Few people are aware of the true extent to which poor eating habits can harm their health. A few extra pounds apart, a poor diet could put you at risk of getting several extremely severe conditions even if you are not obese. Weakened immunity, stomach issues, and melancholy are a few potential issues that might arise from infrequent and unbalanced meals.
Take the case of Kunal Mahajan from Delhi who ate food from eateries most of the time. “My mother often scolded me for not eating at home, but it fell on deaf ears.” His unhealthy eating habits continued till the day he had to be hospitalised due to unbearable stomach pain. “They diagnosed me with indigestion and I had to get a pain killer. This happened three years ago. After that episode, my dietician put me on a detox diet,” Mahajan adds.
Understanding Detox Diet
“Detox diet or detoxification is the process of cleansing the body to restore its pH balance,” says Dr Shreya Tripathi, nutritionist, metabolic balance coach, and certified diabetes educator. “To keep the body running smoothly, there are hundreds of biochemical pathways running to maintain essential metabolism which results in the release of metabolic wastes as by-products. The liver and the kidney in the body are responsible for removing the metabolic waste/toxins accumulated in the body,” she explains.
“However, when we have a diet rich in saturated fats, sugars, processed oils, packaged and processed foods, and refined grains daily, it slows down the metabolism and results in the building up of toxins that the body cannot flush out efficiently,” says Tripathi. Food is one of the most important determinants of health and the biggest environmental contributor to disease, he says.
A detox diet helps the liver to cleanse the waste accumulated. To bring the body back to normal neutral pH and help eliminate sludge in the gut, certain food groups that bring back the metabolic balance need to be included. The pH balance is the natural balance between acidity and alkalinity in your blood. High acidity causes accumulation of toxins, which result in most chronic lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Short-term changes for long-term health goals
Detox diets are short-term changes in eating habits that seek to remove excess toxins present in the body through the consumption of juices, fruits, and vegetables. They usually span three to seven days. These diets seek to increase energy, enhance immunity, improve circulation, and clear your skin. The juices consumed as part of a detox diet often consist of mixtures of numerous fresh fruit and vegetable varieties.
“Detox diets have several benefits. The most important one is that it will improve your idea of food and eating habits for the better; regardless of whether you receive the other benefits,” says Delhi-based dietician Shweta Gupta. “When we eat unhealthy food, we take in calories and unwanted toxins which increase retention and bloating. Through a detox diet, we not only detoxify the body but also remove the extra water and bloating. A high alkaline diet is given to make the body and gut healthy,” she says.
Gut-related symptoms, such as bloating, acidity, gas, constipation, and diarrhoea, signal that your body needs to detoxify, says Pragya Tomar, nutritionist, and diabetes educator. “It then becomes important to reset the gut and perform a detox diet which increases the body’s ability to absorb crucial nutrients by producing some beneficial gut bacteria. In the process, you may also be getting vitamins and minerals that were lacking before,” Tomar adds.
“Most detoxification programmes recommend removing highly processed foods and foods to which some people are sensitive, such as dairy, gluten, eggs, peanuts, and red meat,” says Abarna Mathivanan, a practising diet consultant based in Delhi. According to her, the idea is to give rest to the organs, promote toxin elimination through faeces, sweat, and urine, and improve circulation.
You do not need anything special to detoxify yourself. You need to avoid toxins like smoking, heavy drinking, preservatives, synthetic additives, and ultra-processed foods, be physically active, and sleep well to avoid overburdening your detoxification system. Water is the best detoxifier.
“Fasting occasionally or intermittently will also help in avoiding over accumulation of toxins in the body. Even if you are put on any special ‘Detox Diet’ or Detox Therapy, you will still need to eat clean, exercise, and sleep well to sustain the detox effects,” says Dr Shalini Singhal, Founder and Chief Nutrition Consultant at Dr Shalini’s Diet and Wellness.
Not enough proteins
An effective detox diet plan has a number of advantages; however, it also has some drawbacks. Detox diet plans are often low in calories and frequently incorporate strategies such as eating only a limited variety of particular foods, fasting, consuming nothing but juices or other comparable drinks, and using commercial dietary supplements. It entails severe dietary adjustments with a physiological effect, which means they may impair our regular biological functions. Our bodies already have a powerful system for extracting toxins. The liver and kidneys are natural detoxicants; they disintegrate any toxic compounds we consume or waste items the body produces.
As a detox diet plan often eliminates the consumption of meat and animal products, people cannot get enough protein. Therefore, people with comorbidities and pregnant women should consult their doctors before adopting a detox diet. Inadequate protein intake may result in weakness and muscle wasting. Fatigue and sluggishness are other side effects of a detox diet, especially if your daily calorie requirements are not being met. The body and brain primarily use carbohydrates as fuel for daily physical and mental activities. Inadequate intake can cause exhaustion, trouble concentrating, and a reduced metabolism due to energy conservation.
While a highly personalised nutrition plan based on blood parameters is required to suit the health and nutrition needs of individuals for detox, some foods and food groups, if included in the diet, help in preventing the build-up of toxins and easing up the elimination process. Here’s a list of food items that Dr Tripathi recommends:
- Drink plenty of water and drink before you are thirsty
- Don’t wake up to tea or coffee or any caffeine-loaded beverage
- Drink green or oolong and flower-based teas; can include lemon and ginger without added milk and sugar
- Eat home-cooked meals; include fermented foods such as idlis, miso, and sauerkraut in major meals; steam sprouts before eating
- Exclude sauces or other artificial market seasonings in food
- Include fresh vegetables and seasonal fruits in meals (cucumber, fennel, celery stalks, chard, green bell pepper, cauliflower, carrots, spinach, radish, beans, apples, papaya, and Indian blackberry, also known as kala jamun)
- Avoid whole wheat, cheese, corn, meat, fish, poultry, peanuts, and bread
- Include oats and rye as cereals in major meals
- Prepare foods with no oil or salt. Use only rock salt or Himalayan salt if needed