Jameela Jamil made headlines recently when she lashed out at Cardi B’s instagram post, which featured the singer promoting a detox tea. “GOD I hope all these celebrities all s**t their pants in public,” The Good Place actress said on Twitter, “the way the poor women who buy this nonsense upon their recommendation do.” These products are becoming more and more common. This brand was one that had never hit my radar before. And no, I’m not going to give them any free publicity here.
I’m not immune to the allure of the quick fix. And tea is good for you, isn’t it? When I bought my first (and only) bag of detox tea, I figured it couldn’t hurt even if it didn’t help. Which is, I suspect, the attitude most people approach these products with. I did a deep dive into a few major Detox Tea or Skinny Tea products. To see what is in them, why they fail to deliver on promises, and what you can drink instead – keep reading!
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What’s in your Detox Tea?
Detox Teas are not regulated by the FDA, so they are under no obligation to tell you exactly what is in their products or how much is there. But there are a few ingredients you will see over and over again.
- Tea – Green, Oolong, White, Black, Puh-er. Real tea comes from the plant Camellia sinensis and we get different varieties based on how it is prepared. Sorry, your chamomile and herbal teas aren’t “true” tea in that sense. But they are still delicious beverages. There is no scientific consensus on the benefits of C. sinensis, but it does provide caffeine — the level in your cup will vary by leaf preparation.
- Ginger – This fragrant root has been used for centuries to help upset stomachs, which is why you drink ginger ale for a tummy ache. (Fun fact, your Canada Dry doesn’t have much in the way of real ginger. Sorry.)
- Yerba Mate – Where tea is common on the continent of Asia, South America has its own highly caffeinated plant. Used to create the drink mate, the plant is another energy booster and also contains electrolytes which help maintain fluid levels in the body.
- Senna – Put a pin in this one, we will get to it later.
Outside of these major components, every company has a different blend. In the end, these primarily effect flavor but some may have a diuretic component as well.
What does Detox Tea Do?
Scrolling through four major tea brands, you see the same major promises over and over.
- Boost Metabolism
- Remove Toxins
- Reduce Bloating
- Cleanse your Digestive System
But, what do these promises really mean?
We went over some metabolism myths before, but this claim preys on the idea that people don’t know what their metabolism is. Simply put, it’s the sum total of energy used in your body’s day-to-day activities.
The four major components of your metabolism are:
- Base Metabolic Rate (BMR) – the energy you burn at rest simply maintaining your cells. This is largely determined by height, weight, and age. Gaining muscle mass means more energy is needed for daily maintenance. Other than that, this one is hard to change.
- Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) – the energy you burn to digest food. Food with more fiber and protein takes more energy to break down than simple carbohydrates. More food and more nutritious food = higher TEF.
- Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (EAT) – the energy you burn working out.
- Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) – the energy you burn going about daily activities.
Most of these skinny detox teas have a large amount of caffeine. This may make you feel more energized going into a workout (EAT), or more likely to walk around and increase your NEAT. But, you could also get that same boost from a cup of coffee.
The idea that our bodies are full of poisons that are keeping us unhealthy, sick, and chubby is one that snake oil salespeople have been using for ages. It makes sense, in a way. We are surrounded by car exhaust and pesticides and other pollutants, it would make sense that our bodies are polluted.
I would like to take this moment to introduce you to a few of my friends: Kidney and Liver.
Your kidneys and liver are the organs responsible for keeping your body clean from anything that shouldn’t be there and getting rid of it appropriately. These are what “detox” your body, and if these aren’t doing the job you don’t need tea. You need a doctor.
Reduce Bloating & Cleanse Your Digestive System
Bloating is typically caused by water retention or gas retention in the body. Maybe you’re eating too much beans and brussels sprouts. Or, perhaps you had a high-sodium high-carb meal from a restaurant. Or you are like me and told yourself that lactose intolerance be damned, you were gonna have that ice cream.
A cup of cleansing and debloating tea might sound nice until you know what’s in it.A cup of cleansing and debloating tea might sound nice until you know what's in it.
Pretty much every “detox tea” on the market contains this one ingredient: Senna.
Yes, the same senna that you can find in the laxative aisle for $5. And that is exactly what Jamil’s tweet was about. The primary effect of detox teas is a laxative effect.
So yes, pooping is a great way to get rid of waste that exacerbate bloating. But, like any laxative, there is an actual danger here.
You body may become dependent on it. After extended laxative use, say, a 28-day poop-tea “detox”, your body may struggle to eliminate waste naturally. As soon as you stop drinking the product, your natural digestive processes are waiting for the next hit of laxative to get it moving. When you become backed up and bloated again, you blame the lack of tea and shell out another $40-$50 to get those cleansing properties back.
I’d say just pay $5 for the senna in the store, but don’t pay $5 for senna in the store. Laxatives should be used very sparingly to prevent dependence. If you are having difficulty with constipation, please see your doctor.
What Can You Drink Instead?
Walk down the tea aisle of your grocery store. Pick a tea you like. Drink.
Seriously. Every one of these detox teas say they work along with a healthy diet and exercise. So why not skip the $50 box of tea, focus on your healthy diet and exercise, and drink a cup of tea you actually enjoy. Besides, from my experience, most of these detox teas taste like garbage and it is a struggle to get them down. It’s really not worth the risk of laxative dependence.
Obviously, different brands of tea have different quality. Some will be higher in caffeine and some will be herbal. If you want a brand of tea that has the tea-ginger-mate combination without the senna, I have been jamming on SporTea. The Lodge at Woodloch, where I spent Thanksgiving with my mom, had a huge pitcher of this cold brewed by the gym. I forgot how many times I filled up my water bottle with this stuff. Best part, a 20-serving box is about $10.
The scientific consensus on the health benefits of tea isn’t conclusive. But I think we can all agree that a warm cup of tea can just make us feel better on a cold or stressful day. As far as your fitness goals, drinking a hot beverage naturally decreases appetite by making you feel full. It will also hydrate you which means your body can function more efficiently and you can think more clearly.
Here’s what you can usually find in my cup:
- Two Leaves and a Bud – Mountain High Organic Chai
- David’s Tea – Candy Cane Crush and Mother’s Little Helper
What else does Jameela Jamil have to say?
If you want to “curb your appetite” eat some damn green vegetables or have some nutritious natural vegetable soup. Don’t drink these “detox” teas. You need fiber! Not something that honestly just makes you have diarrhea the day you take it and constipates you in the long run…
— Jameela Jamil (@jameelajamil) November 24, 2018
And there you have it, folks.
Real nutrition, real food, and progressive exercise are the answer. Of course, it doesn’t sound as glamorous as the packaging on these tea detoxes. Why spend the time working on creating healthy habits, a good relationship with food, and appreciation for your body when you can just drink a cup of tea to be thinner.
Because you can’t.
There are no shortcuts to anywhere in life worth going.
Have you fallen for one of these “teatoxes”? What has your experience been?
What other gimmicks are you guilty of trying because what could it hurt? (No shame, I bought that belt that ZAPS your abs into shape. Twice.)
Share your story in the comments!