My sister just returned from a food show where several ‘cleanse and detox’ diets were featured. I don’t know what bothers me more: that people make tons of money with bogus detox claims or that so many consumers actually believe the hype around some of these ‘detox diet’ programs. So once again I feel compelled to address this topic.
As a nutritionist, I get questions all the time about the potential benefits of “detoxing”, “cleansing” and fasting. We often hear of mega-watt celebs — everyone from Beyonce to Gwyneth — crediting their liquid diets for their fabulous figures. And with the rise in popularity of the BluePrintCleanse and similar plans, I’m seeing more and more people turn to so-called detoxification programs to lose weight, shed belly fat, clear acne, and even increase fertility… just to name a few! But before you forsake your fork, know the myths and facts about cleansing and fasting.
Fasting and weight loss
Most experts (this one included) do NOT recommend fasting as a way to lose weight. If you’re itching to shed pounds, a drastic cut in calories may seem like the fastest way to see instant results. However, when you eat less food, your metabolism slows down to conserve energy. Then, when you go back to your usual diet, your lowered metabolism may cause you to store more energy, so you will likely gain back the weight you lost and possibly even put on more weight when eating the same calories you did before the fast.
Fasting to “detoxify” the body
Many fad diets include a “detox” phase during which dieters are instructed to drink only water, juice or herbal teas. But there is scant scientific evidence showing that fasting will detox or cleanse your body. Fasting does not boost the body’s disposal system, or cleanse your body in a healthy way. Some people say they feel great during or after a fast. They might feel great because they believe fasting is healthy or has a significant spiritual meaning, or they might feel great because severe calorie restriction (like fasting) can produce feelings of happiness or even euphoria. In either case, fasting isn’t actually doing a body good. What’s the long-term solution for cleansing your body, then? Eating a sensible diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and unsaturated fats.
For most healthy individuals, a short term fast isn’t harmful. That said, if you are considering any type of fast, it is imperative that you check with your doctor first. Fasting can be dangerous for some people, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, the elderly, and individuals with certain health conditions.
Fasting and heart health
There is some recent research indicating that regular fasting may be good for your heart. One study found that periodic fasting not only decreases the risk of heart problems and diabetes, but may also lower blood sugar levels. The data showed that people who fasted regularly had a 58 percent lower risk of coronary disease compared with those who said they didn’t fast. Study findings were presented at the ongoing annual scientific sessions of the American College of Cardiology in New Orleans. While these findings are intriguing, experts say it is still too early to conclude that fasting should be used as part of a heart health prevention plan.
Fasting for a longer life
Meanwhile, caloric restriction, while not a strict fast, has been shown in numerous studies to extend life in rodents, yeast and various insects. The National Institute on Aging funds several projects investigating this possibility in monkeys. Investigators at Washington University in St. Louis are studying members of the nonprofit Calorie Restriction Society, a group that exists to promote this type of research in humans. Several compounds also are under investigation in hopes of reproducing the benefits without the negative aspects and challenges of ingesting so little food.
The Bottom Line: For most healthy people, a day of fasting for spiritual or religious purposes will not cause harm. While there is some interesting research on the potential benefits of fasting/calorie restriction, more studies are needed to determine just how fasting can effect the body. So hold on to your fork and keep eating healthy meals and snacks. It’s good for your body… and tastes good too!