The Master Cleanse diet, or the Lemonade diet, made the news back in 2006 when Beyonce lost 20 pounds in just two weeks using this detox plan. Sounds too good to be true, isn't it? Liquid-only diets can help you shed pounds, but this doesn't mean they're healthy or nutritionally sound. In fact, you'll most likely lose muscle and water, not fat.
What Is the Master Cleanse?
This "detox" diet plan has been around for decades. Celebrities swear by it for a lean body and quick weight loss. As the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) points out, there isn't any evidence that detox programs, cleanses and other fad diets work. You might lose a few pounds, but that's only because these slimming plans are very low in calories.
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The Master Cleanse has two phases. First, you must clean up your diet and gradually transition to liquid foods. Next, you must drink a homemade "detox" beverage for at least 10 days. This concoction consists of purified water, lemon juice, cayenne pepper and maple syrup, according to the official Master Cleanse website.
Drink six to 18 glasses of this mixture daily. Solid foods are off limits. Some dieters drink up to 26 glasses per day or follow this plan for months in a row. Its proponents claim that it's possible to drop a whopping 20 pounds in as little as 10 days.
If you're struggling with constipation, you can drink herbal laxative tea before bedtime or start your day with salt water. After 10 days, you can slowly reintroduce solid foods into your diet.
This detox plan is also known as the Lemon Juice and Cayenne Pepper diet or the lemonade cleanse. Several versions exist, but they all have one thing in common: you must live off lemon juice and give up solid foods for a minimum of 10 days. If you know a thing or two about nutrition, it won't take you long to realize that this approach is wrong on so many levels.
Why Detox Diets Don't Work
As its name suggests, the Master Cleanse diet is a detox plan. It claims to rid your body of toxins and speed up weight loss.
Unfortunately, no studies have been conducted to assess the effectiveness of detox diets in humans, as reported in a December 2014 review published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics. Your body has its own detoxification mechanisms, so these diet plans don't really make sense.
As the Association of UK Dietitians points out, the human body continually breaks down and eliminates toxins, dead cells and metabolic waste through the skin, liver, kidneys and other organs. Your liver, for example, is responsible for alcohol metabolism and excretion.
Some people claim that they feel a lot better while on a detox plan. These diets eliminate processed food, red meat, soft drinks, alcohol and other foods or beverages that can take a toll on your health. At the same time, they encourage proper hydration.
By making these changes, you'll feel more energized, enjoy better digestion and even lose a few pounds. However, you can achieve the same results without resorting to potentially dangerous diets that promote starvation.
Read more: The Most Dangerous Diets Ever
Master Cleanse and Weight Loss
The Lemon Juice and Cayenne Pepper diet also claims to facilitate weight loss. This statement is actually true. With the Master Cleanse, you'll limit your calorie intake and live off lemon juice for 10 days or more.
However, restricting calories too severely will most likely result in muscle loss, not fat loss. Additionally, the lost weight will come back as soon as you return to normal eating.
A small study conducted on 84 postmenopausal women and published in the journal Nutrition Research in May 2015 assessed the effects of a lemon detox diet. Both the placebo group and dieters who consumed lemon detox juice daily for one week lost more weight, body fat and inches from their waistline compared to the control group. They also experienced a greater reduction in serum insulin, leptin and adiponectin levels, the hormones that influence appetite and body weight.
These findings indicate that a lemon detox program may reduce fat mass and lower the risk of heart disease. However, the study was quite small and lasted only seven days. As the American Academy of Family Physicians points out, fad diets don't result in lasting weight loss. Their long-term effects are unknown.
Doing the Math
Let's take lemon juice, the primary component of the Master Cleanse diet. The juice of one lemon provides 10.6 calories, 0.1 grams of protein, 0.1 grams of fat, 3.3 grams of carbs and 0.1 grams of fiber. It also boasts tiny amounts of calcium, magnesium, iron and vitamin C.
The Master Cleanse lemonade recipe calls for two tablespoons of lemon juice — that's about half of a lemon or 5.3 calories. You will also need two tablespoons of pure maple syrup — that's an extra 104 calories and 26.8 grams of carbs. Cayenne pepper, the third ingredient, delivers 5.7 calories and 1 gram of carbs per teaspoon, but you're not allowed to use more than 1/16 of a teaspoon.
