The Real Deal on the Master Cleanse

Cleanse diets have long been popular, but the Master Cleanse has received loads of attention lately thanks to celebrities. So is it really safe choice for the diet conscious? Not necessarily.

Many celebs praise miracle cleanses for keeping them slim. One popular detox, the Master Cleanse, has been around for decades and is a perennial Hollywood favorite. Is it a safe choice for the diet-minded? Not necessarily.

What are cleansing diets?

Detox -- or cleansing -- diets claim to remove harmful poisons or toxins from the body. You do this by cutting many foods and following a very calorie-restricted regime for a certain amount of time. Yes, fasting for religious reasons has been around for centuries (i.e. Ramadan or Yom Kippur), but these diets have taken on new meaning. They can be anything from a 3-day juice fast to days of just drinking unpleasant cayenne pepper and maple syrup concoctions as your main nutritional source.

The story gets messier, too -- many cleansing diets also recommend numerous enemas, laxatives or both to help clear your system. They’ll even advise you to stay close to the bathroom, take several days off work and not plan any social events (you'll definitely be tired after the nutrient restrictions).

So what is the Master Cleanse?

The Master Cleanse (or Master Cleanser) became big news when Beyoncé claimed it helped her drop 20 pounds for the movie Dreamgirls -- though the detox has been around since the 70s. You might know it better as the "Lemonade Diet."

Basically, you enjoy (okay, "enjoy") a mix of lemon juice, maple syrup, water and cayenne pepper for a minimum of 10 days. Supplementing that are cups of salt water and laxative tea. In the end, you get about 700 calorie per day. The diet claims the symptoms from the detox are tiredness, cravings, irritability and headaches. Starve me for 10 days and ask me down disgusting drinks (not to mention enemas!), and I won’t be too happy either!

As for most cleansing diets, there’s no scientific evidence to suggest that a detoxification process is beneficial or even safe without medical supervision. And eating so little calories for days is not only unhealthy, it’s down right dangerous. Kids, teens, pregnant women or any people with medical conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure shouldn't definitely stay away.

What do the dietitians say?

Yes, I sound like a hater, but it's not just me. Check out this recent USA Today article that quotes leading dietitians that think this diet is a farce. Ultimately, the best form of detox is eating a balanced, whole foods diet that's high in fiber-rich foods, fruits, veggies and whole grains. Aside from lacking most of the food groups, these fad diets often don't have the protein needed to maintain muscle during weight loss -- this means your fat will stay while your muscles deteriorate.

If you're still determined to try a detox, consult your physician and a registered dietitian, and go for a shorter, 3-day plan as opposed to any longer ones.

[Photo by Jordan and Heidi / Flickr]
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