Detox diets are specifically designed to clear the body of toxins and waste. Think of them as an oil change for what’s under your body’s hood. And while some have merit, others take some serious mental gymnastics to pull off. Consider this post your Ultimate Guide to Detox Diets.
I’m currently attempting a super low-carb, no-processed-food, no-junk-food, no-sugar, no-fun diet. It isn’t easy. But I’m getting up there in age, and a steady diet of pretentious craft beers and garlic fries is taking a toll.
I’ll admit, restricting breads and sweets in a world where the cherpumple exists is tough, but I’ve lost a little weight and I feel great. I may not be following a specific detox diet, but it’s working for me.
And that’s the trick to detoxifying. Finding out what works best for you.
The Master Cleanse, aka the Lemonade Diet
Do you ever get a hankering for a tall glass of freshly squeezed lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper, and water?
Yeah, me neither.
Yet, countless open-minded folks have been gulping down this concoction for decades. And plenty of them swear by its ability to scrub the body of impurities and unwanted pounds (Beyoncé reportedly used it to slim down for her role in the film Dreamgirls).
The recipe is simple—mix two tablespoons of lemon juice, two tablespoons of maple syrup, 1/10 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, and 10 ounces of water. You’re also allowed salt water and laxative-infused tea. And that’s your menu for a few days if you follow this detox to the T (just make sure you always have a bathroom in your sights).
I was able to suss out a few benefits. The lemon juice contains vitamin C. The maple syrup helps it sneak past your taste buds. Cayenne pepper has been shown to curb hunger (you’re definitely going to want that). And water is always good for you. It’s also cheap and light on the calories.
It’s obvious why it works for quick weight loss.
But at its best, this witch’s brew is a kick-start to a healthier lifestyle. It’s low on nutrition, and certainly not meant for the long term. Only the strongest of us could keep that up (see Beyoncé).
Besides, there are tastier ways to detox.
Sugar—the world’s most beloved ingredient— is abused and overused.
I know it’s hard to hear, but it’s true. Studies show a relationship between a higher intake of sugar and cardiovascular disease. There are also known connections between a higher sugar diet and type 2 diabetes as well as liver disease.
And what makes matters worse is that sugar has infected every corner of the world.
It haunts the supermarket shelves we’d least expect. It’s in bread (including the whole-wheat variety), peanut butter, instant oatmeal, packaged tomato sauce, flavored yogurt, and salad dressings.
Sugar also hides under dozens of different aliases like corn syrup, rice malt, and concentrated fruit juice. Notice the words corn, rice, and fruit? They almost make sugar sound healthy (not fair, sugar execs).
Saying sugar is hard to escape is an understatement. But if you know where to look it’s easier to pull from your diet. And once you do, you’re pretty much left with healthy choices.
When I gave up sugar, I filled the void with good fats like salmon, cage-free eggs, avocados, nuts, and olive oil. And—full disclosure—I even eat a little bacon once and a while (fuller disclosure, I suck down more than I should, but it’s bacon, and I’m only one man).
Fat overflows with flavor. It makes giving up sugar a piece of cake (ha).
Plus, nutrients—like vitamin A, which is important for the immune system, and vitamin D, which aids in calcium absorption—are fat soluble. That means your body needs fat to utilize these vital micronutrients. Kind of justifies the occasional strip of bacon, doesn’t it?
Giving up sugar can be a boon for your health. But if your sweet tooth can’t be ignored, I get it (you have no idea how much I get it). The best place to get your fix is fruit; it’s full of antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber.
But watch yourself—you can still overdo it.
Like the Master Cleanse, a juice cleanse is a short-term liquid diet meant to flush your GI system and snap you out of an unhealthy funk.
But the similarities end there.
The juice blends in this type of detox vary wildly. And flushing your body with fusions of leafy greens, fresh ginger, and apples, or medleys of carrot and orange juice, can be delicious and nutritious. It’s also a great way to slip in the daily recommended servings of fruits and vegetables, especially if you have aversions to certain ones (for me it’s tomatoes; they’re like little mushy brains).But scrambling your greens has downsides.
Juicing every meal takes the fiber out of your diet and can leave you in a constant state of hunger.
And juicing breakfast, lunch, and dinner can add mountains of sugar to your diet, which we know can be problematic.
Just one medium-sized apple has about 19 grams of sugar. It takes roughly three apples to make one eight-ounce glass of apple juice. That’s a whopping 57 grams of sugar in a so-called healthy drink.
Instead of juicing, invest in a blender. You’ll go through less produce, get less sugar, and keep more nutrients and fiber.
The Breatharian Diet (or, the Ultimate Detox Diet)
During my descent into the wild and wacky world of detox diets I came across the movement known as breatharianism. And no, this isn’t a detox diet, but my snarky side couldn’t help mentioning it.
Followers of this extreme way of life believe the human body can survive indefinitely on air and sunlight alone. That’s right, no food or water, and that’s pretty much the meat and potatoes of breatharianism (my apologies to any practicing breatharians for that insensitive analogy).
Some claim breatharianism is a spiritual awakening. I can’t speak to that, but I imagine it’s a real time saver. There’s no need for tedious trips to the grocery store or gathering around the kitchen table for a quiet family dinner.
But it also comes with a few nasty side effects, which include, but are not limited to, increased fatigue, increased hangry-ness, and eventually death.
If you can tap into the supernatural ability to forgo food and water for the rest of your life, good for you. It’s easier to keep the garbage out if nothing at all is going in. But for those of us with less willpower (i.e., everybody), this may not be an ideal way to cleanse the body.
The Long-Term Detox
Most detox diets aren’t meant for the long haul. They’re more or less a reboot.
But your body was built to detox itself, and adding nutrient-dense foods to increase that ability can be a permanent change.
And there’s an endless amount of mouthwatering food and drinks to choose from.
High on that list is green tea. It’s awash in the antioxidant known as epigallocatechin-3-gallate (ECGC), which supports your liver health. And the liver is a big deal when it comes to clearing out the bad stuff.
Another great choice is artichokes. Whether pickled, on pizza, or grilled, these hearty plants can be a delicious addition to any diet. Beyond being a tasty treat, they contain the antioxidant cynarin, which aids the liver in producing bile. And bile is vital for digestion and flushing the body of toxins.
The avocado is hands down the greatest produce on the planet and should be a part of any diet, healthy or otherwise. They’re packed with antioxidants, healthy fats, and fiber to help keep your digestive tract moving. More importantly, they’re awesome on toast, in smoothies, or all by themselves.
Adding detoxifying foods to your diet can be a lifelong change if you fill your plate with your favorites.
And staying active helps, too. Every time you sweat, your body pushes out toxins. So dial up the treadmill—your liver shouldn’t have to do all of the work.
The human body was built to last. It’s simply a matter of out with the bad and in with the good. That’s why maintaining a balanced diet, getting enough exercise, and supplementation is key.
Life in moderation may be the best detox diet of them all.