Woman: Avoid detox diet pitfalls

A woman making fresh vegetable juice
A woman making fresh vegetable juice
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Detoxing may be trendy, but is it worth it? Sip those juices sensibly, and set healthy habits for life

Certain words crop up a lot during the early part of the year, and ‘detox’ is certainly one of them - those diet plans/smoothies/juices/or even dodgy-looking pills promising to cleanse our clogged-up systems and leave us lighter, brighter and healthier.

But experts (the ones with bona fide scientific knowledge and qualifications) are often warning that these wonder remedies should be approached with caution; in fact, is ‘detoxing’ even really real? After all, our bodies are designed to self-cleanse anyway, that’s what livers are for.

A FRESH HEALTHY START

However, there’s no denying that going on a bit of a health-kick, and perhaps cutting out all ‘treats’, caffeine and booze for a few days can help get you started on a healthy eating regime, or simply shift that sluggish, bloated feeling if you’ve been overindulging a bit too much.

“Absolutely,” says Rob Hobson, head of nutrition for Healthspan. “I think to take a long weekend or week and fill your cupboards and fridge with really healthy, unprocessed foods is a great idea. Not only good for your body, but mentally it feels like you’re doing something positive for your health.”

KNOW WHAT YOU’RE EATING

Incorporating detox-inspired elements into your health-kick - for instance, you might want to ditch processed foods and caffeine and go all-out on the veg and fruit for a couple of days - might feel beneficial. But, notes Hobson, don’t assume that everything with the word ‘detox’ on the label is going to be good for you: “The term is thrown about quite a bit, and especially by people trying to market strange potions and pills.

“Also, be wary about detox preparations, as you never quite know what they contain. People who do them seem obsessed with purging the body, like it is somehow going to be a good thing to take a tablet that gives you a sudden bout of diarrhoea!”

BEWARE QUICK-FIX TRAPS

Let’s face it - many detox plans, particularly the celeb-endorsed ones, are tempting because they offer fast weight loss, but this can be counterproductive. Firstly, fast weight loss rarely leads to long-term weight loss (in fact it often results in yo-yoing and even greater weight gain), and fixating on the quick-fix and restricting calories can put you at risk of missing out on important nutrients, potentially damaging your health - not to mention the fact that it’s, well, not much fun!

“I have never been a big fan of the ‘quick-fix’, and many of these diets involve eating very few calories or avoiding solid food altogether, which of course is going to get you to lose weight, but unfortunately in the short-term, this is just likely to be water and muscle loss from the lack of protein,” says Hobson. “I’m yet to meet anyone who has lost weight very quickly and keep that weight off in the long-term, as you’re not developing any new positive habits, simply starving yourself for a few weeks.”

FAST NOW, FEAST LATER?

While fasting has its advocates, there is “no evidence to suggest starving is going to improve organ function”, adds Hobson. “While crash diets and cleanses are not going to do you much harm in the short-term, over longer periods they may negatively impact on your health and the way you view food.”

The same can apply when it comes to cutting out food groups. If certain foods don’t agree with you, or you can’t eat them for medical reasons, eliminating them from your diet might be beneficial and necessary - but always ensure you’re doing it for the right reasons (not just so you can starve!), and replacing lost nutrients with alternative sources. “Anything that involves cutting out large food groups is going to put you at risk of deficiency in the longer term. Juicing in particular involves avoiding solid food altogether, which means no protein, fibre or essential vitamins such as B12, and iron,” says Hobson. “If you have to team your juice diet with artificially manufactured supplements and protein powders, then you have to ask yourself how natural and good this is for you really?”

HEALTHY HABITS FOR LIFE

If you do fancy giving those green juices and smoothies a go, or want to overhaul your diet and jazz up meals with antioxidant-packed spices and trendy Chia seeds and the like - great.

But don’t fixate on one ‘healthy’ habit, because, as we’re repeatedly reminded, unless you have a balanced diet, then it’s probably not that healthy at all. And a few days just eating fruit isn’t going to make much of an impact if you’re overdoing it on the booze and junk food the rest of the time.

So try to use your health-kick to establish sensible, healthy habits that you can stick to for life: “Such as increasing your fruit and vegetable intake, cooking mostly from fresh or reducing your sugar intake,” suggests Hobson.