Now, let's do the math. A single serving of the Master Cleanse Lemonade provides approximately 218 calories and fewer than 30 grams of carbs. The amount of protein, fiber, fat and micronutrients is negligible. Most calories come from maple syrup, which contains mostly sugar. Even if you drink six to 18 glasses as recommended, you're still at risk for nutrient deficiencies.
Lemon juice is rich in antioxidants and vitamin C, but these are not the only nutrients you need. Your body requires adequate amounts of protein, carbs, fat, vitamins and minerals to function optimally.
Protein deficiency, for example, can lead to muscle loss, organ failure, impaired immune function, swelling, fluid retention, abnormal blood coagulation and mental health problems, according to a review published in the Journal of Food Science and Nutrition in October 2017. The lemonade diet is extremely low in protein, so the longer you follow this plan, the greater the risks.
Does Cayenne Pepper Burn Fat?
You've probably heard that spicy foods increase metabolism and promote fat loss. Cayenne pepper is rich in capsaicin, a natural compound that has been studied for its fat-burning action.
According to a research paper published in Bioscience Reports in May 2017, capsaicin exhibits antioxidant and anti-obesity effects. This compound may increase fat oxidation due to its thermogenic properties. Basically, it raises your body's temperature, leading to greater energy expenditure.
Capsaicin may also prevent the formation of new fat cells and stimulate fat breakdown, according to the above review. Furthermore, it seems to have beneficial effects on gut flora and may improve appetite control. Another research article, which appeared in Pharmacognosy Review in April 2017, reports similar findings and suggests that capsaicin may possess antibacterial, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and antihypertensive properties.
Most studies cited in the above reviews have been conducted on mice. The few human studies available are too small to provide any conclusive results. Additionally, none suggests that capsaicin or cayenne pepper should be consumed as part of a liquid diet or in combination with lemons, but as part of a balanced diet.
The Master Cleanse diet is low in calories, so it can help you lose weight. But is it really worth the risk? Nutrient deficiencies, fatigue, low energy, lightheadedness and muscle loss are just a few of its potential side effects. This dietary plan deprives your body of essential nutrients and goes against the basic principles of good nutrition.
Read more: The 7 Principles of Fat Loss
What you can do is to swap soda and other sugary drinks for the Master Cleanse drink. This simple change can help you reduce your calorie intake and make weight loss easier. Or, you can sprinkle cayenne pepper over your daily meals to boost your metabolism. Plain water, though, is a better choice than the Master Cleanse when you're on a diet, as it contains no calories or sugar.
- NIH.gov: "Detoxes and Cleanses"
- The Master Cleanse: "How to Master Cleanse and Lemonade Diet to Detox and Lose Weight “F.A.S.T.”
- Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics: "Detox Diets for Toxin Elimination and Weight Management: A Critical Review of the Evidence"
- Association of UK Dieticians: "Detox Diets"
- Duke.edu: "How Is Alcohol Eliminated From the Body?"
- Current Gastroenterology Reports: "Popular Weight Loss Strategies: A Review of Four Weight Loss Techniques"
- Nutrition Research: "Lemon Detox Diet Reduced Body Fat, Insulin Resistance, and Serum hs-CRP Level Without Hematological Changes in Overweight Korean Women"
- American Academy of Family Physicians: "Nutrition for Weight Loss: What You Need to Know About Fad Diets"
- USDA: "Raw Lemon Juice"
- USDA: "Maple Syrup"
- USDA: "Cayenne Pepper"
- American Journal of Food Technology: "Evaluation of In Vitro Antioxidant Activities of Lemon Juice for Safety Assessment"
- Allied Academies: "Health Complication Caused by Protein Deficiency"
- NCBI: "Evolution of Total and Individual Capsaicinoids in Peppers During Ripening of the Cayenne Pepper Plant (Capsicum annuum L.)"
- Bioscience Reports: "Dietary Capsaicin and Its Anti-Obesity Potency: From Mechanism to Clinical Implications"
- Pharmacognosy Reviews: "Current Understanding of Antiobesity Property of Capsaicin"