The lemon detox diet, also known as the Master Cleanse, is a liquid-only diet that involves consuming nothing but a lemon juice-based drink for a period of 10 days or more. It’s claimed to help you drop pounds quickly, as well as improve digestion and cleanse your body of toxins. However, the extreme nature of this diet makes it highly restrictive and not sustainable in the long term.
This article reviews everything you need to know about the foods you can and can’t eat on the lemon detox diet.
What is the lemon detox diet?
The Master Cleanse diet was created in 1940s by Stanley Burroughs. It involves consuming 6–12 glasses per day of a lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper and water concoction.
Here are the ingredients for the Master Cleanse lemonade drink:
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) grade B maple syrup
- 1/10 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 8 ounces (240 ml) purified or distilled water
A typical day on the Master Cleanse diet looks like this:
- Morning: Salt water flush (2 teaspoons salt mixed with 1 liter water)
- Breakfast: 1 glass of lemonade drink
- Lunch: 1 glass of lemonade drink
- Afternoon: 1 glass of lemonade drink
- Dinner: 1 glass of lemonade drink
- Before bed: Herbal laxative tea
The salt water flush, laxative tea and low calorie lemonade drinks are intended to help you eliminate waste and toxins from your body.
The Master Cleanse is continued for at least 10 days up to two weeks. After completing the detox diet, you’re supposed to ease back into eating solid foods gradually.
Foods to eat
Since the Master Cleanse diet involves only drinking the lemonade concoction for a minimum of 10 days, it is very restrictive in terms of foods allowed.
The only foods allowed on the Master Cleanse diet include:
- Water: Drink 8 glasses of purified or distilled water per day in addition to the lemonade drink.
- Lemonade drink: Consume a minimum of 6 glasses but up to 12 glasses per day.
- Herbal laxative tea: This is recommended before bedtime as part of the detoxification process.
- Salt water flush: 2 teaspoons of non-iodized sea salt dissolved in 1 liter of water. Drink first thing in the morning.
So in summary, the only items you can have over the 10+ days on this diet are water, the homemade lemonade drink, salt water flush and herbal laxative tea.
Foods to avoid
Since the Master Cleanse diet is an extreme liquid-only detox diet, all foods are off limits except for the ingredients used to make the lemonade drink. Here are the foods you must avoid while on the Master Cleanse diet:
- Solid foods: No solid foods are allowed on this diet. So avoid eating any proteins, carbs, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, oils or other solid foods.
- Alcohol: Alcohol is not permitted as it may stress the liver during its detoxification process.
- Caloric beverages: Avoid juices, soda, coffee, tea, sports drinks, energy drinks and other calorie-containing drinks.
So in summary, all solid foods, alcohol and other caloric beverages are prohibited on the Master Cleanse diet. Stick only to the four allowable ingredients and eight 8 glasses of water daily.
Sample lemon detox diet meal plan
To give you an idea of what a day on the Master Cleanse diet looks like, here is a sample meal plan:
- Salt water flush: Mix 2 teaspoons of non-iodized sea salt into 1 liter of lukewarm water and drink all of it.
- 1 glass of lemonade drink
- 8 ounces of water
- 1 glass of lemonade drink
- 8 ounces of water
- 1 glass of lemonade drink
- 1 cup of herbal laxative tea
Additionally, you would need to drink at least 4 more 8-ounce glasses of plain water at intervals throughout the day to meet the daily minimum of 8 glasses.
As you can see, there is no food variety or ability to eat solid foods on this plan. Be prepared for extreme hunger, especially in the first few days on the diet as your body adjusts.
Food substitutes to consider
Since no solid foods are allowed on the Master Cleanse diet, there really aren’t any appropriate food substitutes to consider.
However, to make the diet more tolerable, you can:
- Flavor your water with lemon or lime
- Change up the flavor of the laxative tea, such as trying chamomile, peppermint or ginger tea
- Adjust the cayenne pepper in the lemonade drink to your personal taste preference
- Use stevia instead of maple syrup if you want a zero-calorie sweetener
- Add a bit of sea salt to your lemonade or flush to improve flavor and electrolyte balance
Other than that, there really aren’t substitutions you can make. The diet is extremely restrictive to only four key ingredients so any other food or drink would not be considered compliant with the Master Cleanse program.
