Two experts offer opposing opinions about one of the most popular dietary trends in recent years
By Tim Fenster
So-called detox or cleanse diets have become one of the most popular dietary trends in recent years, even as the medical community remains split on their purported benefits and risks. Though widely varied, the diets call for consuming only raw vegetables, fruits and fruit juices and water for a period of three to 10 days. Some call for special teas or supplements to be taken throughout, and some urge dieters to forego solid foods altogether for the entirety of the cleanse. Critics of these diets say our bodies continually remove toxins on their own, rendering a cleanse unnecessary, and that such diets can sometimes lead to mineral and vitamin deficiencies. In a May press release, the British Dietary Association called detox diets “nonsense.” “The body constantly filters out, breaks down and excretes toxins and waste products like alcohol, medications, products of digestions, dead cells, chemicals from pollution and bacteria,” the BDA stated in the press release. Allyson Odachowski, a dietitian and nutritionist at Custom Dietetics in Williamsville, agrees that cleanses do little to aid the body’s digestive systems or metabolism and can prove harmful for people with certain conditions. “For most people it’s unnecessary and for people with any health concerns, it could be dangerous and there’s no question as to whether it’s necessary,” said Odachowski, who is also a media representative for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. But others disagree. Jennifer Jennings, owner and medical director of Cardea Health Integrative Medicine in Cheektowaga, says moderate cleansing can improve digestive health and help jump-start a more sustainable diet. She recommends cleansing twice a year to give your digestive system a break from the constant barrage of additives, pesticides, preservatives and other so-called toxins that accompany most modern diets. “All of us can use help. Our body does an exceptional job [removing toxins], but it gets tired and there can be disfunction within our gut, within our microbiome, within our gallbladder, within our liver,” Jennings said. “So giving that a bit of a break is not always a bad thing.” Jennings believes the ideal cleanse lasts from three to five days, and includes three meals a day of raw fruits and vegetables that have been blended into juice. She likes to use wheatgrass, kale, celery, parsley, cilantro, carrots, beets and sometimes an apple in her juices. Jennings also recommends daily consumption of bonebroth and lemon juice with water, both of which are said to help boost the body’s immune and digestive systems. Cayenne pepper, another popular choice for cleanse diets, can also be added, as it can help speed up one’s metabolism. “Lemon juice is very good for someone to have in the morning for a cleanse,” she said. But while Jennings champions the benefits of cleansing, she also cautions prospective dieters to consult with their doctor before severely restricting their caloric intake. “Of course you have to assess whether or not this patient is capable of doing a cleanse,” she said. “So if this is someone who has blood sugar issues, who has malnutrition, who has some type of a chronic disease, they may not be a good candidate for this type of cleanse.” Meanwhile, Odachowski says that regardless of the dieter’s health, the risk is not worth the reward. She pointed out that the supplements many take while cleansing are not regulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. “You may not know what you’re getting,” she said. What’s more, she says, one can reap the supposed benefits of a cleanse by hydrating more, eating nine daily servings of fruits and vegetables, and consuming more probiotics, which can be found in yogurt as well as fermented foods (sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha). “Those are certainly things we’d recommend — just for overall health, not to cleanse,” she said.