The ‘Detox’ Diet is a restrictive mode of feeding which consists of consuming only fruits and vegetables, or juices, for few days. It has many proven benefits, indeed detox can detoxify the body and make you feel better. However, this diet has also many inconveniences and side effects that everyone should take into consideration before undergoing any detox cure.
In this comprehensive article you’ll find out all you need to know about ‘detox’ diets, how it became very popular, the truth about what it really does to your body, why you should NOT think that it is good for weight loss, and much more. It’s going to be an interesting read, I assure you.
So let’s begin, shall we?
Detox Diet: A Brief History
We often get the impression that the concept has just emerged, that it is the new fad, almost revolutionary. This is a common mistake. Detox cures has been a practice for millennia.
In most religions, there are rituals related to food and restrictions. If the meaning of these restrictions is above all spiritual, we cannot deny the possibility that we also wanted, in a certain way, to impose a different lifestyle, in order to allow the body to detoxify itself from its excesses. So indeed, the purifying aspect of these detoxification practices as well as other forms of religious fasting seems undeniable.
Far from these highly philosophical considerations, the Detox Diet was revived in the 2000s by a few Hollywood actresses and music stars. This was a response to a societal trend that goes hand in hand with an evolution of the relationship to oneself. Prevention is now part of our everyday actions.
However, trusting celebrities to tell you what detox diet is the best to give you that nice body most of them have is a big mistake. This is because most of the time they will recommend diets and foods that they have been paid to promote and most of the time, they don’t promote healthy foods. In fact, a 2016 study by researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center has proven that ‘almost all foods and beverages’ marketed by music stars are ‘unhealthy.’
In addition, nowadays people are more interested in natural health care, whereas 40 years ago, people were so enthusiastic about pharmaceutical industry products. They seem to have realized that certain remedies are simply a matter of daily lifestyle. Our body is an extraordinary machine, it must be maintained every day.
That is how the recipe of our ancestors came back as a new trend.
Key Principles of the Detox Diet
There is not one but several detox diets: lemon, juice, or whole fruits and vegetables … The objective of this type of diet is to support organs in their treatment functions to induce detoxification.
The foods or beverages to be included in the ‘detox’ day are generally:
- Green Tea.
- Lemon, orange, grapefruit.
- Red fruit: blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, Cranberries.
- Chlorophyll-rich foods such as asparagus, dandelion, avocado, kiwi, kale, watercress, chives, mint, basil, thyme, parsley, etc.
It is usually advisable during this period to drink at least 1.5 liters of water per day. Some diets also recommend drinking water in the morning, freshly squeezed lemon or green tea throughout the day.
We realize that the foods offered during a detox treatment are foods containing a significant amount of antioxidants. These antioxidant compounds are vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, and carotenoids, etc. Let us remember that antioxidants would have a role to play in neutralizing free radicals that damage the body. These free radicals are considered waste generated by the organism itself, but would also come from the outside through combustion smoke, chemicals, dust, etc.
The foods banned during detox are those that increase toxins in the body and “ink” organs. The following is a non-exhaustive list:
- Refined sugars
- Fat Materials
- Cigarette smoking
- Animal products: red meat especially and sometimes dairy products
- Processed foods
Food to be avoided during ‘detox’ diets, such as red meat, for example, or even alcohol, is scientifically proven to have a negative impact on health. It is therefore perfectly normal to discourage their consumption on a daily basis and not just for a few days.
How Long does a Detox Cure Last?
Most people who wish to start a Detox diet do not know how long it will last and why, especially if the decision is made impulsively or without medical advice.
Before I get into the details, I think it’s important to point out that our body does not wait to remove toxins or regenerate these cells until when we eat in healthy way. It is something that it does on a daily basis through the lymphatic system and the purifying organs.
As can be seen in the chart below, the cells in our body are constantly regenerating:
These metabolic activities produce waste. These are called endogenous toxins (those produced by the simple functioning of our body).
In addition to removing endogenous toxins, your body must also eliminate exogenous toxins (those that come from our environment).
Now that you know that your organization is constantly eliminating toxins, I want to emphasize another point that I think is essential: We are all different!
It is therefore quite difficult to provide a standardized answer. What is good for someone is not necessarily good for another person. And what’s good for you isn’t necessarily good for your neighbor.
The ideal approach is to start gradually and listen to your body in all cases to estimate your needs.
