Some experts call the cleansing movement the fad diet of the decade. This is not to say that cleansing is new. In fact, cleansing or ridding the body of toxins has been carried out for thousands of years in many religions and cultures, just not in the manner seen today.

Ancient healers and shamans would use body cleansing techniques to displace evil and foulness in the body. People were said to be saved and purified through cleansing rituals. In stark contrast, the cleansing or detoxing practices of the 21st Century are aimed at quick weight loss and shedding decades of toxins we have put into our bodies via nutrient-void calories and harmful environmental toxins.

There is not one generally accepted definition of detoxing, which explains why there are so many techniques. Put simply, detoxification is the process by which toxins or addictive substances are removed from the body to prevent or undo harmful effects. Detoxing can involve anything from fasting and intense herbal laxatives to liquids consisting of maple syrup and cayenne pepper. Detox diets typically involve some modification of dietary intake aiming to eliminate built-up debris in the intestines, detoxify the liver, or help the user lose weight quickly.

Some theories suggest that the environmental toxic load has become more than our bodies can manage or eliminate and has manifested in our society through increased prevalence of chronic disease. Detox proponents claim that their products, whether herbal remedies or dietary regimens, can restore health, increase energy, reduce inflammation and bloating, reduce chronic disease, increase immunity, and regulate bowel function. However, there is no definitive data or evidence to support these claims. Even though people are exposed to more pollutants than at any other time in history, cleansing the body’s detoxification system is not medically necessary. The body’s detoxification system — mainly the liver, kidneys, and lymphatic system — do an excellent job in defending us against toxins and pathogenic agents.

The benefits that individuals claim to exhibit from detox diets are not impossible. For example, weight loss is common with these diets because of the severe restriction in calories or intake of laxative substances such as teas and herbs. However, any lost weight is typically regained as soon as individuals resume a standard diet. Some participants report increased energy, but if they were asked to walk a mile, could they? More importantly, should they? There are risks associated with detoxing, such as marked dehydration, hypoglycemia, cardiac arrhythmia, renal stress, and muscle loss. These risks are correlated with both the duration of the detoxification and restrictiveness of the diet.

Proponents say detoxing benefits individuals by increasing their intake of fruits and vegetables as well as making them conscious of their dietary intake and increasing their interest in becoming healthy. While this may be true, the best practice to detoxify is to treat your body in such a manner that it functions optimally. Evidence-based health practices such as not smoking, limiting excessive alcohol intake, getting restful sleep, regular exercise, increasing fruits and vegetables and healthy fats, and obtaining adequate amounts of fiber daily, will have a much more profound effect on your health and weight than any detox regimen. You may also decrease toxic load by choosing fresh produce with low-pesticide residue and decreasing the amount of packaged and highly processed foods you consume.

In a recent issue of MediLiving, Registered Dietitian Dina Kimmel explains how to incorporate these principles into the Medi-Weightloss Clinics® Program. We encourage you to consume whole foods or foods that are close to their natural state, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and plenty of water daily. These are all part of eating clean. Like the saying goes, “defense is the best offense.” Do not choose foods that barely resemble the ingredients list. Defend your body by selecting foods which promote health and help you reach your weight loss goals.

To reduce pesticide consumption, the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit group that strives to protect public health and the environment, has developed a quick reference called the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15. It ranks the fruits and vegetables that have the highest and lowest levels of pesticide residue and helps consumers determine which organic items may be worth purchasing.

The Dirty Dozen

  • Celery
  • Peaches
  • Strawberries
  • Apples
  • Blueberries
  • Nectarines
  • Bell peppers
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Cherries
  • Potatoes
  • Grapes

The Clean 15

  • Onions
  • Avocado
  • Sweet corn
  • Pineapple
  • Mangoes
  • Sweet peas
  • Asparagus
  • Kiwi
  • Cabbage
  • Eggplant
  • Cantaloupe
  • Watermelon
  • Grapefruit
  • Sweet potato
  • Honeydew melon