So-called “cleanse” diets continue to remain popular, despite years of warnings from medical experts who say they are unnecessary and maybe even harmful. Novant Health dietitians agree that it is not the best practice for optimum health.

The myths

Shape magazine published a list of 10 celebrities and their respective cleanse diets, again, for a range of goals, primarily for weight loss – for weddings, movie roles or red carpet events. Gwyneth Paltrow’s often-derided website Goop swears by its effectiveness and regularly posts cleanse tips and recipes, from the “heavy metal detox” to the “goat milk cleanse.”

A cleanse is formally defined as “the process of removing toxic substances or qualities.” These “toxins” are claimed to make you sick, disrupt a bright complexion and cause buildup in your digestive system. The objective is to clear your system, often by cutting out certain food groups – or in some cases, food altogether. The popular master cleanse, for example, consists of hot water, cayenne pepper, lemon juice and maple syrup. You consume nothing else, for 10 days.

In recent years, cleanses and “detox” diets have grown even more popular, thanks to Hollywood luminaries and celebrity bloggers. Various claims include shedding baby weight, maintaining a natural glow, ridding water retention and purging colon buildup.

The facts

With all these voices in the conversation, you must ask: Is there any substance behind detox diets?

“No,” said Krista Kiger, a dietitian at Novant Health Community Wellness and Education.

“There is absolutely no reason an individual needs to ‘cleanse,’” she said. “They can cause side effects such as irritability, fatigue, cramping, bloating, nausea and vomiting, as well as increase the risk of dehydration and changes in your electrolytes,” which can be dangerous if you have kidney or heart disease or other health problems.

The body already cleanses naturally when fed a balanced diet, said Kiger. That diet consists of ample fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, plant-based protein, water and minimal amounts of meat. Ensuring sufficient intake of fiber and nutrients is key.

Kiger said that because so many eat out regularly – often involving lots of processed or fast foods – it’s important to be conscious about cutting back on less healthy options. In tandem, you also need to increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables.

“Our overall health should improve and ‘cleanse’ because we would have less junk in our system,” she added. “There is probably no harm from a one-day cleanse. However, there is probably no advantage.”

In the end, regardless of your health goals – or the celebrities you read about – keep it simple. Your body is made to rid itself of waste on its own. You need only follow a proper, balanced regimen to aid the process.