At this time of year, there's a fair chance that any lifestyle magazine you pick up will be advertising a "miracle" detox diet or two. It is not a surprise that many people are interested in them as they seem to promise the Earth, but as the old saying goes, "if something seems too good to be true, it probably is".
What is a detox diet, and how do they claim to work?
The idea behind a detox diet is to remove toxins from the body. The diets themselves can range from using certain drinks to removing certain types of food from your diet completely, such as alcohol, caffeine or fast foods. They may also involve fasting or taking supplements.
Detox diets can seem to work at first, but this is largely due to water loss and you are likely to gain weight again once you return to your old eating habits. Cutting out some foods can be problematic as it can slow your metabolism, which can also lead to weight gain once you return to your normal diet. It is also worth pointing out that detox diets aren't scientifically proven to clean out unwanted toxins, or to assist in losing weight. Indeed, if there were as many unhealthy toxins in our body as some detox diets suggest, chances are we would already be extremely unwell.
Instead it is advisable to eat a healthy diet, which will ensure you feel well. Fresh foods should be chosen over processed products where possible, and you should include lots of fruit and vegetables, whole grains and lean sources of protein.
Why choose a healthy diet instead?
There are a number of health benefits you can achieve by eating healthily. These include maintaining a healthy body weight, and avoiding some long-term diseases, such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes. If you do pick up an illness, one of the best ways to help the body overcome it is by eating healthy foods. A healthy diet can also reduce the risk of developing a range of cancers.
Our bodies all need energy to function normally, and getting the right nutrients will help you make the most of these health benefits. Ensuring we get the right balance of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals and fluids is the way to do this.
Eating the right foods
One of the key parts to a healthy diet is eating plenty of starchy foods, such as bread, potatoes, rice and pasta. These should provide the bulk of your meals, ideally covering at least a third of your plate. Wholegrain options are better where possible as they also add fibre, which keeps you feeling fuller for longer. However, you should still be careful not to have portions which are too large, as eating too many calories, whether they are carbohydrates, sugar, fat or protein, can still lead to weight gain.
It is also important that you don't cut fat out of your diet altogether, as it helps to keep you feeling satisfied and can prevent over-eating. Instead of eating saturated fat however you should eat a selection of heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, found in many nuts, olive and canola oils and avocado.
You should also eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Fruit and vegetables are filling but contain low numbers of calories, which is a double benefit. An average portion is roughly a handful, or around 80 g. It may be a large fruit such as an apple, or two satsumas or other smaller fruits. Fruit and vegetables contain high amounts of fibre, which helps to regulate our bowels and keep them healthy, as well as a wide range of vitamins essential for good health.
Dairy products are also important, although you should look for low-fat versions. Milk and cheese provide vital calcium which is needed for strong bones and teeth. You should aim to get three servings of this food group a day. One serving could be 200 ml of milk, a small yoghurt or 30 g of cheese.
You should also consume lean sources of protein, such as lean cuts of meats, fish, low-fat dairy products, quinoa, soy products, Quorn products, rice, beans, nuts and seeds.
Many of us eat more sugar than we should, so limiting how much we eat is good for both avoiding weight gain and good dental care. Ideally you should avoid adding sugar to drinks and cutting back sugar in recipes. You should also try sugar-free drinks or swapping for water.
Speaking of water, you should try to drink at least eight glasses a day, which will keep you hydrated and replace any lost fluid during the course of the day.
Most of us also eat too much salt, which can increase blood pressure and lead to an increased risk of a heart attack or stroke. We shouldn't eat more than 6 g of salt a day, so if you currently have a taste for salty foods, try and gradually reduce your intake and avoid high-salt foods. Swapping salt seasoning for herbs and spices is a good way to start.
Finally, you should keep your alcohol intake to healthy limits, which is three to four units per day for men and two to three units per day for women. You should also try to avoid alcohol altogether for at least two days a week.