Thursday, 16 April 2009

Spring cleaning: detox / cleansing diets

Gwyneth Paltrow does it. So does Angelina Jolie, Oprah, Liv Tyler, Ben Affleck and Christy Turlington (to name a few). Beyonce did it to lose 20lbs quickly for DreamGirls. I’m talking about “detox” or “cleansing” diets.

What are detox/cleansing diets?

There are different variations of detox diets but all claim to clean out our bodies of chemicals and dietary toxins. The supposed result: weight loss, increased energy, better digestion. Another claim is that by allowing the cells in the gut to rest, they are able to grow stronger, resulting in a healthier gut.

You can ‘detox’ by eliminating certain foods from your diet- Oprah recently followed a 21-d detox diet in which she eliminated animal products, sugar, alcohol, caffeine and gluten. The stricter versions are liquid diets- lemonade (followed by Beyonce and others) or juice fasts where followers will drink anywhere from 32 to 90 oz juice/24 hours, and even water fasts. Many of these diets also suggest enemas. These diets vary in time- from 1 day to a few weeks.

Do they work?

There is no scientific evidence available to support any of the claims these diets make- only people’s testimonials. Most health professionals, myself included, will tell you that our body is able to “detoxify” itself naturally. Abstaining from food will not help you be healthier. In fact, fibre’s role is to help clean out the gut- so a diet that’s rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and lentils and other lean proteins and water would be the perfect detox diet!

With summer coming up, you may be tempted by this supposed “quick fix” to weight loss. However, for the most part, these diets and fasts are an ineffective weight loss solution. If you do lose weight, it’ll mostly be water weight and you’ll most likely regain it... quickly. Any diet that eliminates major food groups (or food, for that matter!) is not sustainable- definitely not a long-term solution. Moreover, many of these diets are extremely low in calories. As a result, your body goes into ‘starvation mode’- your metabolic rate will decrease so you’re burning less calories at rest. Moreover, your body will hold on to its fat stores (because it’s more energy-efficient) and burn lean muscle... something you obviously want to avoid. When you start eating again, your body will more easily store those calories as fat and, as a result, you’ll regain the weight faster.

You need to eat to lose weight!

These diets also lack major nutrients: protein, an essential nutrient in helping you maintain lean muscle mass during weight loss, as well as fat, an essential nutrient that, among other things, is essential in helping you feel full after a meal. As a result, people claim to always feel hungry on these diets... something that is not only uncomfortable but can cause irritability and lead you to eat irrationally afterwards. Beyonce was quoted as saying: “I was hungry, therefore I was evil. When we wrapped the movies, I was so excited... I ate a whole dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts”. It was also reported that she quickly regained the weight she had lost on the diet... a fact that’s ignored by followers of the same diets!

A dietitian calculated that the Master Cleanse diet (a well-known detox diet that consists of drinking 96 oz of lemonade with maple syrup and cayenne pepper a day) is 1300 calories. A woman should never eat less than 1200 calories and a man, never less than 1500 calories. So, for a woman, 1300 calories isn’t drastically restrictive. However, it lacks major nutrients. Why not eat 1300 calories of fibre-rich vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins and drink water?! You’re more likely to stick to a meal plan that includes real healthy foods, you’ll lose weight, and you’ll also have more energy to exercise- an important key to long-term weight loss!

Oftentimes, these diets are used to “jump start” weight loss, ie. They start with a strict “detox” diet for a few days and follow it with a weight loss program. Maybe. A diet (under the supervision or guidance of a Registered Dietitian or doctor) that restricts certain foods, ie. alcohol, sugar, animal products (if replaced by vegetable protein), can be useful in motivating someone to kick-start a weight loss program and perhaps feel ‘cleansed’. As long as the diet is not overly calorically-restrictive and includes all the major nutrients, it can be an effective motivational tool to start a healthy weight loss program... although, not necessary.

What are the risks?

Evidently, the extreme diets, (fasting- no food) are extremely dangerous. However, even restrictive diets can be dangerous if you’re not replacing the nutrients you’re eliminating. As a result, speak to your doctor and/or a Registered Dietitian before embarking on any diet.

Many of these detox diets will rightfully warn pregnant and breastfeeding women and women trying to become pregnant against trying them. Children should not be put on these diets. These diets can widely affect blood sugar levels so people with diabetes and low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia) should avoid them as well.

If you’re recovering from an illness or injury, suffer from anemia, have weakened immunity (ie. elderly), have heart problems, psychological problems (depression, bipolar disorder, prone to eating disorders), are underweight and/or suffer from migraines, you should not embark on these diets- they can exacerbate existing illnesses or delay healing/recovery.

Apart from irritability, side effects of liquid diets and fasts can include GI problems, ie. diarrhea and/or constipation, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, depression, headaches, fainting, irregular heart beats, dehydration and even death.


Sweta said...

I completely agree with you-the body has an in-built ability to detoxify. These are nothing but passing fads.
If someone wants to eliminate all processed foods(sugars,refined flours,soda,etc)and stick to whole foods(and I don't mean only juices),then I'm game:)

lookinout said...

Excellent post.

Sybil Hebert, RD said...

Thanks for your comments Sweta and Gillian- so nice to hear from other dietitians!

Balance, Joy and Delicias! said...

