July 15, 2012

What Are Detox Diets and Are They a Safe Way to Lose Weight?

Yes, no, and maybe, depending on how healthy you are and how long you detox. Fasts – that is, drinking only water, juice, or tea for one or more days – have been used for centuries in attempts to cleans the body, fight fatigue, lose weight, and cure debilitating diseases from lupus to arthritis. Detox diets are types of fasts that range from juice fasts to weeks of alternating vegetables, water, juice, brown rice, and what not. Some also include herbal teas, potent laxatives, saunas, and even colonic irrigation (don’t ask, you don’t want to know!). The theory is that a detox diet purges the body of accumulated contaminants and toxins. Sounds great. Hey, who wants icky “toxins” in their body?! But, venture beyond the spa or naturopath’s office and just about anyone in the nutrition or medical field will balk at the idea that detoxing does anything more than give you a headache. It certainly won’t aid with long-term weight loss.

Glucose is the number one fuel for your brain and body. Even a detox diet that includes juice or brown rice doesn’t supply enough glucose to meet these needs so the body first turns to stored glucose, called glycogen, in the liver and muscle. By the middle of the first day, that resource is exhausted, leaving you lightheaded, hungry, tired, and unable to concentrate. Next, proteins in your muscles and organs are broken down to make glucose. Finally, by day two or three, you lose your appetite and even feel slightly euphoric, light headed, or “energized,” not because toxins are being released from tissues, but because of a rise in fat fragments, called ketones. In essence, your body is literally consuming itself as it strives to provide energy for the brain and tissues, while metabolism has slowed in a desperate attempt to conserve energy. In short, the weight you lose in the first two to three days of a detox diet or fast is water and muscle, not fat. That weight quickly returns when the diet is over. In fact, when you return to normal eating, there’s a surge in appetite-control chemicals, such as neuropeptide Y (NPY), which can lead to binging and explains why people are likely to pig out on fatty foods after even a short-term fast.

What about those toxins? To be told you are a ‘toxic time bomb’ is alarming, but there is no definition of what that term means, let alone any scientific evidence that the body needs cleansing or the digestive tract needs a rest. The body already has an amazing system for breaking down and ridding itself of anything harmful. (For example, bacteria naturally present in the gut metabolize and detoxify substances in food, while the liver works 24/7 to neutralize anything making it through the gut and into the body.) Ironically, fasting itself generates toxins. For example, as protein is broken down for energy, levels of toxic nitrogen substances such as uric acid are formed, which tax the kidneys and increase risk for gout. Lead and pesticides stored in the body are released slowly with moderate weight loss, allowing the body to detoxify and eliminate them safely. However, these levels rise too rapidly when weight is lost too rapidly on any restrictive diet, such as a detox regimen, raising blood levels above safe ranges.

Anyone who is obsessed with food might benefit from a short break from eating – a step- back-from-the-plate moment to review the role food plays in your life. But, gaining control of your eating habits by starving is an extreme measure that hints of a potential eating disorder, so watch out you don’t take the next step by feeling that post-fast eating signals a loss of control or failure.

There’s nothing wrong with short fasts for religious reasons, as Jews do on Yom Kippur. A one or two day fast is also safe for healthy people, even if its effectiveness for cleansing and weight is questionable. Just take it easy on those days, drink lots of fluids, and don’t expect to accomplish much or even drive. Medical clearance is warranted before beginning a lengthier fast and a person shouldn’t fast at all if she’s pregnant, nursing, or has any health condition, including diabetes, cancer, compromised immunity, ulcers, or liver, kidney, heart, or lung disease. If a fast helps at all with cleansing, those benefits are sustained only if you follow it with a healthy diet and lifestyle. That’s because the real secret to managing your weight, and feeling and looking your best is healthy eating every day, not a quick-fix crash diet.

Just Do This Today

1. Add a few superfoods to your daily diet, such as berries, watermelon, spinach, wheat germ, and salmon.

2. Eat half of your normal serving of red meat and/or refined grains, such as white bread, bagels, muffins, white rice, egg noodles, and crackers.

