A ‘gut cleanse’ diet is a diet said to cleanse your gut of all toxins and harmful bacteria. It promises to clear your gut and free you from any irritations such as bloating, stomach pain or gas. It requires some drastic changes to the diet in order to achieve this.
With gut issues and worries on the rise, you may feel like a ‘gut cleanse’ is in order. Maybe you’ve heard that your aunty’s friend’s sister has done the gut cleanse diet and she’s feeling great! This article is here to give you the facts behind this kind of diet.
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What is the gut cleanse diet?
Firstly, the gut cleanse diet can vary depending on who you talk to! There seems to be no one set way of doing a ‘gut cleanse’.
In the medical field, a bowel cleanse is crucial for the preparation for a colonoscopy, (1). All patients need to follow a specific diet such as low fibre, fasting or a liquid diet alongside strong laxatives prior to the procedure (1,2).
But this style of eating for this specific situation is different from everyday life. It’s not everyday we need to prepare for a colonoscopy!
Which is why a health professional such as your dietitian or doctor would never recommend this for general health.
When doing a simple google search, there are various other ‘gut cleanse diets.’ These often exclude food items such as alcohol, sugar, salt, saturated fat and processed meats. Allegedly improving digestive symptoms such as bloating and fatigue.
These ‘gut cleanse’ diets often include high amounts of certain foods such as fruit and vegetables, herbal teas and high fibre foods.
A ‘gut cleanse’ diet also typically include a specific time that you need to follow the diet for i.e. ‘the 7 day gut cleanse to reset the gut’, for example.
Does a gut cleanse diet work?
The claims that a gut cleanse diet can remove toxins and bad bacteria from your gut are not backed by any science.
Good news though, our bodies are smart. Naturally, our liver and kidneys are continuously removing waste and detoxifying the body without us even knowing it. This is also why we regularly go to the toilet to pass urine and bowel movements. Makes sense!
There is no denying that diet plays a huge role on our gut and how the gut flora is made up. Some gut cleanse diets can advocate a higher intake of fruit, fibre and vegetables which would promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria (3).
For people with IBS, a general increase of fruit and vegetables may make their symptoms worse. Many of these foods contain high amounts of FODMAPs (fermentable carbohydrates). These can worsen symptoms in IBS. Instead, a more tailored approach is required.
Some gut cleanse diets can also advocate dangerous ways to attempt to ‘clear the gut.’ Any diet that promotes a high intake of a certain food item or avoidance of whole food groups is unlikely to be beneficial to your health.
Is a gut cleanse diet safe?
There is no ‘standard’ gut cleanse diet so it is hard to say if all of them or safe or not.
Some gut cleanse diets we have seen online may be safe to follow (despite having no benefit over general healthy eating). But other, more extreme recommendations online are not safe at all.
Being on a gut cleanse diet for a long period of time may lead to nutritional deficiencies, particularly if you are cutting out certain foods or even whole food groups (4).
So how can you actually ‘cleanse’ your gut?
You don’t need to cleanse your gut as you actually want good bacteria in there! Toxins will sort themselves out via your kidney and liver.
What you can do is take measures to support your healthy gut microbiome which will mean that it is harder for ‘bad’ bacteria to come and live in your gut.
Everyday habits of living a healthy and balanced lifestyle can build up a healthy gut, without the need to go on strict cleanses promising to solve problems.
Here are some simple steps to improve your gut health:
- Ensure you’re having enough fibre each day – aim for 30g Read how to achieve this here!
- Include whole grain versions of food items such as rice, pasta and bread
- Keep up the physical activity levels. Find out how exercise improves gut health in this article.
- Aim to limit fizzy drinks and foods high in saturated fat such as pizza, fast food, processed meats and creamy sauces.
- Work with a dietitian to go through the low FODMAP process and pin-point your actual trigger foods.
A ‘gut cleanse’ diet is actually something we call a ‘fad diet’. Even when they sound to be promising, not enough evidence exists to prove that a ‘gut cleanse’ actually improves your gut health. It is better to enjoy a healthy and balanced diet than to follow a strict cleansing diet.
Article written by Camilla Donaldson BSc Hons Nutrition reviewed by Kirsten Jackson BSc Hons, RD, PGcert MBDA
Kirsten Jackson is a UK registered Consultant Gastroenterology Dietitian and founder of The Food Treatment Clinic. She has undergone many qualifications to get where she is today, including a UK BSc Honours Degree in Dietetics and Post-Graduate Certificate in Advanced Dietetics. In addition to this, she has FODMAP Training from Kings College London University. Kirsten set up The Food Treatment Clinic in 2015 after first experiencing digestive problems herself. She felt that the NHS was unable to provide the support individuals needed and went on to specialise in this area before opening a bespoke IBS service. Kirsten also participates in charity work as an Expert Advisor for the IBS Network. In addition, she can be seen in publications such as Cosmopolitan and The Telegraph discussing IBS as an Official Media Spokesperson to the IBS Network.