Are detox diets really necessary?

The month of September is ideal for supposedly miraculous methods to purify our bodies

Young man preparing healthy green smoothie in kitchen
A woman prepares a smoothie with fruits and vegetables. Detox diets exclusively consist of these kinds of beverages.Kseniya Ovchinnikova (Getty Images)
Azahara Nieto

September is an interesting month, loved and hated in equal parts. On the one hand, we want the routine of the school year to begin, with the hope that this year we’ll finally establish a good routine and fulfill the goals we set for ourselves. On the other hand, it breaks our vacation bubble of pleasure.

September is also a good business opportunity for scammers. Those who make a living from deception are on the lookout, particularly those who sell you on the idea that the best version of yourself is always the thinner version. It’s the time to appeal to magical formulas that erase — almost with a stroke of the pen — the ice cream and the drinks that were consumed in front of the ocean on a hot day. They’ll do their best to make you feel guilty for having enjoyed the pleasures of food and summer.

For some time now, detox diets — or purifying treatments — have been widely used. They’re often proposed in the form of challenges, with the promise of rapid weight loss to erase the excesses of summer. The notion of “detox” is sold after a period of a lack of self-control, to reduce inflammation and seek improvements in the skin, the immune system, liver function and the quality of sleep.

As far as advertising claims go, detox diets have a good hook. But do they really work? And are they healthy?

What do detox diets consist of?

Detox diets are of varying duration. The plans are usually a week or 10-days-long, consisting of only consuming shakes (or smoothies, which sounds more chic) made from fruits and vegetables. Oftentimes, ginger, turmeric, or seaweed are added (at an additional cost). Purchasing a detox diet can cost anywhere from $50 to $250. They can become a recurring plan that repeats itself every few months of the year. The cheapest option involves the homemade preparation of detox shakes, copying the ingredients that these magical concoctions tend to contain.

For greater effectiveness, detox shakes are usually accompanied by water with lemon, to bolster fat loss and the elimination of toxins. Sometimes, even laxatives and diuretics are consumed. However, science can tell you that lemon water doesn’t promote fat loss and that fat isn’t eliminated simply by peeing a lot. Rather, lemon water simply causes decay of tooth enamel.

Detox diets generate a halo of health, since — for a short period of time — only fruit and vegetables are ingested. They’re impossibly healthy, right? Well, actually, no.

What negative effects can detox diets have?

From what we’ve seen so far, detox diets are only healthy for the pockets of those who market them. But hey, at least they’ll detoxify the body, right? Wrong. The reality is that the human body already performs this function on its own — it only struggles to do so in the face of toxic substances, such as drugs, tobacco, or alcohol. The liver is the main organ that carries out these functions, but so do the kidneys, lungs, and skin. Our body is so intelligent that it purifies itself; it doesn’t need concoctions. Therefore, the principal claim made by detox advertising isn’t true, either.

The only detox we need is to stop believing in magic formulas and miracle diets, which will only make our health — and, surely, our relationship with food — worse. If you already had a healthy diet before an unhealthy vacation, go back to it gradually. If you didn’t have a good way of eating to begin with, put yourself in the hands of a specialist, who can take your medical history, your tastes, and your lifestyle into account as they help you put a healthy diet together. In short, make use of a professional who can adapt to you. This will be a good start to a healthier life — one that’s free of deception.

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