Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Scoop on Detox Diets

"Detox" is apparently the magic word in the dieting world. Whether it is through celebrities or magazine diet plans the benefits of detoxification seem to be touted everywhere. But, what exactly is detox, and is it beneficial?

The Claim
Those who support detox claim that our bodies are constantly overloaded with toxins. These can include pollution, cigarette smoke, pesticides, alcohol, caffeine, and food additives. They claim that when these toxins build up in our systems, health problems can occur, including weight gain, headaches, bloating, fatigue, and a general lack of well-being. The advocates for detox feel that removing these toxins will help us to lose weight and feel better.

What is Detox?
There are many methods of detoxification. They range from pleasant activities such as saunas and massage to fairly unpleasant procedures such as colonic irrigation or bowel enemas. For many detox plans, herbal supplements are also recommended, and as is most popular in the United States, a detox plan will almost always have a large dietary component. Detox diets may include fasting, consuming only fruits and vegetables, consuming a limited range of foods, or avoiding caffeine and alcohol.

The Facts
Even though detox diets seem to be mainstream in popular culture, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that the human body needs help getting rid of waste products if it is healthy. Our bodies are completely capable of excreting waste without fasting, enemas, or induced sweating - that's why we have a liver, lungs, kidneys, and skin.

Strict detox diets that are followed for a long period of time can actually lead to nutritional deficiencies and associated health problems. For instance, if you follow only a juice diet, then you will be missing nutrients such as calcium. A prolonged deficiency of calcium may lead to osteoporosis or brittle bones down the line. Moreover, if you fast for a significant period of time, then your metabolism will likely slow down, and your body will adjust to a very low calorie intake. Therefore, when you return to a normal eating pattern, you will be more likely to gain weight.

Is there Weight Loss?
Of course! How can there not be weight loss when you are barely eating anything? Cutting out major food groups - or all food - will drastically slash your caloric intake. In fact, the more severe the "detox", the more weight you'll be likely to lose simply due to a lack of food. Plus, the fact that you are drinking loads of water helps lead to a loss of water weight as well. However, as mentioned above, the weight loss will be accompanied by a slowing of your metabolism, leading to a very likely weight regain once real foods are reintroduced to the diet.

Are there any pros to detoxing?
Many people are probably following unhealthy diets. If following a one or two day detox plan helps get you into a healthy eating frame of mind, then a detox can be great. Detox diets can encourage healthy eating habits such as including more produce into your diet, drinking more water, or cutting back on processed foods. Detox diets also encourage forgoing alcohol and caffeine. All of these changes can be wonderful for your health and motivate you to get on track.

So What Should I do?
If you feel you need a one or two day detox to get you on track, then fine. But then please, give it up! Severe restriction is not healthy and is almost definitely not maintainable in the long-term. In addition, many of these detox plans put certain foods on a pedestal. While a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can provide vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, there is no one food that can provide nutritional nirvana. During this New Year, if you want to maintain or achieve optimal health, the best approach is a balanced diet and regular exercise.

re you curious about what to eat – and what not to eat – to decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease? The OmniHeart trial published information in the February 2008 issue of The Journal of the American Dietetic Association on the effectiveness of three different eating patterns to decrease blood pressure and cardiovascular risk factors. Saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, magnesium, calcium and potassium intake were kept even in the three groups, but total carbohydrate, protein, and monounsaturated fat content differed. All three diets lowered blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and decreased overall risk of developing heart disease. Each diet emphasized the use of fresh fruit, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products; included whole grains, nuts, and fish; and reduced intake of red meat, sweets, and sugary beverages.

These global, population-based messages are important, but science is taking the next step in making individualized recommendations, based on your personal genetic profile. Navigenics is one company with a federally certified laboratory that screens personal genetic material from a sample of saliva and provides clinically-based, individual feedback on specific steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. In the near future, your physician will be able to give you precise guidelines on lifestyle habits to prevent chronic disease. For now, keep eating your fruit, vegetables, nuts, fish, and whole grains.

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