(May, 2016) Detox or Cleansing diets are quite the fad. They’re a catch-all for a variety of fasts and spa treatments that purport to help reset metabolism, lose weight, purify the GI tract, brighten skin, and eliminate toxins. The latest manifestations include colon cleanses, liver flushes, green smoothie cleanses, juice fasts, even coffee enemas (1).
But buyer beware; there’s nothing easy about detoxing. Flushing toxins out of your body can have adverse effects, causing hunger and headaches. It can deprive you of nutrients and rid your body of friendly bacteria (2). Some fasts are outright dangerous, especially for certain people. The Berkeley Wellness group says there is little scientific evidence to back the detox concept (3).
On the other hand, there’s a long-standing spiritual tradition to fasting. Almost all religions have a fasting ritual. Fasting is part of preventive health care in Chinese medicine. It helps people shed the extra winter fat layer that provided warmth (4). That’s why Lent comes in the spring.
Eating less is known to extend life. Cutting back on calories allows mice and other critters to live nearly twice as long, with fewer tumors. But no one of sound mind would advocate malnutrition, like some of these detox programs espouse (3,5).
Detoxification is a daily, natural process, according to Dr. Linda Page (4). We are constantly eliminating and neutralizing toxins via the liver, colon, urine, and skin. Indeed, the human body is highly efficient when it comes to self-cleansing (3). Dr. Mercola proposes a “peak” or intermittent fast by not eating after dinner, then extending your fast as long as possible the next morning, even up to 18 hours (6).
Another way to detox is to eat clean. Avoid processed foods, fast or fried foods, and foods with unnatural ingredients. Avoid the very toxins you are trying to eliminate, like pesticides, hormones and antibiotics from factory farms. Studies in rodents link GMO corn and feed to tumors and early death (7,8). Overcooked foods and old, stale oils are also teeming with toxins, as are processed foods. Organic is ideal.
The average American eats roughly 300 lbs of sugar and flour each year, according to Dr. Mark Hyman, Medical Director at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine. The Food Industry has hijacked our diets, and have us addicted to junk food. Dr. Hyman says “Food is the biggest cause of disease, and the biggest cure.” By cutting the sugar and flour, we activate fat-burning genes, boost energy and mood, and lose weight (9). A scientific approach to detox replaces junk food with nutritious, satisfying meals made with antioxidant-packed, high protein and probiotic-rich fermented foods. Eating more fat (e.g., avocados, nuts, seeds, grass-fed meat, eggs and dairy) helps lesson the irritation from giving up carbs and processed junk.
Many detox diets take a vegetarian approach, or suggest abstaining from meat and dairy. But not all meat and dairy are the same. Modest amounts of organic, grass-fed animal-based foods complement a largely plant-based diet.
One type of dairy that fits in well with a detox program is full-fat yogurt. It qualifies as a superfood. Many elimination diets call for removing dairy, but it’s better to get it from cows that make A2 milk, which is allergy and toxicity free, as opposed to A1 milk from factory-farm cows (10). In the Oriental detox plan, they eat no meat or dairy products except for yogurt (11).
Healthy yogurt combines all the positive aspects of dairy–a trove of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, protein, good fats, and probiotics, without the sugar (12). One serving contains half the iodine, a third of the calcium and omega-3 fatty acids, and is a good source of protein, many B vitamins, zinc and selenium. Good yogurt is loaded with antioxidants (lutein, beta-carotene, vitamin E) found only in the animal fat. CLA, another fatty substance found only in grass-fed meat and dairy, has been shown convincingly to improve body composition (13). Indeed, full-fat yogurt is one of the few foods linked to weight loss and preventing metabolic disease (14). Many nutrients in natural yogurt add health and support for a detox diet, including a reduced risk for diabetes (15), bowel cancer (16), cardiovascular disease (17), and better weight management (2, 14, 18-20).
Yogurt also contains probiotics, which are one of the key additions to a detox program. These “friendly bacteria” help aid digestion, weight loss, boost immunity, and detoxify harmful toxins in the gut (21). In her book Detoxification, Dr. Page advocates probiotics to replenish healthy bacteria and antioxidants (4). All yogurts contain the probiotic Lactobacillus bulgaricus, and may contain L. acidophilus, Bifidus and other species documented to benefit gut health.
Grass-fed, full-fat yogurts are replete with substances that aid detox and fasting (22). Our ancestors thrived on full-fat, plain yogurt for thousands of years. Eating the old-fashioned way is what works (23).
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