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March 14, 2019 4 min read

Detoxes and cleanses

Flushing toxins out of your body sounds like a great idea. Who doesn’t want to rid their body of pollutants and contaminants? Today, many people are turning to “master cleanses” to help detox the body.

One of the most popular methods is to fast over the course of several days while drinking nothing but a lemon-water concoction. The belief is that the combination will “cleanse” the body’s organs and internal systems.

There’s no question that water’s an important part of a healthy diet.

But do you really need to drink lemon water and stop eating for several days for your body to detoxify?

Do you need to detox?

Absolutely not, according to Joy Dubost, RD, food scientist and former spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

The best way to clean out your system is by drinking plenty of water and getting enough fiberto keep your digestive system regular.

She said the so-called “lemon detox” or “master cleanse” diets serve no real purpose other than to starve your body of necessary nutrients.

“The idea of resting your body from digestion is ridiculous,” Dubost said.

Supposed benefits of a detox

The perceived benefits of a lemon water detox cast a wide net. Advocates claim the beverage can help improve skin tone and texture, as well as boost your mood and energy level. Losing weight also ranks high among reasons to give it a go.

It’s easy to understand why some people may be attracted to the idea of jumpstarting a weight loss plan with something that sounds as chic as a “detox.”

Dubost noted that these detoxes have been made famous by celebrities such as Beyoncé. It’s widely reported that the singing superstar used the diet to lose weight for a role in a movie.

Intermittent fasting has been shown to help with weight loss. But adding a detox elixir (such as maple and palm syrups with lemon juice, water, pepper, and sometimes salt water) to your fasting plan won’t really do anything to improve your health, according to Dubost.

“There is not any scientific evidence that it provides health benefits,” she said. “The side effects of going through this five- to seven-day process would put me on edge.”

In fact, she said adhering to a week-long lemon-water fasting plan could have the opposite effect as intended. Rather than feeling energetic, people who follow detox regimens end up feeling lethargic and on edge.

That’s because they haven’t ingested the proper nutrients and calories over a few days’ time.

“You know how you feel when you skip lunch and get a headache?” Dubost said. “You are likely to be tired and have a lack of energy. You may not want to exercise.”

Advice from a total cleanse skeptic

The idea that a lemon water detox can “cleanse” your body is false, Dubost said. The body removes toxins through its gastrointestinal tract. For that, it needs fiber. Lemon water doesn’t contain the fiber necessary in order for the body to “self-cleanse.”

“How is this going to clean out your gastrointestinal tract?” Dubost asks. “There would be no fiber to help move things out. This is just a fad diet, or a quick fix.”

She doesn’t believe that a so-called cleanse will help rid your body of harmful substances. She urges people to question the narrative surrounding the benefits of a detox.

“What do they mean by ‘detox’?” she asks. “Getting rid of toxins from food? From the environment? Your body naturally cleanses itself. Your gastrointestinal tract, liver, and kidneysall help you detox.”

She also points out that anyone who takes medication isn’t able to do so on an empty stomach, so fasting may not be the best choice.

Adding lemon to water is OK

Drinking water is good for you. The most obvious benefit is it keeps you hydrated.

Infusing the water with lemon won’t boost its detoxification prowess. But it does add other health benefits, according to Vandana Sheth, RDN, CDE, and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

First off, if adding lemon to your water helps you drink more, go ahead and do so, she noted.

“If you enjoy the taste of lemon water over plain water, then this would be a good way of drinking more water,” Sheth said. “The added benefits of lemon water include vitamin C, antioxidants, and potassium.”

She also noted that when you consume lemon water along with foods high in iron, your body will better absorb the mineral.

Lemon water isn’t the only kind of infused water people can consume and reap benefits from. For example, cucumber water and mint water both have their own set of health advantages.

Cucumbers are rich in potassium. The electrolyte helps to remove salt from your bloodstream and ultimately keep your blood pressure at an optimum rate.

Mint-flavored water is a good source of vitamin A and antioxidants. Mint is also used to help ease indigestion.

Your nutritional needs

Adults need 25 grams of fiber each day, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This amount is based on a 2,000-calorie diet. In addition to fruits and vegetables, opt for whole-grain products such as brown rice and legumes. They’re also great sources of fiber.

If you insist on trying the sort of cleanses made famous by Hollywood, Dubost said to check with a doctor first. Also, if you’re adding fruits or vegetables to your water, be sure to wash them first.

“Your body has enough nutrients to sustain you over a short period of time, but you’re entering the danger zone if you’re going five to seven days [without food],” she said. “That’s just putting your body through stress that it doesn’t need.