The New Year is a good time to consider a new healthy lifestyle. But should your resolution include a cleanse?
Dietary cleanses or detox diets have been championed by celebrities, diet books, spa retreats and even Dr Oz. The idea is to help 'detoxify' or eliminate harmful chemicals and toxins that have accumulated in your body over time. Besides the idea that your body might function better, an offshoot of ridding yourself of toxins is the theory that it can speed metabolism to help you lose weight.
But do you actually need help from time to time to get rid of toxins from contaminants in processed foods and the environment? The fact is there is no physiological evidence that the human body needs to cleanse itself with any special outside formula to detoxify. Our liver, spleen and immune system take care of most harmful substances naturally. For those toxins in our environment that may count, such as mercury, bisphenol A (BPAs), pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), there is little scientific evidence that detox diets or cleanses actually neutralize or eliminate such toxins our bodies.
So, why is it that my patients report weight loss and feeling so much better after following a cleanse or detox diet for a few days or weeks?
We all can unwittingly overeat certain foods – either because they are our favourites, is within easy reach, or we default to habit. Over time - whether due to weight gain, excessive intake salt, sugar, processed foods, alcohol or caffeine etc intake, even food intolerances - these eating patterns can make us not feel at our best. Symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, headaches, moodiness, bloating, bowel irregularities and even rashes all can result from our eating habits.
A conscious fast or detox - or any diet - can break those negative eating patterns. Eliminating the excess or certain foods may sometimes help you feel better.
Furthermore, 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.
More often than not, after a couple of days on these very low-calorie plans, you may not feel well (as some commercial cleanse and detox products claim), but it’s because these regimens contain few nutrients.
So for the New Year, rather than taking the unnecessary and possibility harmful step of 'cleansing your body,' why not 'cleanse your diet' instead? What you eat is important to kick-start your health and to establish healthful eating patterns. To avoid environmental toxins, resolve to:
- Eat fish low in methylmercury such as salmon; avoid excess sushi/fish with higher levels such as swordfish, albacore tuna shark or king mackerel.
- Avoid cooking and dishwashing and eating out of plastic containers the numbers 3, 6 or 7 in the recycle triangle
- Check out the environmental working group shoppers guide to pesticides in produce and try to limit the non-organic varieties son their dirty dozen list.
- Aim to eat seven different colours of foods a day (various shades of white don’t count!) to get plenty of health protecting antioxidants.
My best wishes for a healthy 2014!