Are there any benefits in following a detox diet?

We’re all familiar with the variety of detox diets available on the market. They vary from drinking fluids, such as water, fruit and vegetable juices, and herbal teas while some variations offer the option to enjoy selected fruit and vegetables. Ria Catsicas weighs up the pros and the cons.

Although most of us find the first few days of a detox difficult, the lightness and improved energy levels that follows gives us an encouraging feeling. However, the problem arises a week or two later when we find ourselves slowly returning to our old eating habits. The reason for this is that these detox regimes are not substantial enough to support and sustain healthy eating habits in the long term.

What does medical science say about detoxification?

How does it work?

Detoxification is a continuous process that the body performs naturally. Seventy five percent of the deactivation of toxins take place in the liver and the remainder in the intestine. When potentially harmful substances enter the body, the body’s detoxification systems – which consist of a series of metabolic reactions – start performing.

Toxins are environmental of origin, such as processed foods (sugar and white flour products), medication, smoking, alcohol, caffeine and environmental toxins (heavy metals and pesticides). Toxins can also be from body origin, for example, the unwanted end products of metabolism, hormones (stress) or bacterial by-products.

Detoxification takes place in three phases:

  1. Identification (modification): certain enzymes support the reactions that identify harmful substances through oxidative processes and create unstable toxic substances.
  2. Neutralisation (conversion): these substances need to be bounded by conjugators to make them harmless and soluble for excretion.
  3. Elimination: the end products are excreted by our skin, lungs, kidneys and the digestive tract.

Stress hormones, medication and tobacco compete for the detoxification enzymes. Without the supply of all the nutrients from a wide variety of foods, the liver becomes overwhelmed leading to inflammation and disease.

What types of foods should we consume?

We need a large variety of nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (carotenoids, flavonoids, terpenes, indoles, isothiocynates), that support the enzymes and metabolic processes involved in phase one to three to function optimally. We find them in the following foods:

Vegetables: Allium family – onions, garlic, chives and leeks.

Brassica – broccoli, Brussel sprouts, Bok choy, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, mustard greens, radishes, horseradish, turnips, watercress and wasabi.

Other – beets, celery, cucumber and spinach.

Fruit: Avocado, cranberries, blueberries, apples, pears, grapefruit, lemons, oranges and citrus peel.

Legumes: Lentils, beans, dry peas and chickpeas.

Fats: Olive oil, canola oil, almonds, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts and pistachios.

Herbs and spices: Rosemary, cumin, turmeric, caraway and dill seeds.

Seafood: Wild-caught salmon and sardines.

Animal protein: Organic chicken, turkey and wild game.


Key points to remember

In order, to support the continuous detoxification processes in the liver, we need to not be sipping juices for just a few days but rather adopt to a healthy eating pattern for life. This includes the following:

  • Consume a wide variety of fresh vegetables and fruit daily.
  • Select foods which are whole and unprocessed. These foods you buy from the fresh section in the supermarket, and normally don’t come out of a box or packet. For example, snack on a fresh fruit instead of a protein bar and enjoy a freshly-made vegetable soup instead of an instant cup a soup.
  • Consume a minimum of six glasses of water per day.
  • Ensure optimal gut function by consuming high fibre foods, such as whole grains (hi fibre breakfast cereal, barley, quinoa, corn, rolled oats and wild/brown rice).
  • Move on a regular basis – adequately – to build up a sweat.
  • Should you decide to do a detox diet anyway, it should be done with the assistance of your health professional. Your medication may have to be adjusted to prevent hypoglycaemic attacks.

Vegetable juices should be thus enjoyed as part of a daily healthy eating plan and are ideal to boost your intake of five to nine portions of fresh vegetables and fruit. To adopt a healthy eating plan, it is advisable to consult a registered dietitian. He/she can provide you with an individualised eating plan and menu (that include all the above foods mentioned) and delicious recipes to meet your lifestyle requirements preferences. He/she can also provide you with practical advice to implement the plan successfully. For a dietitian in your area, contact

MEET OUR EXPERT - Ria Catsicas

Ria Catsicas
Ria Catsicas is a dietitian in private practice and completed a master’s degree in nutrition. She has a special interest in the nutritional management of chronic diseases of lifestyle and authored a book The Nutritional Solution to Diabetes.