Detox Diet vs. Other Diets: Which Is Best?

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If you are considering a detox diet, you'll find quite a few programs to choose from. There are three-day detox plans, seven-day plans, and other detox diets lasting two weeks or more. The most restrictive plans exclude all solid food while the less restrictive plans encourage you to eat full meals that include several food groups. Only a few detox diet plans allow you to meet USDA guidelines.

Before choosing the right plan for you, be clear about your goals and expectations. For example, a diet lasting three days is likely to provide very few long-term benefits. Then compare your favorite program to the healthy eating guidelines developed by nutrition experts and other available programs to make sure you're making the best choice for you.

USDA Recommendations

It can be tricky to compare a detox diet to USDA recommendations because there are so many variations. If you look online, you'll find a range of programs for purchase, such as juice cleanse programs, tea detoxes, and diets that include supplements and products such as enemas or laxatives. You'll also see free detox regimens promoted online and in magazines that promise to help you lose weight, reduce bloating, and rid your body of unhealthy toxins.

This article will compare USDA guidelines to the most popular type of detox diet: one that lasts three to seven days and includes liquid meals such as juice drinks, smoothies, or soups.

Food Groups

Current USDA nutrition guidelines suggest that we consume foods including vegetables, fruit, grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy, protein foods, and oils. Consuming foods from these different groups provides your body with balanced nutrition for optimal wellness.

Choosing foods from these different groups also encourages you to build meals with a variety of tastes and textures. Well-rounded meals help you to feel full and satisfied so that you don't overeat throughout the day or binge on less nutritious snacks.

On a detox diet, however, you generally only consume foods from the fruit and vegetable group. Since you don't eat well-rounded meals, you don't enjoy the variety of tastes and textures afforded to you when you build a balanced meal. Instead, you sip your nutrition through a straw. This can lead to a feeling of deprivation.

Nutrients

USDA guidelines provide recommendations for both macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fat) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). If you go on a detox diet, you are not likely to meet all of the recommendations.

First, guidelines suggest that Americans limit saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium. Specifically, guidelines suggest that we consume less than 10% of calories from saturated fat, less than 10% of daily calories from added sugar, and no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.

On a detox diet, you probably won't consume excess saturated fat or sodium. But a program that includes pre-made juice products may include too much added sugar.

Keep in mind that added sugar comes in a variety of forms. And just because sugar is "natural" doesn't make it good for you. If your detox juice drink contains honey, brown sugar, agave nectar, or organic cane sugar, then it contains added sugar.

Even if the program you choose doesn't increase your added sugar intake, it probably won't meet the recommendations regarding other nutrients.

  • Protein: Your intake is likely to be reduced on a detox plan because most juices and smoothies are made from fruits and vegetables. Some vegetables provide protein but probably not enough to meet your daily needs. USDA guidelines recommend that women consume about 46 grams of protein per day and men consume 56 grams of protein per day.
  • Carbohydrate: You will probably consume most of your calories in the form of carbohydrate, but depending on the program you may not meet the specific guidelines regarding grams per day. For example, if your program allows you to consume 600 calories per day, even if 75% of those calories come from carbs you still wouldn't meet the 130-gram per day recommendation provided by the USDA.
  • Fat: Very few detox plans include healthy fat. Detox juice drinks and smoothies usually don't include nuts, seeds, plant-based oils, or other healthy fats as recommended by the USDA.
  • Fiber: Your grain intake is likely to be too low on a detox diet. Most detox plans include no grains at all–and certainly no whole grains, as recommended by the USDA. Fruits and vegetables provide fiber in their whole form (and in smoothies) but not in juice form. This would make it very hard to reach the recommended intake of fiber which ranges from 25 to 33 grams per day.

Calories

Few detox diets provide enough calories to meet your daily energy needs. Each plan is different, but some programs only provide for 500 to 600 calories per day. Very low-calorie programs like these are only recommended under medical supervision.

Not meeting your calorie needs for even three days may cause side effects including fatigue, headaches, and fogginess. Calorie deprivation for a longer period of time can cause more serious side effects.

If you consider a detox plan, see how many calories per day you are likely to consume. Then compare that number to your personalized energy needs. To estimate your number, you can use a calorie calculator. This calculator takes your age, gender, goals, and activity level into account to determine the best number for you.

Similar Diets

There are several popular diets that celebrities and others may use as a detox diet. You might consider one of these if you want to lose weight or achieve a different health goal. See how they compare in terms of cost, nutrition, weight loss, and sustainability.

Body Reset Diet

The Body Reset diet is a book written by Harley Pasternak, a celebrity trainer and nutrition coach. The program lasts 15 days and is divided into three five-day segments. During phase one, you consume a liquid diet. During the next two phases, you gradually decrease the liquid meals and replace them with healthier meals built around solid foods.

General nutrition: The first phase of this diet is the most restrictive. During this time, you will probably consume fewer calories (around 1,200) than recommended by the USDA. However, your nutrient intake will probably align with recommendations because the smoothies are made with wholesome ingredients, including fruits, vegetables, and dairy.

During the next two phases, your calorie intake will probably increase with the inclusion of solid food. Nutrient intake is likely to remain within recommended guidelines.

