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Photographs by Aya Brackett

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 their bodies.

One of the most popular methods is to fast for 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 is 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?

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 fiber to keep your digestive system regular.

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

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

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 jump-starting a weight loss plan with something that sounds as chic as a “detox.”

Dubost noted that these detoxes have been made famous by some celebrities. But since we don’t know whether those people are under the care of a nutritionist or healthcare professional, it’s best not to assume that their experience would be the same as ours.

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 5- to 7-day process would put me on edge.”

In fact, she said adhering to a weeklong lemon water fasting plan could have the opposite of the intended effect. Rather than feeling energetic, people who follow detox regimens end up feeling lethargic.

That’s because they haven’t consumed the proper nutrients and calories for a few days.

“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.”

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 for the body to “self-cleanse.”

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

She doesn’t believe 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 asked. “Getting rid of toxins from food? From the environment? Your body naturally cleanses itself. Your gastrointestinal tract, liver, and kidneys all 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.

Drinking water is good for you. The most obvious benefit is that 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, 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 health advantages.

Cucumbers are rich in potassium. This electrolyte helps 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.

It’s true that your body can be “cleansed” by what you consume. Water is one of the best ways to keep your insides healthy. If you feel tired or lethargic, think about how much water you’ve consumed that day. If you feel fatigued, it’s possible your body is short on fluids.

Intermittent fasting can also help purify your body. The practice may help reduce risk factors for conditions such as cancer and diabetes. One example is a 5-day fast that calls for cutting down on calories each day but still consuming a limited diet.

If you want to give your body a “cleanse,” don’t waste your time on an unproven fad like a lemon water detox, Dubost said. Strive for a more balanced and proven approach.

You need more than just water, she noted. You need fiber and nutrients too. The best way to clean out your gastrointestinal tract is to drink lots of water and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.

“That’s a better cleansing approach if you’re going to use the world ‘cleanse,’” Dubost said.

Adult women and men need 25 grams and 38 grams of fiber each day, respectively, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This amount is based on consuming 14 grams for every 1,000 calories.

In addition to fruits and vegetables, opt for legumes and whole-grain products such as brown rice. 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 healthcare professional or nutritionist 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 5 to 7 days [without food],” she said. “That’s just putting your body through stress that it doesn’t need.”