Are Detox Diets Really Necessary?

By Edeline Anne Goh

A detoxification diet or detox diet can be defined as a diet that helps to ‘cleanse’ the body from harmful toxins. These toxins include food additives, pesticide residue, alcohol, heavy metals, chemicals and environmental pollutants, which should be removed from the system to ensure optimum health.

According to Saw Bee Suan, Senior Dietician at Sunway Medical Centre, popular detox diets promise to flush toxins from the body, aid with weight loss, improve skin complexion and boost the immune system. However, detox diets lack scientific evidence to prove their effectiveness.

In fact, if a person eats balanced, nutritious meals, a detox diet may not even be necessary. “If you practice healthy eating habits, there will be no issue as your body will cleanse itself the natural way,” says Saw. “It is also important to note that a detox diet cannot cure diseases.” In other words, it is best to practice prevention instead.

ARE DETOX DIETS NECESSARY?

“Humans have a built-in detoxification system that takes care of excreting and neutralising toxic substances within hours of consumption,” says Saw adding that the skin works as a great natural filter for the body and acts as a barrier to harmful toxins. “Your kidney on the other hand filters your blood and excretes waste into your urine while your liver, the largest organ inside your body, is able to detoxify chemicals and metabolise drugs and alcohol.”

Saw also explains that the body’s gastrointestinal tract has the capability to absorb the needed nutrients from food but keep out harmful bacteria and toxins. Plus, your body’s immune system works as a natural defense mechanism.

If you are planning to improve your quality of life and health, Saw’s advice is to adopt the theory of energy balance to receive long term benefits. This theory refers to the balance between what you eat and the energy burned through physical activity . For example, a diet that creates a higher amount of energy is essential for those who lead an active lifestyle. If you consume excessive energy-giving foods and then lead a sedentary lifestyle, exercise needs to be incorporated into your daily routine to keep a good balance.

Of course, above all, your utmost priority should be to consume a balanced and healthy diet consisting of a variety of nutrients including complex carbohydrates, fibre and antioxidants, protein and healthy fat.

ONLY IF YOU INSIST…

If you still feel like you want to adopt a detox regime, be sure to consult your doctor especially if you are under medication, pregnant, lactating or have a medical condition, warns Saw. Detox diets are also not suitable for children, teenagers or the elderly.

As detox diets are widely available on store shelves and on the Internet, it is important to be aware that not all of these diets are created equal and not all of them are suitable for a particular individual. “Remember to study the detox diet and to take note of the ingredients used,” Saw stresses. She adds that some of these types of diets have laxatives, diuretics and unknown products, which are possible hazards to your health.

Aside from that, it is essential that you choose a detox regime that includes a wide variety of food options to ensure that you receive sufficient sustenance. A short term, rather than long term, detox diet is advised to ensure that you do not end up depriving yourself of important nutrients.

You should also be aware that sticking to a prolonged detox diet and severe calorie restriction without having sufficient knowledge of the product and programme can adversely affect your health in various ways. These negative effects may include:

  • Low energy
  • Low blood sugar
  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • Dehydration
  • Mood swings
  • Lack of focus
  • Headaches or dizziness

Extreme detox diets may even create problems in your digestive system because it not only ‘flushes out’ the toxins in your body but also the good bacteria needed to keep the intestines healthy.

With all these concerns, why not detox the natural way?

Natural detox plans will assist and enhance your body in carrying out detoxification naturally. If you plan to follow a natural detox plan you should:

  • Consume foods that are nutritionally balance and not processed
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Get sufficient sleep
  • Stay physically active and exercise regularly

OVERCOMING THE CHALLENGE

Based on her years of expertise, Saw realised that the challenge with detox diets lies with maintaining results. For instance, a person who has chosen a detox diet to lose weight and successfully achieves the target weight may eventually regain all those extra kilos if a healthy lifestyle is not continuously practised. Another common scenario is that a drastic weight loss plan, which does not include an exercise regime, may give you the results you desire within a short period of time but does not improve your metabolic rate. This means you are very likely to put the weight back on in the long term.

So when it comes to losing weight or cleansing your body, sticking to a balanced, nutritious diet and exercise program is the key to good health that lasts.

Here is a sample menu, which emphasises high fibre and antioxidants, complex carbohydrates, protein and fat as recommended by Saw. Follow this and you are on your way to a natural detox regime!

BREAKFAST

Rolled oats with low fat milk topped with blueberry and natural nuts

MORNING SNACK

Steamed sweet potato

LUNCH

Unpolished rice with stir fried spinach, mixed vegetables and stewed chicken with skin removed

AFTERNOON SNACK

Mixed fruit salad with the option of having natural flavoured yoghurt as dressing

DINNER

Avocado salad with balsamic vinaigrette dressing, quiona and grilled salmon

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