What is a detox diet?

If you're inspired by the new year, springtime or just planning a clean start you’ve probably considered a detox. Nutritionist Kerry Torrens discusses the pros and cons of drastic diets...

A box of vegetables with a measuring tape wrapped around it

Thanks to celebrity endorsements and promises of a quick fix, detox diets have quite a following. Fans believe we need a break from the overload of toxins that engulf our everyday lives and that includes processed and junk food, alcohol, caffeine, sugar as well as cigarette smoke and pollution. The reason typically given for a detox is to support the body’s perceived inability to manage this overload, which detox supporters suggest might otherwise lead to weight gain, cellulite, bloating, fatigue and ill health.

The diets

Ranging from fruit fasts, which cut out whole food groups to restricted short term diet plans that focus on eliminating caffeine, alcohol, salt, sugar and processed foods, you can expect to lose weight on such a diet because of the limited food choices. Most of this weight loss will be water, stored glycogen and waste products and the majority of it will be regained when you return to normal eating patterns. Some detox diets can be extreme and, when followed for a sustained period of time, may lead to dangerous nutritional deficiencies. Others that advocate the use of specific supplements can be expensive. Detox diets may also trigger unhealthy eating patterns and behaviours, especially in teenagers, which can impact long-term health and wellbeing.

The pros

Fruit fast

There are some aspects of a ‘detox’ that can boost your health and wellbeing. As well as making you think about what and when you’re eating they can motivate you to eat more fruit and vegetables, drink more water and cut down on processed foods, caffeine and alcohol. Eating only whole, unprocessed foods helps retrain your palate so you’re less likely to want those fatty, salty and sugary foods. Just like any diet, a set ‘detox’ can also help to break unhelpful habits which can be useful, especially if you’re a habitual, emotional or comfort eater.


The prosThe cons

There is no scientific evidence to support the need or the value of a detox and that’s because our bodies are designed to repair, regenerate and detoxify themselves (though it’s obviously not a good idea to excessively overload ourselves with toxins). We have specific organs like the liver, kidneys, skin, digestive system and lungs as well as enzymes in our cells that work hard to break down and eliminate toxins and internal waste products. In fact, by cutting back on key nutrients like protein you’re far more likely to compromise rather than support your body’s ability to detoxify.



With no scientific support that a detox is effective or sustainable in the long term and with the prospect of most dieters putting weight back on when they return to normal eating patterns, detox diets are not what they’re often touted to be. Nevertheless, if you have been over-doing it, cutting back on processed foods, alcohol and sugar in preference for homemade meals made from fish, lean meats, fruit, veg and whole-grains, reducing your intake of alcohol and caffeine and drinking more water will almost certainly make you feel better.

If you follow a restrictive or prolonged detox you may experience:Cravings

  • Lack of energy, fatigue and dizziness
  • A possible increase in cravings because of food restrictions
  • Nutrient deficiencies.

More information...

Weight loss and good health can be achieved by following a healthy, balanced diet. Our nutritionist approved plan helps you find your perfect portion size, guideline daily amounts and nutritionally balanced breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks:
A balanced diet for women
A balanced diet for men

Want facts and information on other diets? Read more from our health editor and nutritional therapist on other popular weight loss plans:
The Atkins diet
The Dukan diet
The Paleo diet
The 5:2 diet

Have you followed a detox diet and did you feel better as a result? Let us know below...

This article was last reviewed on 20th November 2017 by registered nutritionist Kerry Torrens.

A registered nutritionist, Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food magazine. Kerry is a member of the The Royal Society of Medicine, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).

 All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact  your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

Comments, questions and tips

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1st Jun, 2018
Good informative article. I think the word detox has just been misunderstood. Most people think they're somehow 'cleansing' their body but that's obviously not the case. Quick weight loss can sometimes work if you do it properly. (There's a good example if you Google: '18 pounds 21 days') - Unfortunately most people go straight back to their old eating habits and gain it back. In terms of detoxing.. leave it to your liver and kidneys!
6th Nov, 2017
Perfect. Glad I have this ready for the New Year.
tawe62's picture
12th Jul, 2014
thi is great,ill do it
17th Nov, 2015
I am a thin man. I want to be healthy, what foods can be healthy, it will please.
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