The Right and Wrong Way to Detox

Forget the juices, pills, and powders and let fiber-rich, nutrient-dense foods do the work.

Not the breakfast, or week-long detox diet, of champions. (Photo via Thinkstock.)

Spring is in the air here in Boston and many people are feeling the urge to do some spring cleaning — and I don’t mean the house. More and more, people are trying out detox diets, which promise to clean the body of “toxins” and “poisons,” with the big added bonus of weight loss. I have heard Dr. Oz touting their benefits, witnessed spas offering their own versions, and seen countless books published on the topic. I completely understand the appeal; I mean who hasn’t had a weekend, a week, heck, even a couple of months, where they haven’t eaten the healthiest, and wished they could undo the damage? Don’t be fooled: most of these detoxifying diets have glaring problems, if they’re not just outright dangerous.

Detox diets can last from several days to several weeks and typically consist of a liquid phase supplemented with various herbs, powders, pills, extracts, and even enemas (no fun!). Proponents claim that unhealthy diets hinder your body’s ability to cleanse itself, leading to a buildup of toxins — which I sometimes hear referred to as “sludge” — inside the body. But before you consider that enema, hear me out.

There is no scientific proof to suggest that these diets detoxify the body. In fact, the evidence suggests that the body naturally does a fine job on its own and that these diets add a considerable amount of stress. The diets that include juices deliver huge doses of sugar to the body, causing spikes in blood sugar and insulin production. Inevitably, with those spikes come dips, which leave the dieter shaky, dizzy, and fatigued. Feeling horrible does not mean it’s working, it means something is wrong. What’s more, the initial weight loss experienced is almost entirely fluid — water weight, not fat, definitely not sludge — and that fluid returns as soon as a normal diet is reinstated. Though since these diets tend to be extremely low in calories, the body will eventually start to mobilize fat stores for energy, but it also will tap into protein sources, causing loss of precious muscle.

So how do you detox the right way?

My advice is to steer clear of diets labeled as detoxifying, as well as any others with extreme and unsubstantiated claims, and just let your body clean itself. To naturally “detox,” you can ditch the fast food, sugar-sweetened beverages and feed your body unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods that are naturally high in cleansing fiber. Fiber comes in two forms: soluble and insoluble. I like to think of soluble fiber as a “sponge” because as it travels through the body, it soaks up bile acids, which promotes cholesterol excretion. Insoluble fiber is like an internal “scrub brush,” aiding your body in excreting waste as it travels through your digestive system.

Here are my top seven detoxifying foods, rich in fiber and nutrients:

  1. Oats
  2. Beans
  3. Fruits
  4. Vegetables
  5. Whole grains
  6. Nuts
  7. Water (while water does not contain fiber or nutrients, it is included because it is needed by every part of the body and will help process fiber, and flush the body of toxins.

My final detox tip is not a food at all, it’s exercise. Exercise pumps fresh oxygenated blood throughout your body promoting healthy digestion and improved cognition. I don’t know about you, but a walk along the Charles, bottle of water in hand, and after a hearty breakfast with oatmeal, fruit and nuts, sounds a lot more appealing than a muscle-wasting juice concoction. Just sayin’.

What is your take on the detox diet craze?