Master Cleanse (Lemonade Diet) Overview

Pros & Cons

  • Easy
  • Cheap
  • No teeth required
  • Nutritionally not the soundest

Do's & Don'ts

Don't: Take a bite—this short-term liquid diet bans all solid foods See more Do's & Don'ts

Overview

Type:

Low-calorie.

The aim:

Quick weight loss.

The claim:

Drop 20 pounds in 10 days and cleanse your body of toxins.

The theory:

If you give up solid foods and consume only fluids, weight loss (at least in the short-term) is inevitable.

Note:

This diet has not been ranked by U.S. News.

How does the Master Cleanse (Lemonade Diet) work?

Originally cooked up to flush purported toxins and waste from the body, Master Cleanse—also known as the Lemonade Diet—has only recently become popularized for quick weight loss. (Beyonce allegedly used it to slim down for her role in Dreamgirls.)

Say goodbye to solid food. For at least 10 days, your new best friends are not-quite lemonade, water, and laxatives. That means 4 cups of salt water each morning, a cup of herbal laxative tea at night, and 6 to 12 glasses throughout the day of the “lemonade”—a concoction you make from fresh lemon or lime juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper, and water, according to www.themastercleanse.com, one of the most comprehensive Master Cleanse websites. (Several variations of the diet exist, so it’s up to you to decide which one to follow.) Crave something more substantial? Too bad: Straying from the 650-calorie per day regimen is not allowed. Expand this section for more on Master Cleanse, including side effects.

After a minimum of 10 days (some dieters apparently stick it out for 45), you’ll slowly transition back to solid foods with soup and fruit juice. The website doesn’t specify what your post-cleanse diet should be, but it does advise that you eat as little meat and dairy as possible and supplement meals with a probiotic to aid digestion. While dieters commonly repeat the regimen—the  website’s author claims to have done it 18 times since 2003—experts don’t advise making this your permanent routine.

Beware: You may experience what the website calls “detox diet symptoms,” such as cravings, fatigue, irritability, aches, pains, nausea, vomiting, and a burning sensation during bowel movements. Proponents claim these symptoms are signs of the body’s detoxification, but there’s no scientific evidence that Master Cleanse or other detox diets actually rid the body of toxins. What’s more, say experts, the liver is perfectly capable of purging the body’s impurities.

Will you lose weight?

How could you not, with nightly laxatives and so few daily calories (650 is about one-third of the number most adults are advised to get)? But don’t expect lasting results: You’ll mostly be losing water weight and lean muscle mass—not fat—and fasting may stall your metabolism, making you more likely to regain once you resume a normal diet.

Does it have cardiovascular benefits?

Unknown. While weight loss typically leads to heart-health benefits—like reduced blood pressure and a decrease in “bad” LDL cholesterol—studies have shown that continuously gaining and losing weight, and being on low-calorie diets long-term, can stress the heart.

Can it prevent or control diabetes?

Unknown, but it’s potentially dangerous for people with diabetes.

Prevention: Being overweight is one of the biggest risk factors for type 2 diabetes. If (emphasis on “if”) Master Cleanse helps you lose weight and keep it off, you might tilt the diabetes odds in your favor.

Control: It’s out of step with the American Diabetes Association’s healthy eating guidelines, and could be dangerous for people with diabetes or prediabetes. Shunning solids means diabetics won’t get the healthy, fiber-packed foods they need to control their blood sugar levels. Swinging from a liquid diet to unrestricted eating could also throw your insulin and blood sugar out of whack.

Are there health risks?

Master Cleanse doesn’t reflect widely accepted guidelines for weight loss or a healthy lifestyle. If you’re healthy, trying Master Cleanse once probably won’t hurt you. But continuously cycling on and off the diet could set you up for nutrient deficiencies, long-term weight gain, a weakened immune system, and heart and kidney problems, say experts. Even with 12 daily glasses of lemonade, laxatives can dehydrate and exacerbate any heart or kidney conditions you might have. Side effects include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, pain, irritability, and more. Talk to your doctor before trying Master Cleanse, especially if you have a medical condition. He or she will most certainly steer you elsewhere.

How well does it conform to accepted dietary guidelines?

Fat. Because you won’t be eating solids, you’ll get far less than the government’s recommended 20 to 35 percent of daily calories from fat; a sample menu provided just 1 percent.

Protein. At 1 percent, you’ll fall far short of the recommended range of 10 to 35 percent of daily calories.

Carbohydrates. At 98 percent of your day’s calories, the sample menu overshot the acceptable range of 45 to 65 percent.

Salt. The majority of Americans eat too much salt. The recommended daily maximum is 2,300 milligrams, but if you’re 51 or older, African-American, or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, that limit is 1,500 mg. The sample menu came in high at 2,838 mg.

Other key nutrients. The 2012 Dietary Guidelines call these “nutrients of concern” because many Americans get too little or none of them:

  • Fiber.  Getting the recommended daily amount of 22 to 34 grams for adults helps you feel full and promotes good digestion. Master Cleanse provides a negligible amount of fiber.
  • Potassium. A sufficient amount of this important nutrient, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, counters salt’s ability to raise blood pressure, decreases bone loss, and reduces the risk of developing kidney stones. It’s not that easy to get the recommended daily 4,700 mg. from food. (Bananas are high in potassium, yet you’d have to eat 11 a day to get enough.) The majority of Americans take in far too little. This diet provides just 245 mg.
  • Calcium. It’s essential not only to build and maintain bones but to make blood vessels and muscles function properly. Many Americans don’t get enough. Women and anyone older than 50 should try especially hard to meet the government’s recommendation of 1,000 to 1,300 mg. a day. Master Cleanse offers just 43 mg.
  • Vitamin B-12. Adults should shoot for a daily 2.4 micrograms of this nutrient, which is critical for proper cell metabolism. You’ll get none on this diet.
  • Vitamin D. Adults who don’t get enough sunlight need to meet the government’s recommended 15 micrograms a day with food or a supplement to lower the risk of bone fractures. Vitamin D is nonexistent on this plan.

Supplement recommended? No.

How easy is it to follow?

Though preparation is simple, giving up solid foods in favor of liquids may prove difficult.

Convenience:

Making the drinks is a cinch. The real annoyance will be running to the bathroom all day long.

Recipes. Ingredients and measurements for the “lemonade” can be found at www.themastercleanse.com, among other websites.

Eating out. Unless you’re sticking to water, eating at home is your best bet.

Alcohol. Forbidden.

Time-savers. None.

Extras. None.

Fullness:

A growling stomach is a likely companion on this liquid diet.

Taste:

Some dieters reportedly liken the lemonade to an energy drink.

How much does it cost?

Practically nothing. Drinks are made from water and household ingredients. The priciest items will be lemons and maple syrup.

Does the diet allow for restrictions and preferences?

Most people can follow Master Cleanse without any trouble. Choose your preference below for more information.

Yes.

Yes.

Yes.

It’s up to you to ensure your drinks are kosher.

Yes.

What is the role of exercise?

It’s not part of the plan and it may even be dangerous to exercise when you’re consuming so few calories. Ask your doctor before exercising while on Master Cleanse. In general, adults on healthy diets are encouraged to get at least 2 ½ hours of moderate-intensity activity (like brisk walking) each week, along with a couple days of muscle-strengthening activities.


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