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Does the lemonade diet work?

Losing weight and getting healthy is a goal for many people. With so many diets and weight loss strategies out there, it can be hard to know which one is right for you. One diet that has gained popularity over the years is the lemonade diet, also known as the Master Cleanse or maple syrup diet. But does this radical liquid diet really help you lose weight and improve your health? Let’s take a closer look.

What is the Lemonade Diet?

The lemonade diet was created in the 1940s by Stanley Burroughs and has gone through several iterations since then. It involves drinking 6-12 glasses per day of a lemonade-like concoction for a period of 10 days to 2 weeks. The basic recipe is:

  • 2 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/10 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 8 oz water

In addition to the lemonade drink, you take a laxative tea in the morning and evening and drink plenty of water and herbal tea throughout the day. No solid foods are allowed on the diet.

The premise is that the maple syrup provides energy, the lemon juice provides vitamins and minerals, and the cayenne pepper helps boost metabolism and cleanse the body. The lack of solid food gives your digestive system a rest to eliminate toxins.

Proposed Benefits

Proponents of the lemonade diet claim it offers numerous benefits including:

  • Rapid weight loss – up to 2 lbs per day
  • Detoxification and body cleansing
  • Reduced cravings for unhealthy foods
  • Increased energy and mental clarity
  • Better skin tone and complexion
  • Reduced inflammation and joint pain
  • Improved immunity and resistance to colds/flu

Safety Concerns

However, there are some serious safety concerns to consider with the lemonade diet:

  • Nutritional deficiencies – A diet providing less than 800 calories per day and no protein is likely to cause nutritional deficiencies over time.
  • Muscle loss – The lack of protein causes the body to break down muscle mass.
  • Low blood sugar – Going for long periods without solid food can cause blood sugar crashes.
  • Electrolyte imbalances – The body may have low sodium and potassium after several days of this diet.
  • Metabolism slowdown – Severe calorie restriction can cause your metabolism to slow down as the body tries to conserve energy.
  • Gallstones – Rapid weight loss increases the risk of developing gallstones which require medical treatment.
  • Long-term failure – Crash diets rarely lead to long-term weight loss success.

What Does Science Say About the Lemonade Diet?

There is limited scientific research specifically on the lemonade diet. However, studies on similar very low-calorie liquid diets can provide some insights.

This table summarizes the findings on the impacts of an extremely low-calorie diet:

Study Type of Diet Results
2005 study in Obesity Research Very low-calorie diet (400-800 calories/day) Significant weight loss of 15-25% of starting body weight in 8-16 weeks
2013 review in ISRN Obesity Very low-calorie ketogenic diets (800 calories or less) Average weight loss of 1.0-1.5 kg/week but with risks of fatigue, nausea, electrolyte imbalances, gallstones, and more.
2017 study in Nutrients 10-day lemon detox diet (600-1000 calories/day) Reduced body weight and body fat percentage. Negative impacts on metabolism, loss of muscle mass, lower antioxidant capacity.

The risks of nutritional deficiencies, electrolyte imbalances, slowed metabolism, loss of muscle mass, and gallstones are well documented with very low-calorie diets.

What Do Experts Recommend for Safe, Sustainable Weight Loss?

Mainstream health experts warn against the lemonade diet and extreme calorie restriction. The following are their typical recommendations for safe, sustainable weight loss:

  • Aim for 1-2 lbs weight loss per week for a total of 10% of your body weight over 6 months.
  • Reduce your calorie intake by 500-1000 calories per day through diet and exercise. But don’t consume less than 1200 calories daily.
  • Eat a balanced diet high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy, legumes, nuts and seeds.
  • Exercise 150-300 minutes per week by doing activities you enjoy (walking, swimming, yardwork, sports, etc.)
  • Make lifestyle changes you can maintain long-term like preparing meals at home and reducing screen time.
  • Get support from family, friends, or professionals to improve your eating habits and fitness.

This sustainable approach leads to lasting results over crash diets promising rapid weight loss.

Should You Try the Lemonade Diet?

The Master Cleanse and other liquid diets can help you lose weight fast. However, they are difficult to sustain for more than 2 weeks and the weight loss is often quickly regained.

This table summarizes the pros and cons of the lemonade diet:

Potential Pros Potential Cons
Rapid weight loss in first week Extremely restrictive and hard to follow for more than 2 weeks
Detoxification and body cleansing effects Nutritional deficiencies likely over time
Break from habitual eating patterns Metabolism slowdown due to severe calorie restriction
Can lead to reduced inflammation Loss of muscle mass from lack of protein
Low cost and use of natural ingredients Hunger, fatigue, nausea from lack of solid foods
Potential improvement in complexion High risk of gallstones
Possible short-term increase in energy Weight regain is common after ending the diet

The risks seem to outweigh the potential rewards for most health experts. They recommend more moderate calorie restriction paired with exercise and lifestyle changes.

However, some people report success from periodically doing brief 3-10 day lemonade diet cleanses a few times per year. This may help reset your eating habits without quite as many safety concerns as doing the Master Cleanse for weeks at a time.


The Master Cleanse and lemonade diet promotes rapid weight loss. But it is an extreme form of calorie restriction with many health risks. Most experts advise against following this diet for more than a few days.

A moderate calorie deficit of 500-1000 calories per day, along with exercise and lifestyle changes, promotes safe, sustainable weight loss for most people. But periodically doing a brief lemonade diet cleanse may help you break bad habits and kickstart your weight loss efforts.