It seems like everyone from celebs to your co-worker the next cube over are embarking on detox diets. From trendy juice fasts to old-fashioned cleanses involving grapefruit or cayenne pepper, these diets reputedly flush out toxins and cure nearly everything that ails us. But do our bodies really need a nutritional reboot?
Turning to a liquid diet to flush out toxins may not be a magic formula. “Drinking your calories — especially liquids full of sugar — is like directly injecting sugar into your veins,” says Dr. Joseph Colella, a bariatric surgeon at St. Margaret’s Hospital at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. This sets up a vicious cycle of a constant craving for more sugar — which shifts your appetite into overdrive. “One of the first things I tell patients — especially those who want to lose weight — is, ‘Eat the fruit. Don’t drink the juice,'” says Dr. Colella.
As it turns out, your blender — or the juice that’s delivered pre-blended right into your hot little hand — can be a healthy eater’s worst enemy. “A blender or juicer breaks down the fruits and vegetables into juice, which is work your body usually has to do,” explains Dr. Colella. “If all that work is done outside the body, [then when you drink the juice] you put the sugar right into your small intestine for rapid absorption.”
Here’s the sweet irony behind many detox diets: “What we really need to detox from is the ridiculous amount of sugar that’s in our diets,” says Dr. Colella. “That’s the genesis of so many of our health problems these days. Sugar changes the bacterial formation in our intestines. That’s one of the many mechanisms that leads to inflammation.”
Vegetable juices are the better option (read: less sugar), but they’re still not a liquid shortcut to better health. Which leads to the other inevitable question potential detoxers ask: “Will I lose weight?” Probably — but don’t go reaching for those skinny jeans just yet. “The real reason people lose weight by juicing is because they’re consuming fewer calories,” Dr. Colella says. “Juicing never works long-term. The reality is, you gain the weight back — and you gain back more than you lost.”
By dropping your calories so dramatically, you may think you’re being nutritionally virtuous. Instead, you’re tricking your body into believing it’s starving. Rather than saying, “Yeah, more liquid spinach — I’m so on board,” your metabolism drags its feet. As a result, you burn calories more slowly, which obviously isn’t great for weight loss.
Moral: Before embarking on any extreme diet — especially one that limits your protein intake or involves fasting — consult your doctor. Otherwise, you could be setting yourself up for side-effects ranging from fatigue to vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
As for detoxes removing residual sludge from your body… well, that’s what organs like your kidneys and liver are for. When you’re juicing, “there is a reduction in your fat and trans-fat consumption,” says Dr. Colella. “But honestly, you shouldn’t be eating [trans-fats] anyway.” His advice? Give your blender a break and take a bite out of those fruits and veggies, instead of imbibing them.
Hey, we’ll drink to that.