Detox diets have been around for a long time but have in recent years become trendy especially at the start of the year after the Christmas and New Year holiday season. From “Dry January” – where people do not consume alcohol for an entire month to “Veganuary”, where people eat only plant-based foods for the whole of January, detox diets have become a mainstay for some.
While we all understand that a detox diet is beneficial for health, do we really know what actually happens in our bodies when we cut certain foods?
The Telegraph has examined what happens to our bodies based on what we are detoxing from over a period of 10 days. Here are some of the popular things that people have cut from their diets.
- Refined Sugar
Nutritionist, Rob Hobson has said that the initial effects of a refined sugar detox could be withdrawal symptoms such as fatigue, low mood, and alternations in concentration levels. This is because sugar stimulates the brain’s reward system, leading you to eat more of that sugary food.
However, these are just short-term effects, which are far outweighed by the long-term impact on overall health from cutting out or down on refined sugars such as weight loss and better gut health.
Over time, cutting sugar out of your diet may help to boost energy levels and improve your ability to focus to a much higher degree. Hobson points out that natural sugars found in fruit and vegetables are beneficial in our diets, as our bodies metabolise fruit sugar differently than processed or added sugars.
“The low glycaemic index and glycaemic load in apples means they are a source of slow-release energy, making them an excellent snack choice for people with insulin resistance and diabetes, who need to carefully control their blood glucose levels,” says Hobson.
“Refined and added sugars, on the other hand, may lead to a higher risk of health conditions such as diabetes or heart disease.”
Depending on how much you used to consume before giving it up, the first 10 days or so may see you still feeling hungry after your main meal. This is because psychologically you have become accustomed to eating meat and a small side of vegetables at most meals. Some vegan diets may be lower in fat and protein, and the unsatisfied feeling may be related to that, too.
When asked, Rachel Ama, vegan recipe creator and author of One Pot: Three Ways, said that she felt a lot lighter and more energised within 10 days of making the decision to go vegan. “After meals I felt full, but never heavy and sluggish, which I realised I used to feel after eating meat. I really hadn’t noticed that happened until I went plant-based.”
Your taste buds will also change, as zinc, found in oysters, beef and crab, helps to boost tastebuds. Fortified cereals, yoghurt, cashews and oatmeal are some of the vegetarian-friendly foods that can help up your zinc intake.
Over time, being meat free can have immense benefits for our gut health. The dietary fibre found in fruit, vegetables and whole grains assist your body to maintain a healthy intestinal microbiome by contributing to the growth of “friendly” bacteria. When you first start adding more plant-based foods to your diet, you may feel like you are going to the toilet more than usual. But perhaps, you are actually becoming more regular.
“One reason why it can be difficult to keep up a healthy habit at the beginning is because positive changes are unlikely to be noticeable for a few weeks,” says James Collier, registered nutritionist, co-founder and head of sustainable nutrition at leading nutritionally complete food brand, Huel (uk.huel.com). “Don’t let this get you down. If you’re on the right track, making small changes will lead to bigger results over time. Patience combined with determination will get you a long way.”
Going meat free can also aid with weight loss and studies have revealed that people who stick with a vegetarian diet consume less fatty food, and are thinner than people who eat meat.
Ten days is too soon to know, but there is evidence to indicate that the world’s longest-living and healthy people are found in plant-based diet communities.
For the first few days after cutting alcohol, one could feel moody and low. The reason for this is that alcohol creates a complex imbalance of dopamine, a hormone that is released when we engage in pleasurable activities, in the brain. Alcohol use overloads the brain with dopamine, while also reducing the brain’s dopamine receptors in the process. When you first atop drinking, the lack of dopamine and diminished receptors can lead to feelings of sadness and hopelessness.
Four days in, however, and your body’s systems will have adjusted. You may find you have better concentration and energy.
In addition, you will not have hangovers, you will have more energy and a brighter complexion within a week. A couple of alcohol-free weeks also help show us that we can function and manage without alcohol and are not using it as a crutch or turning to it in times of anxiety, stress or to unwind,” says Professor Curt Ellison from The International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research.
Sleep might be a little harder at first without alcohol’s soporific effects; even if booze is bad for deep sleep. But after 10 days, says Professor David Nutt, author of Drink? The New Science of Alcohol and Your Health, “your sleep will be of a better quality and you’ll feel more refreshed in the morning”. Dreams may also be more vivid without alcohol suppressing the REM stage of sleep.
The physical harm caused by alcohol such as liver damage and high blood pressure, are well known. But can there be any impact on those areas after just ten days of abstinence? According to Dr Nutt, that is a resounding yes! “Ten days of freedom from alcohol will restore the liver back to normal and will also remove the effects of alcohol on the heart and blood pressure.” But, he warns, quitting alcohol will also undo any tolerance to alcohol in your brain. “So you will get more effect from the same dose when you restart – which means be careful once you restart not to accidentally overdo it.”