Popular cleanses could be harming your health. Here are better ways to detox your colon and liver, and lose weight.
So, your friend says a cleanse is just what you need to get back on track after a few extra-indulgent weeks—it seems to work for stars like Gwyneth Paltrow and Beyoncé. But beware: Celebrities may endorse cleanses, detoxes and ultralow-calorie food plans, but science doesn't back these diets.
Just ask Timothy Caulfield, author of Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?: When Celebrity Culture and Science Clash and professor in the school of public health at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. "Virtually every science-informed expert I contacted said the same thing: People should forget about cleanses and trendy diets," says Caulfield. "You will lose weight temporarily on a cleanse, but it has nothing to do with the removal of toxins."
Instead, explains Dr. Rhonda Low, a Vancouver family physician, "because the regimens are usually very restrictive and very low in calories, weight loss occurs because of initial water loss and the extreme caloric restriction—not from flushing toxins from our bodies." In addition to water loss, you may lose some lean body tissue or muscle and just a small amount of fat. While the water can be regained almost overnight, the muscle loss can lead to a slower metabolism—which may make you more apt to gain weight in the long run.
Finally, buying into a fad eating plan can be dangerous. "Some cleanse supplements may contain herbs and other ingredients that, like medications, you can be sensitive to," says Dr. Low. "Natural does not mean safe."
The good news is that you can safely reboot your body— no special supplements, strange foods or liquids-only plans required. Here's how.
For a healthier colon
Instead of herbal laxatives, such as senna and cascara, or commercial products like the 7-Day Miracle Cleanse...
- Up your fibre intake with whole grain cereals that contain at least five grams of fibre per serving. Choose high-fibre fruit and vegetables, such as apples, pears, berries, broccoli, green peas and spinach. And be sure to drink plenty of water to help your bowels flush out waste regularly.
- Look for colon-friendly live-culture dairy products, such as kefir and live-culture yogurt, which deliver healthy bacteria.
Because… Bowel regularity is key for eliminating waste from your body. But unless you're prepping for a medical procedure, skip the colonics and laxative supplements, as they can disrupt the balance of the bacteria in your gut—your microbiota. Healthy bacteria in your colon not only promote regularity but also help you fight infections, manage your weight and even improve emotional health. The watery and looser stools associated with cleanses are not a sign of detoxification; instead, they may indicate dehydration.
To avoid water retention
Instead of clear-liquids-only plans, diuretic supplements with herbs (such as dandelion leaf and juniper berries), water detox drinks or commercial products such as IsaFlush...
Bring on the potassium with a balanced diet that includes milk and yogurt, citrus fruit, melons and berries, dark leafy greens and root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips and beets.
Because… Eating a lot of processed foods can lead to excess sodium in your system, making you retain water. Potassium-rich foods can counteract sodium sensitivity, allowing your kidneys to get rid of excess water.
For a healthy liver
Instead of The Master Cleanse, which includes a concoction of lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper to "detox" your digestive system...
- Eat plenty of whole grains and fibre-rich fruit and vegetables, such as apples, bananas, oranges, artichokes and brussels sprouts.
- Choose healthy fats, such as extra-virgin olive oil and canola oil.
- Keep your alcohol consumption to one drink—wine, beer or liquor—per day.
- Get physical activity—try a daily 15-minute walk.
Because… An increasingly common condition known as fatty liver disease is linked to being obese. While the exact cause is unknown, fast weight loss and malnutrition are also related to the disease. In some cases, this can result in scarring of the liver (a key organ for detoxification) and, ultimately, liver failure. The good news is that exercise and a healthful diet that includes fibre-rich foods can prevent and even reverse this fat accumulation.
To lose weight
Instead of extreme low-calorie diets and liquid-only fasts such as The Master Cleanse and Clean Cleanse...
Include protein-rich options at each meal. Choose from eggs, fish, poultry, lower-fat dairy products (like Greek yogurt) and high-fibre proteins (such as legumes, nuts and seeds).
Because… Juice fasts and restrictive diets can make you lose muscle because such plans are low in protein—the key nutrient for muscle building and maintenance. Because muscle is calorie-burning tissue, you can end up with a slower metabolism, or calorie-burning capacity, meaning you'll be more prone to weight gain than you were before. On top of that, you'll likely feel hungry and tired without sufficient protein to help stabilize your blood sugar and tame your appetite. No wonder extreme diets almost always fail in the long term.
Check out how to give your body system a boost with these superfoods.
This story was originally part of "The Dirt On Cleanses" in the February 2016 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!