Pros and cons of the lemon detox diet
Before trying out this extreme liquid-only detox, consider some of the key pros and cons:
- Fast weight loss: You can drop pounds rapidly in a short period of time since calories are very low.
- Body detox: Proponents claim you’ll clear out toxins and improve digestion.
- Simple to follow: You don’t need to think about food variety or preparation since only four ingredients are allowed.
- Inexpensive: The diet only requires basic, cheap ingredients like lemons, maple syrup, cayenne and water.
- Extremely restrictive: Avoiding all solid foods and severely limiting calories makes this diet very difficult to follow for more than a few days.
- Nutrient deficiencies: Going 10 days or more without protein, fiber, vitamins or minerals risks nutritional deficiencies.
- Weight regain: The rapid weight loss is mostly water weight, which is quickly regained after resuming normal eating.
- Hunger and cravings: Biggest complaint is extreme hunger and food cravings, especially later in the cleanse.
- Safety concerns: Drastically cutting calories and nutrients may worsen some medical conditions.
- Lack of research: There is limited scientific evidence that intense detox cleanses are beneficial for health.
The Master Cleanse diet may lead to quick weight loss but it is difficult for most people to follow for more than a few days. Additionally, research has not confirmed that detox diets actually eliminate toxins or provide significant long-term health benefits.
Steps to resume eating after finishing the lemon detox
Once you complete the Master Cleanse diet, you cannot immediately resume eating whatever solid foods you’d like. Reintroducing food should be done gradually over a few days to give your body time to adjust and avoid digestive issues.
Here is a summary of tips for resuming eating after finishing the Master Cleanse diet:
- Listen to your body: Go slow with eating to give your body time to re-adapt. Pay attention to any digestive discomfort.
- Chew thoroughly: Thoroughly chew and savor small bites of soft foods. This aids the digestive process.
- Eat simple foods: Stick to easy to digest foods like broths, soups, blended smoothies, juices, yogurt and cooked whole grains.
- Limit portions: Keep portions smaller than normal and meals light the first few days.
- Stay hydrated: Drink water, herbal tea or broths to stay hydrated as you transition back to eating.
- Don’t overeat: It may be tempting to overindulge after restricting but avoid overeating to prevent GI issues.
- Slowly reintroduce foods: Gradually work your way back to eating a variety of healthy solid foods over 5-7 days.
Rushing the refeeding process or immediately overeating can risk diarrhea, nausea and bloating. Use a gradual, gentle approach to give your body time to bounce back after an intense detox cleanse.
Transitioning from the lemon detox diet to regular healthy eating
Once you’ve successfully eased back into eating solid foods, you still need to make smart food choices for lasting health. Here are some tips to transition to regular healthy eating after doing the Master Cleanse:
- Focus on fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, nuts, seeds and healthy fats
- Drink plenty of water and herbal, green or black tea
- Reduce sugar, sweets, fried foods, processed foods and alcohol
- Limit portion sizes to avoid overeating and weight gain
- Eat slowly and mindfully
- Cook meals at home using nourishing whole foods
For many people, losing several pounds from the Master Cleanse makes them feel motivated to continue healthy habits going forward. Use the experience as a reset point and jumpstart toward ongoing healthy eating.
Keep in mind that the Master Cleanse is not nutritionally balanced or sustainable. Any cleanse lasting longer than a few days risks nutrient deficiencies. Talk to your doctor or dietitian to come up with an eating plan that provides all the nutrition your body needs.
The Master Cleanse diet involves consuming only a lemon juice-based drink for at least 10 days. It allows for no solid foods which makes it an extreme detox diet.
Potential benefits include rapid weight loss, body detox, simplicity and low cost. However, downsides include extreme restrictions, hunger, nutritional deficiencies and questionable long-term health benefits.
While the Master Cleanse can help you drop pounds quickly, it is difficult to follow for more than a few days at most. Additionally, research has not proven that it leads to significant detox or medical benefits.
After finishing the cleanse, be sure to reintroduce solid foods gradually. Focus on nourishing, easy to digest choices for the first several days before transitioning back to everyday healthy eating.