Detox; To de or not to de? – by guest expert Stephanie Langton

Like the Shakespearean expression the word ‘detox’ has been around for centuries. The word ‘detox’ often conjures up ideas of restrictive diets, fads, cleanses and various supplement products.  As dietitians and nutritionists alike we often cast detox in a bad light due to the potentially harmful nature of restrictive diets and the natural ability the body has to “purge” toxins. However, times are a changing as the word detox evolves and the the question “are all detoxes bad?” gets more muddied.  So I asked our Sub of the Month to investigate.

About our expert:

Steph is a third year Student Dietitian with a degree in Food Science and  Nutrition.  She thoroughly enjoys her Saturday morning “professional development” excursions to the Queen Victoria market. She enjoys indulging in every type of cheese known to man and cooking for her friends and family. You can connect with Steph on Twitter @Stephi_langton or visit her blog.

Emma and I had a great discussion about the various styles, attitudes and do’s and don’ts when it comes to detox. The subject had me intrigued as the word detox is heavily marketed in the health industry. Traditionally dietitians would advocate that the liver is an organ capable of cleansing itself naturally and therefore, common ‘detoxes’ were unnecessary, money making scams exploiting consumers. However, a new article published in the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’, Food and Nutrition Magazine, challenges this view:-

 …..But there is a community of RDs [Registered Dietitians]—largely but not exclusively in integrative nutrition—who support reclaiming this word and if not applying nutritional detoxification strategies to promote health and healing, at least clarifying for patients and practitioners what a detoxification diet might look like from a science-based perspective.  You can read the full article here: Food and Nutrition Magazine Fall Edition 2012

So why would some dietitians oppose detox?

Many traditional forms of detox diets are highly restrictive, overly expensive and unsustainable for long periods of time. According to a January 2012 poll by the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) the two most common are the Lemon Detox Diet and Liver Cleansing Diet. A spokesperson for the DAA and Scoop contributor, Melanie McGrice APD said “There’s little evidence detox diets actually remove toxins, a job the kidneys and liver do each day. Side effects of detox diets can include dehydration, fatigue, bad breath, constipation, dizziness and nausea.”

Detox re-defined

However, there are many forms and approaches to ideas of detox diets – from quitting sugar to fasting.  For others it can simply mean a patch of eating super healthy, curbing or quitting the caffeine / alcohol and ramping up the exercise.  And as dietitians we certainly do talk about the scientific evidence behind certain foods and their ability to boost our well being.  In the article in Food and Nutrition Magazine they give several examples of how evidence based science could be used with the concept of detox.  One example is probiotics:

…beneficial bacteria from probiotic supplements or fermented foods such as yogurt and lacto-fermented vegetables protect the intestines and may inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria, which produce ammonia and other toxic metabolites…

We are also starting to see the rise of the clean eating movement – some may even describe as a modified form of detox.  The idea of clean eating refers to eating very few processed foods and consuming more wholesome foods such as grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables. It is also referred to as a lifestyle rather than a diet, including eating regular meals while practising in a more sustainable, green and inexpensive way of living.

Dietitians in the US, such as Michelle Dudash RD (also a chef) are starting to embrace this movement. She’s just launched a new book Clean Eating for Busy Families and shared with us her 5 key tips to clean eating (thanks Michelle!).


Michelle Dudash’s 5 Key Tips to Clean Eating

1. Choose Foods Closest to Their Natural State

2. Enjoy a Colorful Array of Foods

3. Go Local and Seasonal

4. Choose Humanely Produced Foods that Are Good For the Planet, which to Michelle means…..

Learn what you can about the companies you buy food from. Do the farmers treat their animals well? Are the plants sprayed with minimal amounts of pesticides or, preferably, none? How do the companies treat their employees, and what is their regard for sustainable practices? Every time you check out at the grocery store, you are voting for who will fail or succeed….

5. Enjoy Every Bite

As a student I am still undecided, but believe that labeling diets or eating plans as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ can be misleading and is overly simplistic. Small changes are necessary to make changes to health and (as sensible and boring as it sounds) at the end of the day moderation is the key to a well-balanced lifestyle. Let us know what you think below, as we would love to hear your opinion?

Editor’s comment:Thanks Steph, great work and also for all your wonderful support as Sub of the Month in November.  I agree that the concept of detox means different things to different people.  Clean eating is probably what many of us do full-time – but I can see it catching on as an “on and off” approach of detoxing for some people too. I think the key point with the silly season upon us is to pre-tox.  Is that a word?  I mean to get ahead with as much clean, healthy eating as you can squeeze in! To make room for the Christmas pud.  How about you lovely readers do you de or not? What does the word “detox” mean to you?


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