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What To Look For In A Cleanse

Detoxification is not only a trendy topic, it’s becoming a watered-down concept that can mean almost anything. It seems to now be synonymous with the idea of doing anything that’s different, diet-wise, than what you do now. In fact, it seems that as it becomes clearer that “dieting” doesn’t lead to long-term weight loss, that word has gone out of style, and “detoxing” has taken its place.

As the word gets thrown around more and more, and hundreds of “detox” or “cleanse” protocols and products have popped up, the consumer may be confused.

Many people want, above all, for their detox program to help them lose weight. With 70 percent of America afflicted by weight problems, it’s no wonder that’s a primary goal with all others very secondary.

However, may I recommend that you make cleansing every cell of your body, with good nutrition and minimizing toxin exposure, first priority. Trust that weight loss is a natural byproduct of that process—choosing outstanding organic, raw, sometimes concentrated (as with vegetable juicing) fuels, and undergoing natural but powerful detoxification protocols.

If clean detoxification is your primary goal, you will not be sucked into faddish, destructive programs. Recently a close friend of mine was reading and planning a “kidney detox.” I asked to look at the article she was reading, which it turns out was published by the supplement company selling her an herbal combination they claimed was critical for the health of her kidneys. More upsetting to me, though, was what this program instructed the follower to do:

  1. Drink a cup of olive oil
  2. Chase it with a can of Coke

Anyone who knows anything about biochemistry is aware that soft drinks are terribly difficult for the kidneys to process. They are highly acidic and cause a uric acid buildup that can lead to kidney stones and gall stones and other problems of crystallizing structures building up in the joints, such as arthritis. The liver doesn’t have enough sulfates, so it poaches them from sulfates in joints, and joints break down. To advise people detoxifying their kidneys to drink sugary, chemical soft drinks, for their health, is unconscionable.

Soda pop—the sugar kind or the diet kind—is the most acidic habit you can undertake. If you drink soda, it’s a virtual guarantee that you’ll have arthritis by age 50, and likely sooner, whether you’ve been formally diagnosed or not. Soda is not food. Nothing in it qualifies as food. It is simply liquid chemicals. A tennis teammate of mine was told by her M.D. (an osteopathic surgeon) that he would refuse to do knee surgery on her if she was going to return to drinking soda after the surgery, because it would just undo his work, and fast.

Another popular “detox” has people drinking and eating expensive, high-protein shakes and bars. Again, this shows a fundamental lack of understanding of how the body detoxifies. Protein can be difficult to metabolize, especially when we manipulate macronutrients to eat more than our body was designed to be able to process, of any given macronutrient (fat, carbs, protein). Perhaps worst of all in this program and others like it I have seen, the whey or soy bars and powders are highly refined, made from inexpensive, hormone-grown cow excretions (whey protein) or estrogenic refined soy products. One of the worst aspects of this program, though, is the fact that all of our modern degenerative diseases have been linked to undigested proteins in the gut and in the bloodstream. We are eating far too much protein, so it’s a very unwise idea to manipulate macronutrients to increase protein, in a program designed to give the body a rest. This is an egregious example of people who are selling a product rather than studying and implementing strategies that restore our health.

Some programs flying under the “detox” flag include eating almost nothing but protein, and some steamed vegetables. The only reason people achieve weight loss and may feel better temporarily on this program is the fact that they are not eating processed foods. Just because one class of bad foods is eliminated for a period of time, and a second class of bad foods remains, does not mean that the second class of bad foods are actually good foods! It merely means that your body is thrilled to have incremental improvement. I would prefer you to follow a sensible program that meets your needs nutritionally in all ways, rather than being part good, part bad.

Another famous old program has you drinking nothing but lemonaide: water, lemon juice, and maple syrup. The basis of it is to give the body a rest, as all ancient cultures and religions have done very successfully with water fasting. That is certainly a good idea, as the body first metabolizes any abnormal cells, when it is denied food. (It’s wise to go without food for a period of time, occasionally. It’s not wise to go without water. And ample water is critical to the detoxification process.) Lemon juice is not only alkalizing (which is a very positive thing, in a world with far too much acidity), but also a natural diuretic, helping reduce inflammation and release fluids. However, the massive amount of concentrated sweetener, in the form of maple syrup, is both the reason people last longer on the “Master Cleanse” or “lemonaide cleanse” than they would on a water fast. It keeps blood sugar high—or at least spiking and falling. The lemonaide is not good for the liver for many days on end, and is another unsupported, unscientific approach to detoxification. Far too many people have done it, for 60 years now, because it’s an easy approach, and because they’ve not been guided to a more sensible approach.

These are simply examples of the programs that range anywhere from scientifically dubious, to nutritionally grotesque, to dangerous and unethical. When I ask friends who are starting one of these dicey programs why they want to, their answer is always something like this,

“Well, my friend tried it, and she lost 10 lbs. in two weeks.”

It’s always exciting to hear testimonials, but I hope you’ll demand more than that of any regimen you give your time, attention, and dollars to. Any time you eliminate sugar, or calories, no matter how bad the rest of the program is, you’re going to lose weight. All of the detox programs out there restrict calories, and most (except the Master or Lemonaide Cleanse) avoid sugar. That’s always going to be a good thing.

Just because your sister or mom lost some weight using one of these dubious programs, of course, doesn’t mean you’re detoxifying your many organs of elimination. That doesn’t mean you’ll be helping your body in an effective way. (Weight loss is always good, if you’re overweight. But there are better, and worse, ways to go about it.) If you’re going to go to the trouble of changing your eating habits, denying yourself the treats you may have overindulged in much of your life, and reading some material in an effort to improve your health, why not be very certain that the nutritional principles are sound that underpin the program? Why not have that program give you not only weight loss, but also improved energy, better digestion, cleared organs of elimination, less risk of disease, and higher opportunity for longevity?

The best way to detoxify, then, at least for the nutrition approach (clearly there is much more to it than just addressing diet) is to give the body less food, and what food we do eat should be the easiest types of fuel to digest. That way, the body can devote its energy to cleansing. The easiest foods to digest are fermented plant foods, as well as raw, simple plant foods. Those foods should have a minimum of ingredients and sugars, and any sugars should come from whole, unprocessed foods.

Gagging down glassfuls of oil followed by soda, eating processed bars and powders, preempting natural processes in the body by forcing a state of ketosis, starving yourself except to drink lemonaide, and so many other ploys are not health-restorative plans. I hope they are a part of your past, not your present or future.