The Good Detox (Hint: No Starvation Required)

    By Dina Cheney

Detox. The word conjures up water and juice fasts, with hyper-motivated adherents battling fatigue and starvation in an ultimate quest for purified bodies, glowing skin and weight loss. The ends may seem to justify the drastic means. Fortunately, though, such extreme deprivation isn’t necessary for health.

In fact, nutritional detoxes shouldn’t be so over-the-top, say Frank Lipman, M.D., author (with Amely Greeven) of “How to Be Well; The 6 Keys to a Happy and Healthy Life” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018), and Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD, author (with Ibrahim Hanouneh, M.D.) of Skinny Liver: A Proven Program to Prevent and Reverse the New Silent Epidemic—Fatty Liver Disease (Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2017). Instead, they advocate cleansing your insides minus the torture.

So put down the salt water with honey and lemon, and read on to learn the principles behind truly healthy resets for your body.

What are nutritional detoxes?

Until a few years ago, the word “detox” mostly referred to cutting out alcohol, drugs and other toxins. More recently, spas, juice bars and health experts have repurposed the term in a nutritional context. The goal? Flushing the body of “stressful” and “toxic” foods, such as sugars, trans fats and fried or processed fare, as well as common allergens like gluten, nuts and dairy. The hope is that, in the process, participants will improve their gut health and develop new habits for life.

Since, according to Lipman, 70 percent of the immune system lives in the gut, caring for our digestive systems is particularly important for our overall health. The healthier our bodies, the more we can experience signs of wellness, such as increased energy, decreased bloating, improved digestion, reduced unhealthy cravings and clear skin.

Beware of unhealthy detoxes

While the principle of ridding the body of undesirable matter is noble, many detox methods promote short-term results at the expense of longer-term health. Kirkpatrick advises steering clear of water-only detoxes. These are often just starvation diets and, as such, can cause a range of health problems, including lack of nutrients, weakness, headaches and fainting. Kirkpatrick also advises avoiding activated charcoal detoxes, which “may drain the wallet but will do nothing to actually help your liver.”

Lipman concurs, noting that although these regimens will likely cause rapid weight loss, they tend to be unsustainable. After all, how long can people stay on a diet limited to salted lemon water with honey and cayenne, laxative tea or variations on that theme?

Harvard Women’s Health Watch cautions further that fasting can reduce the body’s basal metabolic rate, leading to rapid weight gain once participants cease such detoxes.

Do detoxes work?

Detox devotees swear that their methods increase energy and focus and bring about weight loss. That said, the NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health and Harvard Women’s Health Watch both credit such weight loss to the low-calorie nature of most programs. In general, say the National Institutes of Health and the Mayo Clinic, there is little evidence to prove that nutritional detoxes remove toxins from the body.

Are detoxes necessary?

No, says Kirkpatrick, explaining that our bodies were built to detoxify on their own. According to Harvard Women’s Health Watch, the liver manufactures proteins (called metallothioneins), which neutralize harmful metals to prepare for their elimination from the body. This key organ also produces enzymes that regulate the metabolism of drugs and help defend against harmful chemicals and toxins. Meanwhile, the kidneys filter waste substances and direct them out of the body.

Still, Lipman recommends detoxes for “uncovering food sensitivities and cleaning out, healing and restoring the gut.” At least once a year, “everyone should do a healing cleanse,” he says. The key is to select the right one.

What does a healthy detox diet look like?

In place of unhealthy processed foods, reach for nourishing whole foods, counsel Lipman and Kirkpatrick. In particular, Lipman recommends a diet of 70 to 80 percent vegetables, with the remainder a combination of high-quality protein and healthy fats. Kirkpatrick agrees, suggesting a primarily plant-based diet with healthy fats. She also recommends increasing physical activity and quitting smoking, if relevant.

To add even more nutrients, Lipman offers a Be Well Cleanse detox program, consisting of shakes and supplements that add vitamins, minerals, herbs, fiber and digestive enzymes. The program includes capsules of the amino acid L-glutamine, which helps to heal the gut lining and combat sugar cravings, along with prebiotics and probiotics that Lipman has found “promote good gut bacteria.”

