Healthy Debate: Are Detox Diets Safe?

Sure, it's tempting to try a detox or cleanse diet after all that Thanksgiving turkey, but are they safe? Here's what experts at the American Dietetic Association's recent Food and Nutrition Expo had to say about these controversial diets.

selection of fresh fruit and vegetables smoothies

Photo by: Liv Friis-Larsen

Liv Friis-Larsen

Sure, it's tempting to try a detox or cleanse diet after all that Thanksgiving turkey, but are they safe?  Here's what experts at the American Dietetic Association's recent Food and Nutrition Expo had to say about these controversial diets.

Detox Recap

We’ve discussed the ins and outs of detox diets before. Our research has lead us to an overall conclusion that the majority of the plans out there range from potentially unsafe to downright dangerous. Read for yourself:

The Experts Weigh In

At the conference, Dr. Christine Gerbstadt, a medical doctor and registered dietitian, spoke about the extremely limited scientific research behind detox diets. She pointed out that while many plans promise relief from toxins, low energy levels and cravings by excluding things like sugar, dairy, yeast, alcohol and caffeine, there’s virtually no evidence to back it up. While it’s sound nutrition advice to only consume most of these types foods in moderation, most plans suggest an all out revolt against them indefinitely.

Gerbstadt also reinforced that the body can rely on its own organs to protect and detoxify itself. Dubbed with the anagram “S.K.I.L.L.," the skin, kidneys, intestines, liver and lymphatic system are responsible for the natural cleansing of the body.

The only relatively positive point that was made in favor of these types of diets may have been that the extreme nature may help jumpstart dieters  -- and in a way, set the stage for success. This may be best demonstrated in the short plans that only last for a couple of days.  So the questions remains, can these plans provide the motivation that many dieters are lacking? Or is excluding most (if not all) food from your life (even temporarily) too extreme? The verdict among registered dietitians appears to be ... yes.

Take Home Tips
  • There's currently a lack of scientific evidence to support that detox plans are safe or effective.
  • The body has build in mechanisms to detoxify itself.
  • While potentially risky, the drastic nature of these plans (for a short period of time) may be a good way to motivate someone to make big dietary changes.
TELL US: Would you still try a detox plan?

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. See Dana's full bio »

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