Sunday, September 16, 2012

Nutrifact 4: Detox Debunked

Being a near-dietitian, I find it incumbent upon me to give this blog a healthy spin. There are many nutrition issues I would like to discuss at some point, but one that has been particularly on my mind lately is the Detox Diet.

First of all, let me just clarify that a diet does not entail weight loss. We are all on a diet. Whether it's a diet of McDonald's hamburgers or vegetable still classifies as a diet. Whatever you normally eat is your diet.

The detox diet comes in all shapes and sizes and everyone has heard of a different juice or smoothie or liquid fast that benefits your body in all kinds of miraculous ways! People usually grab hold of the idea as another elusive quick fix. This is just another example of how the world of nutrition can be extremely confusing. Well, the most recent Food and Nutrition magazine by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics included an article about Detoxification written by (who else?) an RD. (Registered Dietitian...which is what I will be in two or three months when I pass the exam!)

Robin Foroutan, MS, RD, delves into this difficult topic without fear. She starts by defining detoxification as "the biochemical process that transforms non-water-soluble toxins and metabolites into water-soluble compounds that can be excreted in urine, sweat, bile or stool."

This basically means that your body has a process that turns waste products from metabolism and external toxins into forms that can be eliminated from the body. The intermediate stage between the toxin's first form and the form that can is excreted is a free radical.

So this process can go wrong in two different ways. Either the body can't keep up with all the toxins entering the body, resulting in extra toxins getting deposited in the body's tissues. Or the body lacks enough enzymes to transform the intermediate free radicals into the excretable form, resulting in extra free radicals floating around.

So what is a toxin? When the word "toxin" is used in this sense, it generally refers to pesticides, food dyes, additives, and chemical preservatives that are in almost every single food we find on the shelves. Metabolic wastes are basically whatever is leftover after you have gotten everything useful out of whatever you ingested. This is normal. This is the very reason WHY we have an exit at the end of our digestive tract and kidneys that usher leftovers out of the blood and down the tubes.

For example, when you consume protein, you are consuming something that is made up of a bunch of molecules that contain the element nitrogen. Once our body digests these, ammonia is formed from the left over nitrogen. Our bodies can't do anything useful with ammonia and it is toxic. So the liver takes over and converts it to urea, which is much less toxic and can be excreted through the kidneys.

Look at you...learning nutritional biochemistry! :)

In general, the resiliency of our bodies allows us to eat strange diets for a small amount of time without suffering too greatly. One diet I would classify as strange is the juice diet. If you use this diet for a day or two to mentally prepare yourself for a healthy eating lifestyle change, it won't cause much physical harm. (Unless, of course, you have diabetes or blood sugar issues! Please do not attempt any new diet without consulting your doctor!) But basically a juice fast is doing nothing but drinking simple sugars (carbohydrates that are more quickly digested) without the benefits of the fiber that is in the whole fruit or vegetable. You will either suffer through a series of blood sugar highs and lows or you will have to drink a lot of this high-calorie substance to feel full.

Another detox diet is one containing herbal supplements. Generally the ones promoted for detoxification mean they enhance your body's own detoxifying system...meaning extra excretion. Think toilet time.

Another detox diet is only eating raw fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, many vegetables contain nutrients that are much, much more useful to the body after they have been cooked. (I have been asked about this topic recently and intend to make this my next Nutrifact!)

So the question is...does your body need help doing something that it is already designed to do?

It is my opinion that detox diets are a waste of time and money. However, increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables you consume is never a bad idea and will help your body's digestive and excretion system maintain itself.

If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to bring them up. I would also appreciate any nutrition topic ideas that you would like me to discuss!

My biochemistry notes

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