Choose the right detox

If you do decide to detox, suggests the Mayo Clinic, be sure to talk to your doctor first. For instance, says the NIH, for anyone with kidney disease, “drinking a lot of juice may be risky … because some juices are high in oxalate, which can worsen kidney problems.” Similarly, check the nutritional panel of detox products, Kirkpatrick advises, because some added herbs or vitamins could interfere with medications. Finally, try the below recipes from Kirkpatrick and Lipman.


Zucchini Muffins

Whip up a batch of these on the weekend and freeze half in individual bags for a healthy alternative to your morning pastry.

Makes 12 muffins


  • Coconut oil cooking spray
  • 1 cup walnuts or pecans
  • 2 cups blanched almond flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1¼ teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large or 3 medium zucchini, grated
  • 4 large eggs
  • ⅓ cup applesauce
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin coconut oil, melted


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a twelve-cup muffin pan with coconut oil cooking spray.
  2. Grind the walnuts or pecans in a food processor until coarse. Combine the ground nuts, almond flour, spices, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.
  3. Meanwhile, mix the vanilla, grated zucchini, eggs, applesauce, and coconut oil together in a large bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir well to combine.
  4. Divide the mixture equally among the prepared muffin cups and bake for 30 minutes. You’ll know they’re done when a knife or toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. They can be stored in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Recipe excerpted from “Skinny Liver: A Proven Program to Prevent and Reverse the New Silent Epidemic—Fatty Liver Disease” by Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD, with Ibrahim Hanouneh, M.D. Copyright © 2017. Now available in paperback from Da Capo Lifelong Books, an imprint of Perseus Books LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group Inc.

Chia Turkey Meatballs

Whip up these protein- and nutrient-rich meatballs and serve over grain-free pasta with marinara sauce. Add a mixed green salad and you’ve got an easy, filling, classic meal.

Serves 4


  • ¼ cup black chia seeds
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • 1 pound ground turkey breast (all white meat)
  • ¾ cup whole wheat panko
  • ½ cup chopped red onions
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons basil-infused extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1½ teaspoons garlic salt
  • 1 medium-size shallot, chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Combine the chia seeds and chicken stock in a large bowl; set aside and allow the chia seeds to swell for 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, combine the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and mix well, using your hands. Scoop or roll the meat mixture into meatballs about 1 inch in diameter.
  4. Place the meatballs in a shallow baking pan and bake for 20 minutes, or until thoroughly cooked in the middle.
  5. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

Recipe excerpted from “Skinny Liver: A Proven Program to Prevent and Reverse the New Silent Epidemic—Fatty Liver Disease” by Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD, with Ibrahim Hanouneh, M.D. Copyright © 2017. Now available in paperback from Da Capo Lifelong Books, an imprint of Perseus Books LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group Inc.

Morning Fuel Smoothie

For those allergic or sensitive to nuts—or if you just want to try something new—here’s a great smoothie recipe for a morning boost. Sunflower seed butter is high in healthy fats, thyroid-supportive selenium and trace minerals like magnesium.


  • 1 Cleanse Shake packet
  • 8 ounces unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 large handful of baby spinach
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened sunflower seed butter
  • ½ cup organic frozen blueberries


  1. Blend!

Recipe by Jackie Damboragian for Dr. Frank Lipman’s Be Well website

Photo credit: Mariela Naplatanova, Stocksy; Vera_Petrunina, Thinkstock; KristinaJovanovic, Thinkstock; Trexdigital, Thinkstock; sveta_zarzamora, Thinkstock; Foxys_forest_manufacture, Thinkstock


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Dina Cheney

Dina Cheney is a writer and recipe developer whose cookbooks include “The New Milks,” “Mug Meals,” “Meatless All Day,” “Year-Round Slow Cooker,” “Williams-Sonoma New Flavors for Salads,” and “Tasting Club.” She has contributed articles and recipes to Every Day with Rachel Ray, Parents, Fine Cooking, Clean Eating, Specialty Food, Coastal Living, The Huffington Post, and more. Cheney is a graduate of The Institute of Culinary Education and Columbia University. Find her online at www.dinacheney.com, and her complete collection of non-dairy resources at www.thenewmilks.com.