Of the two practices, which is beneficial to your health?
New ideas in health and lifestyle balance include the concept of detox diets.
Popularised by many celebrities, 'detoxification' or cleansing diets are the latest health fads. A plethora of detox diets are available to choose from, all of which claim to purge your bodies of chemicals and toxins while helping you to lose weight quickly.
But are detox diets really beneficial?
The premise behind cleansing
The belief behind cleansing through fasting or a detox diet is the need to get rid of the toxins that accumulate in our bodies from the range of substances that we consume in our everyday life. Toxins include alcohol, artificial sweeteners, sugar, pesticides or chemicals used in food, caffeine, tobacco and so on.
Proponents of detox diets believe that these very toxins are responsible for a multitude of problems, such as fatigue, nausea, headache and even disease. While this line of thought may seem logical, it is important to remember that the human body is capable of naturally eliminating toxins through the skin, liver, colon, and kidneys. So do you really need to go that extra mile to purge your body of toxins?
The fuss about fasting
Many religions have periods of fasting to signify faith and penitence. A stringent fast is one where you don't consume either food or drink, by mouth. Some forms of fasting allow water or fruit juices. A new fasting method in vogue is the alternate day fasting diet.
Research does support the beneficial effects of partial fasting, intermittent fasting and long-term calorie restriction on overall health. Some studies claim that partial fasting may provide benefits beyond simple weight loss and may positively impact the aging process. Though fasting has been used as a medium of spiritual purification since time immemorial, its role in the physical purification of the body is debatable.
Dr Vasant Nagvekar, consultant physician at Lilavati Hospital says, "Fasting can help those who are obese lose weight and may thus reduce the risk of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases. Besides, the rest it gives to the gastrointestinal system is also supposed to help in chronic autoimmune diseases. If done under medical supervision and properly nutritionally supplemented, fasting could actually contribute to longevity."
Detox diets are a modern extension of fasting. The idea behind detoxification is to temporarily give up certain food groups, considered to build up toxins in the body, such as meat, dairy, sugar and caffeine. Most detox diets begin with a period of fasting where you give up certain kinds of food. This is followed by a period where you gradually re-introduce the foods. While on the diet, the emphasis will be on organic food and water and the strict avoidance of alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, drugs, processed foods and supplements. Some detox diets suggest herbs, colon-cleansing enemas, and antioxidants as an aid to the purging process.
Some of the popular detox diets are:
The Master Cleanse or Lemonade Diet, with claims of weight loss of 22 pounds in 14 days
The Fat Flush Diet which involves no eating after 7 pm, no refined sugars and no fried fats
The Martha's Vineyard Detox Diet which claims to provide a weight loss of 21 pounds in 21 days
Brochures of detoxification diet plans, with glowing testimonials from celebrities claiming rejuvenation fail to point out the potential dangers of these diets. These restrictive diets can wreak havoc on your body's electrolyte balance, causing symptoms of dehydration and imbalance in the body's minerals. They can also be counterproductive to weight loss by slowing down your body's metabolism.
Dr Nagvekar explains, "Detox diets may work to an extent by encouraging good habits such as eating more fruits and vegetables and avoiding junk foods. They can also help you become more aware of what you are eating and motivate you to take charge of your health. But there is no substitute for a balanced diet and regular exercise. If you are already eating a healthy diet, there is no need to try any detoxifying diet. In fact, these diets could be deficient in minerals and nutrients and may require supplementation."
Detoxification or natural cleansing?
Many people report a sense of well being and better overall health after going through detox diets plans. While you may experience relief from symptoms such as fatigue and headache while you are on a detox diet, there is no medical evidence that this is due to detoxification. If at all you want to try a detox diet plan, you must consult your physician before doing so. Those suffering from diabetes, low blood sugar, heart disease or any other chronic condition should avoid detox diets of any kind.
Medical professionals attribute the benefits to healthy eating practices endorsed by detox diets, such as the consumption of more water, less alcohol and caffeine, fewer processed foods and more plant-based foods.
A periodic spring cleaning may seem like a quick and attractive option to de-clutter the accumulated toxins, but it is far better to adopt a lifestyle which prevents these toxins from building up in the first place.
So watch what you eat instead of ruling certain foods out completely.