3. Drink 8 glasses of water.

4. Take a 5-minute walk twice during the day.

5. Start the day by writing down 6 things you are grateful for.

6. Do something nice for a stranger.

Hot Off the Diet Press

1. Suck It Up: Liposuction as a solution to excess belly fat might backfire, says researchers at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, who found that patients gain more fat deeper inside the abdomen, the type of fat associated with heart disease, diabetes, and Syndrome X. http://1.usa.gov/ICh1uR

2. Cut Out the Sodas: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has set a goal of lowering childhood obesity rates to 14.6% by the year 2020. Researchers at Columbia School of Public Health report that to reach that goal, children must eliminate at least 64 calories a day by cutting back on sugary beverages and increasing daily activity. http://1.usa.gov/N1xDZ0

3. Body Fat Low-Down: Some people try to argue that it is lifestyle, not weight, that causes disease. Granted, the two are related, since stupid lifestyle choices lead to excess body fat. But, the deadliest issue is the body fat itself. In case there is anyone out there who isn’t convinced that obesity kills, researchers at Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark found that being overweight causes heart disease, and that for every increase in BMI above the healthy range, there is a 26% to 52% increase risk for developing heart disease. http://1.usa.gov/Kwl2ki

Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose via Compfight

Food & Mood Tip

If you are down in the dumps, don’t be tempted to turn to sugar for a quick pick-me-up. Research shows that depression and fatigue often vanish when sugar (and caffeine) are removed from the diet.

Researchers first see improvements in energy, followed by a boost in mood when sugar is eliminated, even in people who are not depressed. Some people are so sensitive to sugar that even two cookies could affect their mood. Other people must eat large amounts of sugar for weeks before symptoms develop. Using sugar to self-regulate mood is a temporary fix. In the long run, it could create a vicious cycle. The person suffering from depression who turns to sugary foods may relieve the fatigue and feel better for a short while, but the depression and fatigue return. The person then must either reach for another sugar fix or seek help elsewhere. As opposed to the temporary sugar high, eliminating sugar and caffeine from the diet is a permanent solution.

Creative Commons License D. Sharon Pruitt via Compfight

Eat Your Way to Sexy This Week

What you choose to eat today has an immediate impact on your mood. Literally what you eat or don’t eat for breakfast will have a subtle effect on how you feel and think mid-day. What you ate last week already is influencing how happy you are right now. For example, a grease-bomb meal at a drive-thru can have subtle effects on thinking and mood for up to 120 days! The effects also are cumulative. Whether you are happy or sad, clear headed or muddled, energized or barely dragging your “you know what” out of bed in the morning is a direct result of what you ate all month, all year, and all your life. So, stop blaming a crummy mood or a muddled mind on your genes. According to the National Institute on Aging, only 15% to 20% of aging is genetic; that means up to 85% is entirely up to you and the choices, including food choices, you make!

Adam Kuban via Compfight

Mood-Boosting Recipe of the Week

(From The Food & Mood Cookbook by Elizabeth Somer and Jeanette Williams)

Braised Chicken Parmesan
Chicken braised, then simmered in a savory well-seasoned tomato sauce is a complete meal when served with mashed potatoes or a grain dish and a side salad or vegetable.

4 chicken breasts, boneless-skinless (approximately 1 pound total)

1 /2 cup liquid egg substitute (equivalent of 2 whole eggs)

1/3 cup Parmesan cheese

½ cup bread crumbs

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 cup shallots, chopped

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

2 cloves garlic , minced

1 28-ounce can tomatoes, chopped

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon each of dried, basil, marjoram and oregano

½ cup low-fat mozzarella cheese, grated

1) Clean and pat dry chicken breasts. Lay chicken breasts between wax paper, flatten to1-inch thick. (Use a rolling pin or mallet) Set aside.

2) In a medium bowl, beat egg substitute. Set aside.

