The Truth about Detox Diets (Spoiler: They’re Nonsense)

As Professor Ernst says, any product claiming to have special detoxifying powers – whether for overall health or rapid weight loss – is only truly effective at cleansing your wallet of cash.

The detox label is also applied to some extreme approaches to weight loss. Despite being championed by celebs such as Beyoncé (her Master Cleanse consists of nearly starving yourself for ten days), the idea of cutting out the majority of foods for a set time period to “reset” your body is nonsense.

The Truth About Detox: What It Means to Detoxify Your Body

Food marketing expert Vhari Russell has a less spiritual explanation, attributing the continuing popularity of the detox phenomenon to an emerging trend of combining health and hedonism: “healthonism”. Companies realise it’s no longer a case of either/or, so encourage us to enjoy life by exercising and eating healthily while not feeling too bad about the odd hangover.

So, how did the idea of detoxing come about and why are we being sold stuff that claims to cleanse? Ancient Egyptians invented enemas to remove a “toxic sludge” build-up in the colon – something still used to sell them today, although no gastroenterologist has ever seen the stuff – while the Chinese believed toxins left the body through the feet and invented vinegar-soaked footpads to help extract them. These, too, are still being sold despite biology proving that’s absolutely not the case.

Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, is director of nutrition for WebMD. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.

Beyonce made the maple syrup, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper Master Cleanse formula (also known as the Lemonade Diet) famous when she dropped 20 pounds quickly for her role in Dreamgirls . Knowles regained the weight soon thereafter and in interviews warned dieters away from the regimen.

Master Cleanse. First introduced in the 1940s, the Master Cleanse may start with a phase that has you drinking only lemonade made from spring water, lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper for up to two weeks.