Planning a New Year's Detox? Experts Weigh in on What Works — and What's Dangerous
Experts discuss which detoxes work and which should be avoided
If you indulged too much over the holidays (and who didn’t?), you may be considering trying a detox to rid yourself of those extra calories and start the New Year on a healthy foot.
Experts agree that the right kind of detox — specifically those focused on consuming fruits and vegetables — can be a healthy choice.
“The best types of detoxes are ones that emphasize lots of hydration and veggies,” registered dietitian and nutritionist Dawn Jackson Blatner tells PEOPLE. “That can be a veggie-focused juice cleanse (not the super sweet fruit-based ones!), a salad-[based] raw food cleanse for people who like to chew, or even a veggie soup cleanse.”
Dr. James L. Buxbaum, an assistant professor of clinical medicine at Keck Medicine of USC who specializes in internal medicine and gastroenterology, agrees that a detox focused on fruits and vegetables can be beneficial to overall health.
“A juice-based cleanse, especially ones with vegetables that have a lot of fiber combined with a lot of citrus can be good,” he tells PEOPLE. “Those can be restorative — you get vitamins and minerals and nutrients that you’ve been probably lacking maybe for a few weeks, especially during the holidays if you’ve been eating a lot of fat and [consuming] alcohol.”
In addition to boosting your vitamins, minerals and nutrients, doing short-term juice cleanses may have longer-lasting benefits. Dr. Zhaoping Li, director at UCLA’s Center for Human Nutrition, conducted a study over the summer — that is currently undergoing peer review — during which subjects did a three-day juice cleanse and then were tracked for lasting effects two weeks after their cleanse was over.
One change Li noticed was an improvement in gut bacteria balance.
“We did see some benefits from the cleansing, but it’s unclear if it’s just from intaking more vegetables and fruit, or also from lowering your calories,” she clarifies.
WATCH: Why Detoxing Your Brain Is Crucial for a Successful Diet
A surprising benefit was an improvement in overall mood in the long-term. While people were not happy on the third day of their juice cleanse (and who wouldn’t be grumpy after not chewing for three days), they did show elevated mood during the two-week follow-up.
“All people felt happier compared to themselves [before],” says Li. “It may be because they felt they did something for their health.”
She notes that “short-term cleansing is safe and it may have benefits, but we need more studies” to determine exactly what those benefits are.
Detoxes are not safe if they include supplements, pills or colonics, according to the experts. They are also not safe for people with certain medical conditions, including high blood pressure and diabetes.
And while short-term detoxing such as a three-day juice cleanse may have some benefits, the best way to kickstart a healthy New Year is to adopt healthier habits that you plan on continuing for a longer period of time.
“The most important thing for overall health is dietary pattern,” says Li. “If you do three days and then go back to hamburgers and pizza, then there’s really no purpose.”
Adds Buxbaum, “The best advice is to just adopt a healthy, balanced diet for a few weeks without ‘cheating’ with fat-rich meals or alcohol. Cut out any greasy stuff you might otherwise indulge yourself in. It’s probably the wiser way to go to get your cholesterol better, your health better, your energy better.”
But if it will help start you on the right track, it’s not a bad idea to try a (safe) detox plan.
“Our mind needs detoxes more than our body,” says Jackson Blatner. “What you do for a few days to a week doesn’t actually make up for how we treat our body the other 360 days each year! But a detox really is a great mental reset to give you the feeling of a clean slate and some momentum toward healthier habits.”