The Dr. Sebi diet is a restrictive, plant-based diet that promises to eliminate toxins from your body and purify your cells. The problem is that "Dr. Sebi" isn't a real doctor, and the diet is based solely on lofty, ill-researched claims.
So if you're not sure what detoxification means, exactly (and why it depends on buying Dr. Sebi's supplements), your skepticism is on the right track. Before you fill your cabinet and fridge with Dr. Sebi-approved foods and products, consider what the experts have to say.
Read more: Why You Probably Shouldn't Try the OMAD Diet
What Is the Dr. Sebi Diet?
The Dr. Sebi diet is a largely plant-based, restrictive regimen that allows only raw fruits, raw vegetables, nuts, seeds, some grains and some uncooked oils, according to Dr. Sebi's Nutritional Guide. The diet advises against eating any foods outside of those listed in the nutritional guidelines, including processed and animal-derived foods, like meat, eggs and dairy.
The diet's website claims that consuming these approved foods alongside the company's nutritional compounds or supplements is necessary for achieving optimal health and "cleansing" the skin, liver, gallbladder, lymph glands, kidneys and colon.
The Dr. Sebi regimen does not make any claims regarding weight loss. However, given the low caloric-density of the foods allowed on the diet, it's likely that weight loss may be a resulting side effect, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, registered dietitian and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You From Label to Table. But since the diet is challenging to stick with in the long term, it's likely you'll gain back whatever weight you lose once you begin eating normally again.
The Dr. Sebi Diet-Approved Foods
- Vegetables: Amaranth greens, avocado, bell peppers, cucumber, dandelion greens, garbanzo beans, izote (cactus flower), kale, lettuce (all except iceberg), mushrooms (all except shitake), nopales (Mexican cactus), okra, olives, onions, squash, tomato (cherry and plum only), zucchini, watercress, wild arugula
- Fruit: Apples, bananas, berries (no cranberries), elderberries, cantaloupe, cherries, currants, dates, figs, grapes (seeded), limes (key limes, with seeds), mango, melons (seeded), orange (seville), papayas, peaches, pears, plums, prickly pear, prunes, raisins (seeded), soft jelly coconuts, soursops, tamarind
- Grains: Amaranth, fonio, kamut, quinoa, rye, spelt, tef, wild rice
- Nuts and seeds: Hemp seeds, raw sesame seeds, raw sesame "tahini" butter, walnuts, brazil nuts
- Oils: Olive oil (uncooked), coconut oil (uncooked), grapeseed oil, sesame oil, hempseed oil, avocado oil
- Herbs and flavorings: Basil, bay leaf, cloves, dill, oregano, savory, sweet basil, tarragon, thyme, achiote, cayenne, onion powder, habanero, sage, sea salt, powdered granulated seaweed, agave syrup, date sugar
- Herbal teas: Burdock, chamomile, elderberry, fennel, ginger, raspberry, tila
Why You Should Pass on Dr. Sebi's Diet
1. It's Misleading
Like many other fad diets (GM diet, here's looking at you), the Dr. Sebi diet has no real research to support its claims, Taub-Dix says. Not only does the diet depend on supplements sold by the company, but even the name is misleading, as Dr. Sebi (whose actual name is Alfredo Bowman) doesn't actually have any kind of credentials or certifications.
"I think that his name almost gives credibility to the diet or makes you think it's a credible diet when he's really not a doctor at all," says Taub-Dix. "Another thing is that you really need to beware of any diet where someone is selling something to you, like supplements, as opposed to providing guidance on what to purchase."
Plus, the diet's claims of detoxifying and healing your system are misleading and potentially risky, according to Taub-Dix. Your kidneys and liver are already very efficient at removing toxins from your body, and there's no evidence that certain foods or supplements can either help or hinder this process, per the Mayo Clinic.
Taub-Dix's biggest concern is that the diet's "healing" claims will lead some people who are managing a condition to adopt the regimen as a replacement for their medications, which can be dangerous. If you're managing a condition, be sure to talk to your doctor before making any changes to your medications or diet.
2. It May Lead to Nutrient Deficiencies
When it comes to your nutrition, the Dr. Sebi diet will likely leave you falling short, especially where protein is concerned. Although the diet does permit nuts and seeds, which have some protein content, the complete lack of any animal products will probably leave you protein-deficient, according to Taub-Dix.
While it is possible to meet your protein needs on a plant-based diet, it can be tricky to do. And the Dr. Sebi diet's restriction of processed foods (like tofu or veggie burgers, for example) and supplements beyond the diet's own product can make it even more difficult (if not impossible) to get what your body needs.
The average person needs about 7 grams of protein per 20 pounds of body weight each day, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. So if you weigh 160 pounds, you should eat about 56 grams of protein daily. For context, a 1-ounce serving of Sebi-approved walnuts contains just over 4 grams of protein, according to the USDA's FoodData Central.
Restricting animal products can also leave you deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, Taub-Dix says. Omega-3s are essential for overall brain function, contributing to your memory and performance, per the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Deficiency can lead to symptoms like fatigue, poor memory, dry skin and heart problems, among others.
3. It's Unsustainable
Dr. Sebi's diet also discourages all processed foods, which isn't necessarily a good thing, according to Taub-Dix. Ultra-processed foods don't generally have big health benefits (think: chips and cookies), but processed foods, like canned fruit or vegetables, can be part of a healthy and balanced diet. Not only are they convenient, readily available and easy to cook with — making meal prep a whole lot more doable — but many of these processed foods are also fortified with nutrients, which the average person may not be able to get from their standard nutritional habits, says Taub-Dix.
The Dr. Sebi-approved foods, on the other hand, may be harder to come by in your average supermarket or restaurant and more difficult to prepare at home, making the diet pretty tough to stick with in the long run.
The Bottom Line
While the Dr. Sebi diet's emphasis on incorporating plenty of vegetables and fruit is definitely a positive aspect of an otherwise flawed regimen, this isn't a diet that will provide many benefits, Taub-Dix says. It's not a bad idea to incorporate more whole foods into your diet either, but the overly restrictive nature of this plan makes it difficult to get the variety of nutrients your body needs.
Especially for those looking to the Dr. Sebi diet as a means for curing or alleviating a disease or condition, it's crucial to prioritize the recommendations of a health care professional. Before trying any kind of diet, it's best to speak with your doctor to make sure it's a safe plan for you.