Info or detox?

Jan 13, 2022 | Nutrition

What does the word "detox" really mean?

First of all, "detoxify" yourself from what? Toxins are an accumulation in the body of substances that can come from pollution, pesticides, but also from the food we eat through naturally present toxins. On the packaging of commercial "detoxifying" products, it is rarely specified which toxins are to be eliminated or the mechanisms by which they are to be eliminated. Yet a toxin can refer to heavy metals, pesticides, drugs, pollutants, as well as toxic substances produced by fungi or animals. The method of these products remains unclear.

Because of the promise of eliminating toxins, promoting health or losing weight, "detoxifying" or "detox" diets are above all very commercial. If I put quotation marks around the word "detox", it's because in Switzerland the word "detox" is forbidden by law as a health and nutritional claim on food packaging. The reason: a health claim is allowed, among other things, if the benefits mentioned are proven by recognized scientific evidence. "Detox" is therefore not an appropriate term because a food cannot "detoxify" the body but also because there is no convincing evidence to date to support the use of "detoxifying" diets for weight management or toxin elimination (Klein, 2015).

However, rest assured that the human body has mechanisms to excrete unwanted substances through the liver, kidneys, gastrointestinal tract, skin and lungs. The routes taken will depend on the chemical. However, some of them are not easily eliminated, as is the case for resistant organic pollutants and some metals. There is evidence that the following substances have useful properties for the removal of toxic metals:

  • coriander
  • malic acid (present in grapes and wine)
  • citric acid (found in citrus fruits)
  • succinic acid (found in apples and blueberries)
  • Citrus pectin (found in the peel and pulp of citrus fruits)
  • Chlorella (a type of green algae)

Why are "detox" diets so attractive?

They are reminiscent of religious fasting. They give this feeling of purification, of redemption, which is deeply rooted in Man. Unfortunately, this associates food with sin and guilt, which can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food, such as the categorization of food as either toxic or healthy. The restriction caused by some of these diets can cause deficiencies, so it is important to be followed by a specialist and to limit the practice to a limited time.

So, finally, what advice should we keep in mind about "detox" diets?

It's better to eat healthy every day than to "detox" a few times a year. Healthy eating habits provide a solid foundation for the long term, as opposed to quick but unstable solutions. The cost of some "detoxifying" products is also not negligible considering their unproven effectiveness.

In the post-holiday period, it is possible to help your body by consuming:

  • More fruits and vegetables > the antioxidants present participate in natural detoxification reactions.
  • Stay sufficiently hydrated and be physically active > on the one hand, sweating helps eliminate toxins through the skin, and if you want to lose weight after the holidays, physical activity is a good weight stabilizer
  • Make lighter, more easily digestible meals by dividing them up over the day

I wish you all a happy new year 2022!

Lea De Stefano
Dietician HES