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Demystifying the detox

Tempting isn’t it? You’ve eaten enough over Christmas to feed the Red Army, you could float a kayak on the river of booze you’ve swilled, so maybe it’s time for a detox?

It sort of makes sense. We’ve been taught to think of foods as good and bad. In the green corner is your fruit and veg, your steamed fish and brown rice, your tofu and quinoa – all gleaming with goodness. But over in the red corner lurk your tempting Christmas goodies: mince pies, pigs in blankets, Yorkshire puds, roast potatoes – all glistening with vice. If the green corner is your good stuff, then the red is your toxins. So, after a season on the toxins, why not detoxify?

There’s also another reason to tempt you to detox, one that does have a foot in sound science. Most of us don’t eat as well as we should. There’s stacks of evidence that our diets are killing us. Maxing out on refined sugars, salt and saturated fats – not to mention the booze – is bad for our health. And we know we should eat more fruit and veg. All the more tempting to label the foods in the red corner toxins – and to detoxify, right?

Diet fact and diet fiction

Wrong. Trouble is, like a lot to do with our food, it’s not as simple as that. Although you can scarcely move for a willowy celebrity flogging her own-brand detox regime, if you’re not careful they can do more harm than good. That’s because a lot of de-tox diets offer a quick fix – usually involving drinking pulped or juiced stuff and cutting out a whole bunch of goodness that your body really needs. The wrong detox can leave you light-headed, irritable and seriously underpowered. Short term fixes also lead to boom and bust cycles – feast and famine – that are hopeless for long-term weight and health management. Binge and detox is just a fancy way of saying yo-yo dieting.

Our bodies de-tox naturally

What the pedlars of detox don’t tell you is that our bodies are brilliant at detoxifying themselves – if they weren’t, we would never have left the primal swamp. Despite the hullaballoo, toxins don’t ‘build up’ in your liver and kidneys, or anywhere else for that matter. And your body will naturally remove unwanted or harmful stuff from your body, evacuating it as waste. Nor is there any evidence whatsoever that supplements or diets designed to ‘cleanse’ or ‘purify’ have any positive impact whatsoever.

What about if I’ve got a health problem?

Whatever your ailment, there will be someone out there trying to sell you a detox diet for it. And let’s face it, when we’re ill we’re usually on the lookout for something to make us better, particularly if our GP can’t help. But not only is there no evidence that a detox diet can help, they can be harmful. Any diet that restricts major food groups should be treated with extreme caution – unless you’ve had sound medical advice.

The good news

Despite all the blather it looks like detox diets aren’t worth the waste paper they’re written on. As the British Dietetic Society says, ‘detox diets are marketing myths rather than nutritional reality.’ But then who really wants to live off juiced broccoli with chia seeds? The good news is that if you’ve lived high on the hog over Christmas, the best way to ‘detox’ is to steer yourself back toward a healthy diet. Eat lots of fruit and veg, base your meals on good carbs – the less processed the better – eat lean proteins and cut down the stuff in the red corner. And don’t forget to do some exercise. That’s all the detox your body needs.

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