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How to “Detox” {without} Killing Your Gut

In spite of the fact that virtually no “detox” or “cleanse” diets are effective in the long term, the trend is nowhere near over. The idea of a short, quick, and intense way to start over fresh and clean truly sells.

Unfortunately, research shows that these diets can also be harmful (to your gut microbiome and even to the rest of your body).

detox without killing your gut

How so?

Juice/liquid cleanses:

  • Don’t provide enough nutrients: put you at risk for malnutrition (especially if the cleanses takes place over multiple days) and put your body into “starvation” mode, which can lead to extremely fast weight gain as soon as you stop the cleanse.
  • Extraordinarily low fat: will decrease absorption of fat soluble vitamins like A, D, K, and E
  • Can lead to muscle loss: Any restriction of calories, regardless of whether you cut down on fats, carbs, or protein, will lead to weight loss. However, how much of the weight loss comes from water, muscle, or fat can change. A diet extremely low in protein will encourage muscle breakdown, especially in older individuals.
  • Elevated risk of type 2 diabetes: This analysis of >180,000 people over time concluded that eating more whole fruits resulted in a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes, while drinking more fruit juice was associated with a higher risk.
  • All the sugar without any of the “protective coating”: When you eat whole fruits, the soluble (think “dissolvable”) and the insoluble (think “undissolvable”) fiber form a sort of coating on the inside of your intestines that prevents all the sugars from the fruit from quickly getting into your bloodstream. The high sugar content can also feed the “bad” microbes, worsening SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) which is associated with bloating and indigestion.

Colon cleanses:

Other downsides:

  • Short term “solution”
  • Any weight loss is rapidly regained (and sometimes even surpassed) when consumption of regular food starts again
  • Hunger
  • Feeling faint, low energy, lethargic, or shaky are common side effects

Is there a safe, effective way to “restart” your system?

There’s no “magic bullet”, but there are solid steps you can take to support your body’s detoxifying and cleansing efforts, and to feel better in the short (or long) term.


7 Steps to Natural, Gentle Detox

1) Drink water

detox by drinking water woman drinking water from glass in nature

Your liver and kidneys are already constantly filtering toxins out of your blood and body. Give them enough water to work with. The 8:8 rule is a good place to start (drink eight, 8 oz glasses of water a day). Other fluids can help out too, green tea, soup, and smoothies are a favorite of many. If you’re drinking plenty of water but still don’t feel hydrated, make sure you’re getting enough electrolytes, too.

2) Avoid additives and highly processed foods

Artificial sweeteners can change your gut microbiota and lead to bloating, gummy candies

Additives and the highly processed foods that contain them can be difficult for your body to break down, and can lead to bloating and a host of other problems. Artificial sweeteners, for example, change your gut microbiota (study).

[For more information on toxic additives that should be avoided, see this blog post, and for more guidance on how to pick clean-label, minimally processed snacks see this one.]

3) Avoid simple carbs and high sugar foods

avoid simple carbs and high sugar foods, white toast in toaster

Simple carbs and high sugar foods don’t really benefit your body in any way, and can instead feed the “bad” bacteria in your gut and lead to inconsistent energy and blood sugar “spikes”. Beyond that added sugar is associated with type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndromekidney and cardiovascular disease, and obesity.

4) Avoid alcohol

variety of alcoholic beverage toasting

This one may seem obvious, but it’s important to note. When you drink alcohol, the feeling of getting drunk or buzzed comes from your liver’s inability to filter out the toxin fast enough. As a result, the alcohol begins to impair and influence your system. The term “detox” was inspired by actual medical procedures used in cases of overdose (alcohol and other drugs). You should even alcohol that contains antioxidants during this “cleanse”, as any antioxidant activity it may have is definitely outweighed by the alcohol content.

5) Add Functional Foods

tea with lemon ginger and honey detox

Research suggests that certain foods can support your body’s natural detoxifying process.

6) Add fermented foods

sauerkraut fermented veggies support microbiome

Fermented foods (especially those made at home) can help you stock up on better bacteria, leading to better digestion, and keeping your system working at its best.

Options include: kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, yogurt, miso, kombucha

[Try making one of these Five DIY Fermented Foods]

7) Add fiber

multicolor beans legumes a high fiber food part of healthy detox

Because fiber takes longer to break down than its simpler sugar building blocks (#3), it moves through your digestive system relatively unchanged. As a result, fiber is able to support healthy, regular digestive movements and nutrient absorption. In terms of supporting your gut microbiota, prebiotic fiber can be especially helpful (review).

High fiber options include: avocados, whole grains, vegetables like broccoli, almonds, legumes, and berries

Try sticking to these seven steps for a few days and seeing how you feel. If you feel great (and we think you will), try building each of the seven into your daily routine. This will create long-term changes that will leave you feeling more energetic, happy, and healthy (inside and out).

Send this gentle “detox diet” to a friend or family member you’d like to try it with. Share it (by clicking the social icons on the top or bottom of this page) to warn others about the potential harm of liquid or colon cleanses!