After detailing the general principles of the Detox diet, let’s discuss its benefits:
Advantages of the Detox Diet
Due to tobacco, air pollution, drugs, water pollution, alcohol, processed foods, pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables, our bodies are increasingly prone to accumulating toxins. The main benefits of the Detox diet are:
1. Eliminate Toxins
The detox diet can improve physical and mental well-being, increased energy levels, improved sleep quality, more protected skin and immune system strengthening. An unhealthy diet can lead to fatigue, dull skin and hair, weakened immune system, digestive problems, etc. Toxins responsible of this come from the organism itself but also from the outside through pollution, drugs, smoking, alcohol…
At some point, the body would be unable to eliminate of all this waste, so detoxification would be necessary. The liver, kidney and intestines are the most targeted organs in a detox treatment. By detoxifying, these organs would become more efficient and the metabolism more powerful.
2. Reducing your Sugar Consumption
The agrifood giants understood that the more sugar they put in their products, the more they were consumed. As a result, our sugar consumption has literally exploded in recent years! And sugar is found in 99 percent of processed products. These agrifood people often don’t say that this has disastrous consequences for your organism through various mechanisms:
First of all, it makes you totally addicted. Without going into too much detail, you should know that sugar has a direct influence on the production of a pleasure hormone, dopamine. And because it’s a pleasant feeling, your brain drives you to consume more and more of it.
Secondly sugar also completely disrupts our hormonal production. Example: the hormone responsible for storing fat (insulin) but also those responsible for feeling satiety (leptin). An excess of sugar therefore affects your health, your energy level, but also your waist circumference, your hips, your thighs because we are genetically programmed to eat and store as fat in case we run out of food.
During a Detox cure, you will drastically reduce your sugar consumption, which will be beneficial for your health.
3. Brings a Large Amount of Micronutrients
The third advantage is that Detox diet gives our body all the nutrients it really needs. Today, most people eat products that contain almost no trace of these nutrients, these products are often referred to as ‘dead food’.
The benefit of detox diet is that on the one hand you reduce your intake of ‘toxic’ foods and on the other that you increase your consumption of foods that your body really needs such as fruits, vegetables, good fats, water …
4. Alkalinize your Body
Without going into too much detail, you need to know that to function properly your body must maintain a balance between acids and alkaline elements. This is called the acido-basic equilibrium. To maintain balance, your body must first neutralize acidic loads through a system of ‘buffers’ in the blood (the most important of these components are bicarbonate, albumin, globulin and hemoglobin). And then eliminate the remaining acidic loads through your excretory organs, which are the lungs, kidneys, intestines, skin and liver.
The problem is that today our organism is under constant pressure to control acidifying factors because we have too much of a diet of acidifying foods (dairy products, meat, fish, processed products, sugar, etc.). So a Detox diet not only reduces the amount of acidifying products you consume, but also increases the amount of alkaline products.
Recommendations and Precautions with Detox Diet: Are there any Risks?
Although these cures are often based on large quantities of vegetables and fruits, it is important to note that they are often too low in calories to reach the recommended intake. The American College of Sports Medicine says women should consume at least 1,200 calories a day, and men should consume at least 1,800 calories a day. Furthermore, a diet containing less than 1,600 calories a day does not seem to achieve the recommended nutrient intakes, mainly of vitamin C, E, calcium and magnesium. It is therefore not advisable to follow this regime for a long period. Most of the weight lost will be water because the body empties its glycogen reserves. Finally, protein intake is very low (about 30 g/day) which also leads to muscle melting.
Side Effects of Detox Diet
After starting detox diet, some people might experience headache. But stay assured, it never lasts very long. It is often linked to the decrease in intake of a rapid sugar that the body has become accustomed to.
If the headache is too important, I suggest you stop your cure and start it again at a better time or consult your doctor.
2. Digestive Problems
This is probably the most common side effect. However, it is perfectly normal. As you change your diet, your digestive system has to adapt. Some people get constipated, others have diarrhea or feel ballooned.
The most important thing in this case is to get well hydrated. It is also interesting to add a pinch of salt to the water or to drink mineral water to compensate for electrolyte losses (including bicarbonate).
3. Fatigue and Feeling Weak
The feeling of fatigue is often present in the beginning, but this is also perfectly normal. One of the reasons for this is that by reducing your caloric intake you reduce your energy inputs. So your organism has to draw energy from your reserves. The feeling of fatigue is more or less felt based on the type of the cure.
4. Bad Breath
The concentration of acid in the digestive system can give you bad breath and sometimes ketonic breath if the carbohydrate intake is too low.
