Lemon water, essential oils, celery juice… there’s a never-ending list of shortcuts that claim to help your body detoxify itself. But isn’t that what your liver is for? Lisa Renn, Accredited Practising Dietitian at Body Warfare Nutrition, and Dietitians Association of Australia spokesperson, helps us get a better understanding of how our bodies remove toxins, and whether they need any extra help doing so.
Whether it’s adding a squeeze of lemon to some hot water in the morning, or blitzing and sipping a whole bunch of celery, detoxing in all its commercial forms has become common practice. Some people swear by it, and the idea of eliminating a lifetime of bad diet decisions with just a few gulps of green juice certainly has powerful appeal.
But there’s a major flaw with detoxing.
Essentially these potions being used to replace food groups can help to clear your bowels (if the fibre in your diet isn’t sufficient to move things along naturally). And, sure, this can leave you feeling pretty good.
But the potion’s claim to be a ‘detoxifier’ is a false one, because it isn’t actually supporting the real detoxification process, which is led by the liver and kidneys. These organs are perfectly capable of neutralising any foreign toxins that enter the body by themselves – and there’s no scientific evidence suggesting liquidised kale improves their function even slightly.
In fact, have you ever seen a cleansing program or product that explicitly calls out which toxins it targets? Instead, they tend to make vague (or sometimes entirely fictitious) statements about how they may help eliminate a number of undefined toxins. And we buy into them, even when the real detox diet is right in front of us.
The DIY detox
A stream of contradictory information has led to nutrition becoming a constant guessing game. It’s a struggle to tell what’s actually healthy anymore, so I’ll cut to the quick: the best detox is just your straight-up healthy, balanced diet. No pills, no powders, no liquid lunches required.
Reports of feeling better while detoxing usually stem from the fact someone is eating less fat and less salt, eating more fruit and veg, and ditching the alcohol and caffeine. Essentially, introducing elements of a well-balanced diet.
As a dietitian, I don’t dismiss the value of reassessing your food intake. For certain people, the element of fasting that comes with a detox can be a useful circuit breaker to interrupt patterns of bad food choices. But on the flipside, long-term detoxing and fasting promote a culture of deprivation that can lead to severe nutrient deficiencies in the future.
So, what’s the solution?
It’s really simple: eating a healthy diet keeps your weight in a healthy zone, which helps to prevent your liver from building up fat and developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. So instilling habits like upping your intake of wholegrains and dietary fibre, and cutting back on fatty and sugary foods, is a good place to start.
The most important thing to remember is that it’s all about balance. The pressure we put on ‘clean eating’ nowadays has seen good habits transform into obsessive ones. The emergence of orthorexia – a fixation on consuming only healthy foods – highlights that. So don’t turf out the blender yet – it’s great for whipping up cake mix.