Hi, I just found your blog and I thin it contains really good info about nutrition and some myth about it.
I just began to do a clean eating, basically omit all proceed food and incorporate more whole food. my purpose is not for weight lose, but because I've been having break outs and belly discomforts... so I wanted to begin clean and add food that I usually have little by little to see what's the trigger. I've noticed two things during this last week...1. I've been sleeping less but not especially tired during the day. 2. I feel dry skin.
so, here's my question: I'm afraid I'm not eating enough fat in my diet. is it possible? how many fats should I get daily?
and do you think is there any particular reason that I sleep less ?
thanks a lot! :)

Anonymous said...

I work in a sports shop and we sell a detoxifying cure that costs 50$ (plus other products from the same company like protein shakes, some people can have a 300$ bill for a month, and thats without real foods) for 1 month. Maybe it's placebo, maybe they're just wasting their money. One thing I'm sure about: it doesn't work.

Sybil Hebert, RD said...

Thanks for your comments "Balance, Joy and Delicias!"
It's great that you're "eating clean" and replacing processed foods with whole foods. I hope it will help with your stomach and skin issues.
You're right- dry skin is a symptom of eating a diet too low in fat. However there are various other factors that may be contributing to this- weather, change in soap or creams etc.

Generally, fat is present in many foods that you may be eating: dairy, soy beverages, meats and fish, nuts and seeds, nut butters, and even in some vegetables (avocadoes, for example). In addition, including at least of 1tsp of vegetables oils a day (ie. olive oil, canola oil etc.) will ensure you're meeting a minimum requirement. However, if you are excluding many foods that are naturally rich in fat, you may not be getting enough.

It's recommended that your fat intake NOT go below 10% of your total calories and should be around 20-25% of your total calories.

To figure out that amount in grams, you have to know how many calories you eat and then do a quick calculation (since 1 gram of fat = 9 calories).

To maintain weight, an active woman needs about 2000 calories. To get a more specific idea of your caloric needs though, use the following equation (mifflin st-jeor equation):

Daily caloric needs=

{(9.99 x weight in kilograms) + (6.25 x height in centimeters) - (4.92 x age) + (166 x gender) - 161} x activity factor

weight: in kilograms; if you know your weight in pounds, divide by 2.2 to get your weight in kilograms

height: in centimeters; if you know your height in inches, multiply by 2.54 to get your height in centimeters

gender: 1 for males, 0 for females

Activity factor:

If you are sedentary (little or no exercise) : 1.2

If you are lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week): 1.375

If you are moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week): 1.55

If you are very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week): 1.725

If you are extra active (very hard exercise/sports and physical job or intense training): 1.9

To know how many grams of fat you should be aiming for:

Calculate 20% of your total calories.

Assuming you're aiming for 2000 calories a day,
20% x 2000 calories= 400 calories.

Daily recommended grams of fat= Total calories from fat divided by 9 calories per gram of fat.

400/9= 44g fat a day.

Remember unsaturated fat is an important part of a healthy meal plan (even for weight loss!). Your fat grams should come from mainly unsaturated fat sources, ie. vegetable oils like olive or canola oil (aim for a minimum 1 tsp a day), nuts and nut butters, seeds, avocadoes, fish (if you eat fish).

As for why you're not sleeping- that's hard to explain. Again, there are lots of factors that influence sleep (stress, emotions etc.). Whether it's diet-related is impossible to tell without knowing your past and current eating habits. Are you hungry? Hunger, cravings, a preoccupation with food may be keeping your mind awake and making it difficult for you to sleep? If you are hungry, ensure you're getting enough calories and include snacks.

Hope this info has helped a bit... Good luck!

Sybil Hebert, RD said...

Thanks for your comment Anonymous! 300$ a month on these products?! Wow.
Do you know what these 'detoxifying cures' include? Have you tried them? Have clients returned with complaints or comments?

Balance, Joy and Delicias! said...

thank you so much for the detailed answer to my question! I think I'm getting enough calorie intake but not enough fat.. maybe i should add some more oil to my salad? so you mean olive and canola oil are good fat source?
I don't feel hungry or craving for food at all... actually with this clean eating I feel needing less food. So, i don't know what causes my lack of sleep.
I'm trying to eat more at night, especially more carbs to see if it helps.
Thank you so much again! Can i email you if I have more questions?

oh... I'm Coco.

Balance, Joy and Delicias! said...

oh.... another question. Is it possible that nuts butter cause acne? I'm eating pretty clean, no processed food at all, no dairy, whole grains, a lot of veggies and fruits and I still get break outs. So, the last thing i can think of is nuts butter. Is it possible?
thanks again!

Sybil Hebert, RD said...

Hi Coco,
Glad I could help! Yes of course, email me if you have any more question.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the "good" fats. All vegetable oils (with the exception of palm oil) are great fats to include- olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, flaxseed oil, grapeseed oil etc. Canola oil or a vegetable oil blend is better at higher temperatures whereas tastier oils like olive oil, flaxseed oil (etc.) are best used in salad dressings.

The relationship between diet and acne is worth a blog of its own! However, there is no evidence that nut butters are linked to acne- and eating unprocessed foods (as you're doing) can be great for your skin.
Hormonal changes have been associated with acne and there is evidence that the hormones in milk can contribute to acne. High glycemic index foods have also been linked with acne (because they increase insulin secretion).
If you're interested, I've blogged about glycemic index (check the labels or it's April 17th 2008's entry) and included a link to the glycemic index of foods. Aiming for the lower glycemic index foods more often can be helpful...