5. Feeling Hungry Often
This effect is unavoidable and is related to the fact that the foods ingested in the cure are often not caloric, and are easy to digest. This results in a rapid emptying of the stomach, and once the stomach is emptied, the feeling of hunger triggered. This is also one of the major reasons why people develop uncontrollable cravings and eventually give up on the diet.
Here is a summary of the benefits and inconvenience of Detox Diet:
- Good fibers intake.
- Good intake of antioxidants and micro-nutrients.
- Very short duration.
- Sense of being better.
- Requires little cooking.
- Easy to understand and apply.
- Very restrictive and low calories intake.
- Absence of protein.
- Feeling hungry often.
- Incompatible with an active social life.
- Dangerous in vulnerable people (diabetics).
- It can lead to obsessive eating behaviors.
Most Common Questions about Detox Diet
1. Is this the Plan for you?
Generally, no matter what your health condition, it is not recommended to have a lemon or fruit juice diet too long. However, a detox day can be a very good thing when the organism asks for it. For example, the day after a heavy family meal there is no side effect to eating very lightly to allow the organs to recover.
2. Is Detox Diet Good for Weight Loss?
Obesity or simply being overweight is often one of the main reasons people think of Detox diet. If you are looking for a miracle diet that has cost you 20 kg in a month, I strongly caution against trying detox diet. First of all, you’re going to be disappointed, but also because this diet does NOT help to lose weight.
Eating only vegetables, fruit, and drinking herbal tea for weeks, obviously results in weight loss. But it is largely a loss of water which, when the cure is prolonged in time (which is dangerous for your health), it may be accompanied by a loss of muscle due to lack of protein intake. In addition, as after any restrictive diet, the lost pounds come back quickly if the bad eating habits are not corrected. Weight gain is sometimes even more important because of the ‘bounce effect’: The body tends to store more after the restriction period, leading to rebound weight gain that is worse than the original weight gain. In case of decrease of the muscular mass, there is a reduction of the energy expenditure, which favors the gain of weight as soon as the cure ends.
To conclude, detox diet isn’t for losing weight. It can even be very dangerous, especially if their diet is not supervised by a doctor.
In my professional opinion, you’re better off trying intermittent fasting if you insist on something similar to detox diet. Eat Stop Eat is a famous intermittent fasting program you can use to learn how to do it properly. So have a go at it.
3. Is it Compatible with Sport?
Yes, absolutely. However, it is better not to engage in intense activity on detox days. Physical activity helps the body eliminate toxins and prevents muscle melting caused by over-restrictive diets.
The Season to Avoid Detox Diets
It is not recommended to do a Detox in the winter. In winter, your body has to work at full power for an effective thermogenesis (and counterattack atmospheric cold).
This is why you naturally tend to eat richer, fatter foods to allow the body to turn calories into a heat source. In addition, during winter, the body has to fight against bacteria to avoid getting an infections (like flu), so the nutrients intake should be optimal.
Special Case of People with Diabetes
For diabetics, prior medical advice is absolutely necessary to determine whether or not a Detox treatment is acceptable. If granted by the physician, carbohydrate intake will be required on all 3 meals of the day to maintain stable blood sugar. Carbohydrates can be in the form of legume, whole bread or fruits.
Professional Opinion of a Physician
Below is a quote from one of my medical colleagues concerning the Detox Diet:
As an MD working in the ER and a former tennis and fitness coach, I am personally consulted by many people that want to start a detox cure. They are often under informed about this diet, they don‘t know its risks and often have wrong beliefs about its benefits.
“Detox“ diets are actually drastic diets, very low in calories, and they make our body lose a lot of water. Substances called toxins are eliminated regularly but mostly naturally by our body and especially our livers. No single food or nutrient can affect the liver and help it in its functions.
The important thing is to have a healthy diet every day, rather than having a “detox” diet a few times a year for one or two days. However, a few typical “detox” days can be safely practiced when the body needs it, especially following a period where the persons has fed themselves in an unhealthy way. The only important thing is to listen to our body needs in all circumstances.
Detox Diet has been around for millennia, but in recent years has seen a resurgence due to its relatively quick results and promotion by influential people. However, it is not a sustainable diet, has a lot of side effects and can be unhealthy. It is also not a good way of achieving weight loss. You are better off with intermittent fasting if you insist on doing something similar to detox diet.
References for further reading
1. National Center for Biotechnology Information official website:
2. The Truth about Detox Diets – National Health Service official website:
3. World Health Organization official website:
4. Detox diets for toxin elimination and weight management: A critical review of the evidence. Klein AV & Kiat H, 2015 Dec.