A detox diet is a dietary regimen involving a change in consumption habits in an attempt to "detoxify" the body by removal of "toxins" or other contaminants. Proponents claim it improves health, energy, resistance to disease, mental state, digestion, as well as aiding in weight loss. Scientists, dietitians, and doctors, however, regard 'detox diets' as less effective than drinking a glass of water, and view 'detox diets' as generally harmless but a waste of money.
"Detox" diets usually suggest that fruits and vegetables compose a majority of one's food intake. Limiting this to unprocessed (and sometimes also non-GM) foods is often advocated. Limiting or eliminating alcohol is also a major factor, and drinking more water is similarly recommended.
An incomplete list of methods to modify the diet for the purpose of detoxification includes:
- Eliminating foods that are hard on metabolism, such as caffeine, alcohol, processed food (incl. any bread), pre-made or canned food, salt, sugar, wheat, red meat, pork, fried and deep fried food, yellow cheese, cream, butter and margarine, shortening, etc., while focusing on pure foods such as raw fruits and vegetables, whole grains (excl. white rice), legumes, raw nuts and seeds, fish, vegetable oils, herbs and herbal teas, water, etc.
- Raw foodism
- Fasting, including water fasting and juice fasting.
- Increased consumption of fish such as salmon
- Food combining.
- Calorie restriction.
- Herbal detox.
- Master Cleanse also known as the lemonade diet, terms coined to refer to the fasting paradigm penned by Stanley Burroughs
- Natural hygiene holds that the true cause of disease is toxemia, or poisoning, in the blood. Natural Hygiene claims that these toxins are a normal product of metabolism or living.
Some proponents of detox diets would emphasize it as a lifestyle, rather than a diet. It has made some appearances in the media, such as in Morgan Spurlock's 2004 documentary film Super-Size Me. Literary references include "Ultimate Lifetime Diet" by Gary Null advocating veganism as a (lifestyle) method of detoxification.
Professor Alan Boobis OBE, Toxicologist, Division of Medicine, Imperial College London states that "The body’s own detoxification systems are remarkably sophisticated and versatile. They have to be, as the natural environment that we evolved in is hostile. It is remarkable that people are prepared to risk seriously disrupting these systems with unproven ‘detox’ diets, which could well do more harm than good."
There is also criticism that detox diets in general are unhealthy due to the possibility of a greater amount of natural toxic chemicals in fruits and vegetables than in animal products. It is argued by advocates of this perspective that the liver has evolved to do its job without assistance from such diets. However, this argument does not take into account the main focus of most detox diets, which is the sheer excess of difficult to metabolize foods that is consumed in the present day. Thus, this argument does not consider the resulting larger quantity of toxic metabolic by-products that the liver and other body systems must process.
The potentially high mercury content in some fish is cited to argue against increased fish consumption. If one is considering eating more fish, it is therefore important to choose fish that have low mercury levels.
Sudden changes in diet have been linked to fainting and other medical issues. It is therefore of utmost importance to gradually introduce the dietary changes, especially if they are extreme compared to the present diet. Fasting should never be undertaken without a proper understanding of its proceedures, and long-term changes to the diet should always include a balance of the nutrients needed for the sustenance of the human body - carbohydrates, protein, unsaturated fat, vitamins, minerals and water. The same is adviseable for any diet, cleansing or otherwise, in order to maintain optimal health.
Highly restrictive detox diets such as Water fasting or the Master Cleanse are not the safest form of weight loss. These diets, if done improperly or for too long, may result in nutrient deficiencies. Of particular concern is lack of protein, which may result in wasting of muscle tissue due to insufficient amino acids for repair. With less lean muscle tissue, the body's metabolic needs decrease, which hampers weight loss efforts unless calories are lessened further in the diet.
While many people have provided testimonials to their health improvements in following a "detox" diet lifestyle, some of these people may have started the detox diet after coming off an unhealthy diet high in sugar and processed food that may lack nutrients. Any improvements cited from such people would only prove the effectiveness of a detox diet over an average diet, and not that it is the ideal diet that doesn't carry its own unique health risks. It is therefore necessary to investigate whether or not the diets advocated provide sufficient nutritional value for optimal physical functioning.
Some of the changes recommended in certain "detox" lifestyles are ones that agree with mainstream medical advice, such as consuming a diet high in fruits and vegetables. Separating the beneficial effects of such changes from the rest of the recommendations made in a "detoxifying" diet is difficult. Determining whether supposed results of a "detox" diet come from "purfying" the body of "toxins" or simply due to improving one's intake of fruits and vegetables is not possible.