Every January, our inboxes, Facebook feeds, and news sites are inundated with the supposed key to feeling happy and healthy in the new year—detoxes. Whether you’re cutting out wheat/sugar/alcohol/dairy/insert-newest-villainous-food-here, trying the newest juice cleanse, or sipping activated charcoal, each detox regimen promises a host of benefits, from ridding your body of all those 2017 toxins to feelings of euphoria, cleanliness, and serenity. As much as we’d like to believe in the healing properties of these fad diets, the truth is—you just can’t sip your way to a healthier 2018.
The Dangers of Detoxing
There are certain foods and drinks that speed up our digestion (and thus rid our body of waste faster), but eating these foods in abundance—while skipping out on other foods—is not the answer to improved health and nutrition. Most detoxes drastically limit calories as well as protein, which can result in low energy, low blood sugar, muscle loss, nausea, impaired bowel function, and a disrupted microbiome. In severe cases, they can lead to electrolyte imbalances and metabolic acidosis, a condition in which blood levels of acid build up that can lead to coma and death. If you’re cutting out whole food groups like dairy, meat, or grains, you may also be missing out on key nutrients, including protein, fiber, fats, calcium, and vitamin D. Ultimately, missing out on these nutrients for an extended period of time can actually make your body less prepared to function optimally.
Your Body is Your Detox
Our bodies are already outfitted with two organs that are highly efficient at filtering out any harmful substances you might be taking in. Our kidneys filter blood, removing wastes that are byproducts of metabolism, and our liver metabolizes drugs and alcohol and disposes of them through the excretion of bile or urine. In short, assuming you have a functioning liver and kidneys, your body is perfectly suited to remove waste day in and day out—no need for a magical detox.
5 Ways to Naturally Feel Cleansed
Give that juice the boot—and instead try my recommendations for a better approach to hitting your body’s reset button:
- If you’re looking to cut foods out of your diet, start with alcohol and added sugars: both are sources of added calories that do nothing to support your body’s daily functions. Foods or drinks like cookies, ice cream, and soda are obvious sources of added sugar, but make sure to look for hidden sugars in foods like soup, tomato sauce, bread, frozen meals, and condiments. When you’re checking a food label, make sure you’re looking for more than just “sugar”—sugar can masquerade behind more than 50 different names. And no—there’s no such thing as “healthy” sugar (I’m looking at you, honey and coconut sugar).
- Always include carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in your diet each day. Each macronutrient plays a variety of roles in supporting overall health and fueling you throughout the day. Aim to load your diet with fiber-rich carbohydrates (leafy greens and other vegetables, berries, whole grains, legumes, and beans), healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, nuts, seeds), and quality proteins (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, and legumes).
- Hydrate—keep your body chugging by sipping on water and tea all day long. While water plays a key role in helping every single cell in your body to function, it’s especially important for the kidneys. It helps the kidneys remove waste from your body—in fact, your body filters about 120-150 quarts of fluid each day, excreting about 1-2 quarts through urine and returning the rest to circulate. Instead of following the old “8 glasses of water a day” rule, find what works best for your body, and aim to drink enough such that your urine is light yellow or colorless.
- While you can’t sweat out a hangover, exercise improves circulation, which improves the function of all of your organs. Aim to increase your heart rate every day—that could be in the form of a run, a spin class, or a hike, but taking the stairs or choosing to bike to work are also great options.
- Get a good night’s sleep. Our body is actually quite active when we’re asleep: muscles are repaired and regenerated, hormones are released, memories are consolidated and stored. Recent research has even found that the brain flushes out waste proteins that are produced during the day, allowing your brain to function more optimally once you wake up.
In short, there is no scientific literature supporting the efficacy or necessity of a cleanse or detox. However, if you want to use the new year as a jumpstart to a healthier, more nutritious eating routine, now is as good a time as ever.
Don’t forget to join our New Year, New You challenge for the chance to win more than $500 worth of health-oriented goodies, including a MyFitnessPal membership and an Apple Watch!