You’ve seen the latest craze everywhere — whether it’s on your TV or in health magazines, adding a “cleanse” to your diet for weight loss benefits is one of the biggest health trends in recent years. While drinking straight vegetable juice and sticking to green tea as your beverage of choice are a few common cleanses, many celebrities are endorsing the Master Cleanse, otherwise known as the lemonade diet. Though the lemonade diet has been touted as the ultimate cleanse in terms of fast fat loss and eliminating toxins from the body, the extreme effects that this cleanse can have on the body make this a potentially dangerous diet to follow. Whether you’re following this cleanse for a few days or you’re planning on intermittently incorporating the “lemonade” recipe into a classic weight-loss regimen, you’ll need to know exactly what this cleanse entails and why it can spell trouble for your body in the long run.
Created in 1941 by dietician Stanley Burroughs, the Master Cleanse itself occurs in three stages — the first is the removal of processed foods from the diet, the second is the “lemonade” phase, and the third is the reintroduction of foods accompanied with a salt-water flush or detox tea. Because this cleanse requires up to 10 days of no solid food intake, it is suggested that there is a period of easing into it so that your body is not too shocked by the change once the cleanse is fully underway. This “easing in” period of limiting processed foods, dairy, and meats is the first step in this process, as it claims to better prepare the digestive system for the all-fluid diet.
While the final step is a slow re-introduction of those foods you once loved (with an accompanied salt-water flush to further remove toxic build-up), the bread-and-butter of this cleanse is the “lemonade” portion, where you’re required to drink a mixture of lemon juice, cayenne pepper, pure maple syrup, and water. The Lemonade Site explains that this mixture is to be consumed between 6 and 12 times a day for a maximum of 10 days, and no other food may be introduced into the diet during this time. The goal of drinking this mixture is to give your digestive system a rest, to cleanse the colon, and to eliminate toxins that are stored in the body — and, because of the low caloric intake that you’ll be taking in daily, you’ll lose weight quickly as well.
While this no-food diet may sound like the perfect way to shed those last few pounds in as little as 10 days, this cleanse should also come with a few warning labels. Health describes the dangers of crash dieting — though one cycle of the Master Cleanse may not do too much harm to the body, repeated incidences are likely to lead to a weakened immune system and an increased risk for heart palpitations and heart stress. The lemon mixture used in this cleanse is likely to lead to weight loss, but rapid weight loss over the course of 10 days will not help you keep weight off for good. In fact, losing weight rapidly through crash diets can slow the metabolism, which can eventually lead to weight gain.
Linda Bacon, PhD, is a California-based nutritionist who has studied the effects of fad diets, and she also states that cutting calories for long periods of time can negatively effect the heart muscle, which can lead to heart disease later on. Following a crash diet, going back to the way you were eating, and then crash dieting again damages the blood vessels and can bring you heart trouble in the long run — not to mention, crash diets such as the lemonade diet deprive your body of essential nutrients that also contribute to heart health.
There’s also a few flaws in the lemonade concoction in and of itself — though drinking between 6 and 12 cups of this drink will provide you with nutrients from the lemons and around 900 calories from the maple syrup, the majority of what you’ll be taking in is pure sugar. Rachel Avalon, a holistic health coach based in Los Angeles, describes how there’s nothing really all that healthy about the lemonade diet, because you’re missing out on necessary healthy fats, protein, carbohydrates, and other nutrients that are great for the body. The lemonade drink offers a dietary substitute with few calories, but it lacks all the essentials that your body needs to function properly.
When you break down the lemonade mixture itself, it’s easy to see why the Master Cleanse fad is largely ineffective for detoxing and weight loss. A cup of maple syrup contains only about 22% of your daily recommended amount of calcium and 21% of your daily iron, and because it’s pure sugar, it’s a highly inflammatory food. For diabetics or those who suffer with candida overgrowth, the lemonade diet is definitely one to avoid, as it can aggravate these conditions.
The cayenne pepper used in the mixture is meant to boost circulation, but for those who have bodies that overheat quickly, this ingredient may do more harm than good. As for the lemon juice, the high amount of vitamin C is a plus, but consuming lemon juice in large quantities on an empty stomach may cause some upset, as it retains its acidic properties until completely digested and can irritate mucous membranes temporarily. The Nest explains that once lemon juice is digested and absorbed, it alkalizes and can actually reduce acidity in your body, but before this complete digestion occurs, the acidity from the lemons can cause heartburn.
There is also much debate about “cleanses” in general — is it really necessary to go out of your way to eliminate toxins from the body? Business Insider suggests that juice cleanses, detox teas and diets, and any product that aims to eliminate toxins is not worth your while. The kidneys and liver together take care of eliminating toxins all on their own — the kidneys are responsible for filtering the blood and removing waste that way, and the liver detoxifies chemicals in the body. Together, they do all the legwork for you, making cleanses like the lemonade diet futile for removing excess toxins.
If you’re looking for the perfect cleanse to give your body an energy boost and slim down your waistline, stock up on fresh fruits and veggies and foods that have healthy fats, plenty of protein, and fiber for a healthy digestive tract. Ignore the fads and crash diets — go for the produce and lean meats instead.