In terms of total nutrition, this plan is likely to provide better general nutrition than many restrictive detox diets on the market.

Health benefits: The health benefits you gain on this plan may depend on your starting point and your expectations. Pasternak includes healthy plant-based foods that promote disease prevention, heart health, and healthy weight maintenance. If you stick to the diet you may feel better and enjoy improved wellness. Additionally, it promotes regular physical activity which can boost health as well.

This program is likely to be healthier than many detox plans because it includes a plan to transition to long-term healthy eating and activity.

Weight loss: You are likely to lose weight on this plan. The calorie intake during the first phase is similar to the calorie intake on many popular weight loss plans. Whether or not you continue to lose weight on the program depends on how well you follow guidelines for the meals that are gradually added back into your eating plan.

Because this program allows for slow and steady progression, it is likely to produce weight loss that is more sustainable than most detox diets.

Sustainability: While the Body Reset Diet does include a smoothie-based phase where you only consume liquid meals, it is still likely to be more sustainable than some detox diets that include only juice. Smoothies are more filling. However, for many people, following any liquid diet is challenging and too restrictive to maintain—even for five days.

Cost: The Body Reset is a book that is available for purchase for around $15 or less. You'll need to buy ingredients for the smoothies and later for the meals, but you're not likely to spend much more on groceries than you would typically spend during a week.

3-Day Diet

There are several three-day detox plans available online for free or for purchase. The most popular three-day program is also called the military diet (even though it is not affiliated with the military). This program requires you to eat a specific menu of foods for three days—including saltines, hot dogs, ice cream, and grapefruit. Then you are advised to follow healthy eating guidelines for the remaining four days of the week.

General nutrition: Even though you are advised to consume 1,500 calories and eat foods from a wider variety of food groups on your off days, the three detox days do not provide balanced nutrition. The three-day military diet does not adhere to USDA guidelines and it is not considered a healthy eating plan. On the three diet days, your calorie intake is likely to be lower than recommended. Additionally, you consume foods, such as processed meats and refined grains that are are often high in sodium and saturated fat.

Health benefits: The military diet claims to be one of the best natural diets. But this statement is not rooted in scientific evidence. The diet includes many heavily processed foods (like hot dogs) and other foods that contain ingredients associated with an increased risk of cancer and heart disease.

Weight loss: The three-day military diet promises quick weight loss and provides a structured program to take the guesswork out of dieting. Indeed, the calorie restriction alone may lead to a loss in water weight. But even if you lose a few pounds at first, you may end up gaining more weight later because the diet encourages you to eat foods that are high in fat and calories.

Sustainability: This diet is highly restrictive, includes unhealthy processed foods, and may not provide enough calories to sustain energy throughout the day. You may feel tired and hungry while on this program. For that reason, it is not likely to be sustainable for many people.

Cost: The military diet is not expensive. There are no branded foods to buy or subscriptions to maintain. The foods required on the program are not necessarily pricey or hard to find.

Master Cleanse

The master cleanse is not a specific diet, but a type of diet that has a few different variations. It is also sometimes called the lemonade diet or the lemonade cleanse. Those who follow the program drink a gallon of saltwater in the morning, then six to 12 glasses of a lemonade beverage each day. At the end of the day, you consume a laxative tea.

General nutrition: It is estimated that you will only consume about 600 calories per day on the lemonade diet. This intake is far below the recommended guidelines. In addition, your calorie intake is primarily restricted to just one food group—fruit (in the form of juice). Very low calorie diets like this can lead to symptoms including fatigue, headaches, irritability, and extreme food cravings. Staying on this diet long term could lead to more serious consequences.

Health benefits: Many fans of this diet claim that it can boost energy, improve mental clarity and even reduce symptoms of some chronic illnesses. However, these claims are not supported by scientific evidence.

Weight loss: Anyone who stays on this diet will most certainly lose weight. Depending on the length of the program, some or all of the weight loss will be the result of your body shedding water. Longer-term use of this program may result in fat loss. But highly restrictive diets like this are known to backfire. When you return to your typical eating pattern, the pounds are likely to come back.

Sustainability: Because the master cleanse program is highly restrictive it is one of the least sustainable detox diet programs. Very few people can consume only thin liquid beverages day after day. The deprivation could lead to strong cravings and subsequent food binges.

Cost: The ingredients required to make the lemonade required for this cleanse are easy to find and inexpensive. For that reason, it is probably the least costly detox diet.

A Word From Verywell

Detox diets are appealing to many consumers because they are short-lived and usually easy to follow. In addition, they often promise substantial results. Who wouldn't want to lose weight, feel thinner, have healthier-looking skin, and more energy in just three days? The problem is that these programs rarely deliver.

If you are considering a detox plan to shift into a long-term program of more nutritious eating, consider a healthier option. Detox your beverage choices by eliminating alcohol and sugary beverages for a week. Or you might choose to reduce your intake of salty, starchy snack foods and replace them with vegetables for a few days. Maybe you will choose to give up sugary sweets for a week and eat fruit instead.

Each of these short-term "detox" programs allow you to try a healthier eating style for a limited time to see how it feels. Based on your results, you can make small changes to your comprehensive eating plan based on your goals. Small changes like these are likely to result in increased wellness and a healthier weight for the long-term.

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Article Sources

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015.

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