Healthy Lifestyle

Detox diets: Do they actually work?

Detox Diet

By Tina Covone, Registered Dietitian and Certified Dietitian/Nutritionist at Vassar Brothers Medical Center


You may have heard of some of the popular detox diets in the media, such as the Master Cleanse, the 10-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse or the Lose 1 Pound a Day diet.

Some of these require a person to consume specific liquids at certain intervals without any solid food for several weeks.

One detox diet lasts as long as three weeks. Imagine not being able to eat any solid vegetables, fruits, grains, fat, eggs, white meat, and red meat for three weeks.

These diets claim to rid the body of various chemicals and toxins; promote rapid, permanent weight loss in a short period of time; and improve overall health and well-being.

However, there is little scientific evidence to back these claims.

More research still needs to be done to determine if toxins and chemicals can in fact be removed from the body through dietary means.

Many supplements and detox diets available for purchase may claim to be a type of “chelation therapy,” which is the process of removing iron, lead, mercury, zinc and other metals from humans via blood infusions for heavy-metal poisoning.

Many supplements and chelation therapy products that can be purchased over the counter claim they can remove toxins, boost immune function and treat various diseases.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, these are false claims and in violation of federal laws.

There are no standards in place for what is considered “detoxification” in terms of detox diets and dietary supplements. Therefore, the claims these diets and supplements are making have no truth behind them.

Some of the diets even include disclaimers stating the information included from the authors and publishers is not to be used to provide medical or health professional services.

In addition to having no scientific evidence behind them, these diets can pose harmful effects on the body.

Most of these diets provide very few calories, which does induce rapid weight loss, but is dangerous to body systems and may cause nutrient deficiencies.

While on these diets, the body does not have enough energy normally provided from food, and the energy must come from the body reserves.

Some of these diets require the addition of an excessive amount of salt, which can throw off electrolyte levels.

Since most require a person to be on them for a few weeks, they wreak havoc by depriving the body of protein, fat, dietary fiber, carbohydrates, and other important nutrients.

The weight will most likely be regained when the user goes back to consuming a “normal” diet. For people who already have compromised immune systems or certain conditions and illnesses, these diets may cause even more harm.

The guidelines and suggestions set out by these diets are unrealistic and inappropriate for both short- and long-term use. Weight loss should be gradual by setting small, measurable goals.

I recommend a diet including few processed foods and rich in fruits, vegetables, lean protein sources and whole grains.

A shake made from whole foods, including fruit, vegetables, and natural protein sources such as yogurt, milk, or others would be a great substitute for a “detox” drink. 

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Protein Shake Recipe: (Makes 2 cups)

  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 3/4 cup sliced, frozen banana
  • 1/2 cup reduced-fat, plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon natural peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Ice as needed
  • Combine all ingredients and blend together in a blender until smooth.

Nutrient analysis: (2 cups)

  • 410 kcal
  • 15 g fat
  • 5 g fiber
  • 45 g carbohydrates
  • 26 g protein