If you’re hoping to lose a few pounds as well as achieve radiant skin and an abundance of energy, you may be drawn to the idea of a 7-Day Detox. Fad diet fans claim detoxing will help you achieve all of the above, but does it work and more importantly, are there any nasty side-effects you should be aware of?
We speak to Dr Julianne Barry, GP at London Doctors Clinic and Kajsa Ernestam, in-house dietitian at Lifesum, about the 7-Day detox health facts:
What is a 7-Day Detox?
While the clue is in the name (you follow a ‘detoxifying’ diet for a whole week), there are numerous different variations of the 7-Day Detox, depending on the particular plan you follow and which dietary restrictions it imposes.
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Sold as a less extreme detox diet compared to other versions such as the juice diet, the 7-Day Detox usually involves ‘clean eating’ – consuming an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, while eliminating alcohol, caffeine, processed foods, salt, red or processed meat, dairy, wheat, crisps, sauces and fizzy drinks from your diet.
Depending on the plan you choose to follow, many detoxes will also allow beans and lentils, oats, tofu, unsalted nuts, seeds, fish and dairy-free milk alternatives, such as almond milk. You are also encouraged to drink herbal teas and lots of water.
7-Day Detox health benefits
The main aim of any detoxifying diet is to help rid your body of toxins, by allegedly stimulating the liver and encouraging toxin elimination via waste products – faeces, urine and sweat. Other supposed benefits include weight loss, improved circulation and radiant skin. Sounds good, yes?
However, while detox diets remain popular, concrete scientific research into their effectiveness is lacking. No randomised, controlled trials have been conducted to assess the effectiveness of these types of diets in humans, and the studies that have been done are hampered by small sample sizes and flawed methodologies.
While detox diets remain popular, concrete scientific research into their effectiveness is lacking.
It goes without saying that by following a detox diet and eating ‘clean’, you will be increasing your intake of fresh fruit and veg, thereby upping your vitamin and mineral intake, which is a definite positive.
Anecdotally, some people do report feeling healthier and more energised following a detox. However, this could be due to the lack of alcohol and processed foods in their diet, rather than being a sign of detoxification.
7-Day Detox health concerns
While the New Year is likely to prove popular once more for the 7-Day Detox, health professionals do have concerns over these types of diets, which severely limit calorie intake and cut out major food groups.
‘If your detox requires you to cut out specific food groups, you could be depriving yourself of essential nutrients,’ reveals Dr Barry.
‘This can weaken your immune system, making it easier for you to become ill. In addition, if you cut out all fatty foods, absorbing fat-soluble vitamins, such as A, D, E and K, may prove problematic. These vitamins are necessary, as they help to support your immune system, so lacking them could cause future issues.’
Doesn’t your body detox itself anyway?
The body does naturally detox itself, thanks to the liver, colon and kidneys functions. ‘The liver acts like a filter, preventing toxic substances to pass into the bloodstream,’ explains Ernestam, ‘while the colon flushes out unhealthy chemicals; and the kidneys are constantly filtering the blood to get rid of toxins in the form of urine.
‘However, the body is exposed to toxins on a daily basis, for example, from air pollution and chemicals found in food, cosmetics and household cleaners, and therefore it’s important to provide your body with an extra boost to help it “detox” by itself.’
‘Make sure that you are eating a healthy and balanced diet, filled with vitamins and minerals, healthy fats, lean proteins, whole grain carbohydrates, and lots of vegetables and legumes, which will help to boost the body’s own cleaning process,’ recommends Ernestam.
‘Detox diets are not necessary, and there is little scientific evidence that shows they actually works. However, if you feel your body has been exposed to toxins lately, which can happen during the festive season, then make sure that you spend some days to treat your body with extra TLC. Make sure that you hydrate, eat lots of nutritious food, exercise, and get enough sleep.’
Potential 7-day detox side-effects
Dr Barry warns that cutting out carbs altogether can lead to a variety of unpleasant side-effects. ‘If the diet is very low on carbohydrates, your body may start to break down fatty acids to produce ketones, which can lead to various issues including nausea, bad breath, and liver and kidney problems.’
Dr Barry also warns that a sudden change in diet could play havoc for your bowels, resulting in tummy pain and upset, and that the lack of calories can alter your metabolic rate (the number of calories you burn while at rest), which can ultimately result in you quickly regaining weight, once you revert to a normal eating pattern.
But the concerns aren’t just physical. ‘Your mental health may also be affected,’ warns Dr Barry. ‘If you’re not eating enough of the right nutrients, you may experience heightened stress levels, leading to irritability, increased risk of depression, poor concentration and disturbed sleep, which can lead to mental fatigue.’
7-Day Detox: the verdict
While there are clearly some benefits to upping your fruit and veg intake, and decreasing the amount of processed foods and alcohol you ingest, without any clear scientific backing it’s hard to say for sure whether a detoxifying diet is of benefit.
If you are intent on trying a 7-Day Detox, check out your options first. While some are highly restrictive, others put the focus very much on healthy eating, allowing you to eat a variety of whole grains and protein sources, which will be better for your overall health.