for fuel that have to be flushed out and neutralized so they don’t potentially cause loss of minerals like calcium from the bones. Seems “cleansing” may actually create toxins that the body then has to rid.

“You can bounce back after a day or two of that but why put your body in a position it has to recover from in the first place?” Giancoli says.

“I will say that the good side of them [cleanse diets] is that for short periods they may inspire people to eat better or inspire a better way of living or a healthy lifestyle, but you can do that without the torture of these so-called detoxes.”

“Plus, if you do fast or ‘cleanse’ for a number of days, the physiology of your body then wants foods so you’re now in danger of binging and storing fat more easily. So while you might lose weight during the cleanse, your body is more primed to store fat because it’s thinking ‘Oh my gosh, I’m in the feast period so I better store all these calories for the next famine period,’” Giancoli says.

Bottom line: Detoxing or cleansing is not a sustainable weight-loss technique. Nor do you need to do anything to help your body rid itself of toxins. The body is essentially a self-cleaning machine.

article by Jennifer Nelson
Main Photo Credit: Photo: zstock/Shutterstock
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Janice Thompson
Janice Thompsonabout a year ago

The body is a fascinating creation. It can handle some "bad" germs along with the good. I cannot think an occasional cleanse would be bad, but to do it weekly is over doing it.

barry Werbowsky
barry Werbowsky1 years ago

The imortant thing is to constantly drink lots of water (every day). You consider 70% of our body is water,it just makes sense!

Anteater Ants
Anteater Ants1 years ago

yes, if they contain ants :-)

Heidi Aubrey
Heidi Aubrey1 years ago

Well said. The human body learned how to detox its self pretty much at the evolution of man.

june t.
june t.1 years ago


Norma Villarreal
Norma Villarreal1 years ago

I agree that detoxing is not a sustainable method of weight loss. Although the body is a self]cleansing machine, processed foods and additives make it difficult for it to do its job.

Rosa Caldwell
Rosa Caldwell1 years ago

I think they work for some people. It all depends on what you put in them and how you metabalize them. thanks for sharing.

Elena T.
Elena Poensgen1 years ago

Thank you :)

Lynn C.
Lynn C.1 years ago

Given half a chance the body always seems to heal itself and learns something in the process. Now if I'd fallen in one of those rivers or lakes that have become a running sewer, then I'd consider doing something a little extra.

Katie S.
Katie S.1 years ago