The Detox Diet: Helpful or Harmful?

by Marsha Hudnall MS, RDN, CD

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Detox diets and clean eating | Better choices for health and weight loss?

Toxins surround us. They’re in the air we breathe, the foods we eat, the drugs we take. Our bodies even make them as a result of the metabolic process.

Our bodies are designed to detoxify themselves. The liver does most of the work, but we also get rid of toxins through the lungs, kidneys, even sweating.

It’s believed, however, that we’re exposed to many more toxins today than in the past. So much so that our bodies may occasionally benefit from a little help to thoroughly cleanse themselves.

Here’s a quick quiz that can help you decide whether a detox diet and cleansing is something you might want to consider: Detox Diet Quiz. Scroll down to the middle of the page where is says “Start the quiz.” Try to ignore all the links to detox diets and plans to lose xx pounds in some incredibly short period of time.

Which Detox Plan?

If you decide a detox is in your future, what’s the best way to do it? Should you look for specific detox foods or body detox plans such as the popular lemon detox diet and other weight loss detox programs? What about celebrity-inspired regimens that according to integrative nutritionist Laura Lagano, RD, “only models, celebs and people with anorexia” can follow. Then there are versions a dietitian can love that consist of a balanced diet with lots of vegetables. Can you guess which we encourage?

To help your body cleanse and restore itself, we recommend a balanced plan featuring adequate protein, fat and carbohydrate, plenty of greens and other vegetables (ideally organic). Regimens differ according to whom you speak but a healthy eating plan that contains plenty of vegetables is a good place to start. Do you suspect you have food sensitivities?

Detox diet might eliminate:

  • gluten-containing grains (wheat, spelt, barley, rye and maybe oatmeal)
  • foods that are common allergens, such as citrus, dairy products, eggs, soy, shellfish, peanuts and peanut butter
  • foods that we tend to eat too much of such as corn, alcohol, sugar and caffeine-containing products.
  • processed foods that contain preservatives and other additives

Foods that are thought to be particularly helpful for detoxification include cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, kale, collards, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and bok choy, dandelion greens, cilantro, artichokes, garlic and pomegranate. Green tea is also thought beneficial, but experts differ on whether to include it because it does contain caffeine. Similarly, the jury is out on whether to include decaffeinated products, even if they are decaffeinated naturally.

In addition, you want to drink plenty of water to flush toxins, and if you are constipated, take a fiber supplement to keep that elimination channel working.

Fasting is generally not recommended. It mobilizes fat stores, releasing additional toxins that are stored there. And it deprives the body of nutrients that are needed for the detoxification process.

Before you begin a detox program, it’s always wise to check with your healthcare provider, especially if you are taking any prescription medications.


What a Detox Diet Can Do for You

The type of detox diets we describe above are basically healthy eating plans, one of which eliminates foods that may contain or create toxins for many of us. Depending on your needs, the elimination plan can do what basic healthy eating can do, but perhaps a bit more speedily if your body is overwhelmed at the moment. Both can boost your energy and help you feel great. And they can spur you to continue to eat healthy, which goes far towards keeping you healthy for life, avoiding the chronic diseases that plague so many people today.

Other critical elements of a plan to detoxify and keep your body healthy include the other components of a healthy lifestyle such as physical activity, adequate sleep and stress management. Indeed, a healthy lifestyle supports the body’s ability to cleanse itself, and inadequately managed stressors add to the toxic load.

Important note: If you are someone who struggles with giving yourself permission to eat what you want and ends up eating in a disordered manner as a result, it is important to learn to eat intuitively. With intuitive eating, you can avoid feelings of deprivation and other diet mentality attitudes that may create more problems than a detox diet can solve. Read more about Green Mountain’s Normal Eating Restructuring Program,™ it can help you learn to eat intuitively.

If you’re feeling the need to detox, consider Green Mountain’s new Healing with Food program. It can be particularly helpful for women who don’t seem to be able to achieve a healthy weight with a healthy lifestyle, or who have trouble even following a healthy lifestyle in the first place. It combines our time-tested intuitive eating program with a functional medicine/nutrition approach to help you look deeper at physical challenges that may be interfering with your well-being.


Written by Marsha Hudnall, RD, MS, Director and Owner of Green Mountain