3) Mix together Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs. Place on a flat plate.

4) Dip chicken in eggs, then into Parmesan cheese mixture.

5) In a Dutch oven or heavy skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken breasts and cook until brown on each side, about 5 minutes per side. Remove chicken from skillet, keep warm.

6) In same skillet over medium-high heat, add shallots, carrots, and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. (May need to add water or a little chicken broth if vegetables stick.)

7) Add tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, honey and seasonings. Cook for 10 minutes.

8) Return chicken to pan and cover. Simmer on medium-low heat, for 30 minutes, or until chicken is no longer pink in center. In the last few minutes of cooking, sprinkle with Mozzarella cheese, cover skillet until cheese is melted, then serve hot. Makes 4 servings.

Nutritional Analysis per serving: 404 Calories; 26 percent fat (11.7 grams); 4.4 grams saturated fat; 41 percent protein; 33 percent carbohydrate; 4.4 grams fiber.

Answers to “Do You Know?” from Last Issue:

1. What is the safest sugar substitute?

Splenda or sucralose. It mimics the sugar molecule, but replaces 3 hydrogens with 3 chloride atoms. More than 85% of the molecule is not absorbed and is excreted from the digestive tract, while the remaining ~15% is water-soluble, does not accumulate in tissues and is excreted in the urine within 24 hours. It is 600 times more sweet than sugar, so most of what is in that packet is filler, such as maltodextrin or dextrin, common, safe ingredients found in a wide array of foods. Sucralose has been studied for more than 25 years, with well over 100 studies finding it completely safe. It is approved in 80+ countries with no health warnings needed. It was approved in 1998 in the United States and is even safe for pregnant or nursing mothers and children.

Kary Nieuwenhuis via Compfight

2. What are the 3 nutrients essential for weight loss?

Fiber, water, and protein. These three factors in food fill us up before they fill us out, so we are more likely to push away from the table before stuffing ourselves. Foods that include all three include cooked dried beans and peas, as well as whole grains cooked in milk such as oatmeal or brown rice. Foods that include two of the three include: colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and nuts. Dishes that include all three include salads, soups, smoothies, and stews.

The Daily Menu

Put know how into practice with this simple, nutritious meal plan. Eliminate the afternoon snack if you want to cut an additional 200 calories. And, with all the menus in my newsletter, feel free to tweak to your food preferences and choices.

1 low-fat, whole wheat pancake

2 tablespoons berry syrup

2/3 cup fresh or thawed berries

1 cup orange juice

4 ounces prawns dunked in 2 Tablespoons cocktail sauce

1 serving of Wheat Berries with Fruit and Honey-Orange Dressing: Soak 1 cup wheat berries in 4 cups water overnight. Drain and add to 8 cups boiling salted water. Gently simmer, uncovered, until tender but still chewy, 45 to 60 minutes. Drain and transfer to bowl. Add zest from one orange, 1 /2 cup chopped cranberries, 1 /2 cup chopped dried apricots, and 6 tablespoons pine nuts. Blend juice of one orange and 4 teaspoons honey, and add to wheat berry mix. Salt to taste. (Makes 4 one-cup servings.)

1 1 /2 cups slightly steamed broccoli dipped in 2 tablespoons fat-free dressing

1 cup chopped watermelon


1 regular nonfat latte (sweetened with sugar substitute if desired)

1 almond-flavored biscotti

1 serving of Braised Chicken Parmesan

2/3 cup mashed potatoes made with low-fat milk, salt and pepper

1 cup green beans, steamed

1 cup 1% low-fat milk

Tropical Rum Fruit Salad: Cut up one cup of tropical fruits, such as papaya, mango, kiwi, and/or pineapple. Mix with 1 teaspoon lime juice, 1 teaspoon dark rum, and 1 teaspoon chopped crystallized ginger


Nutrition Score: 1,912 calories, 21% fat (45 g; 12 g saturated), 57% carbs (272 g), 22% protein (105 g), 984 mg calcium, 34 g fiber.