Master Cleanse (Lemonade) Diet: Does it Work for Weight Loss?

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The Master Cleanse diet, also known as the Lemonade Diet, is a modified juice fast used for quick weight loss.

No solid food is eaten for at least 10 days, and the only source of calories and nutrients is a homemade sweetened lemon beverage.

Proponents of this diet say that it melts fat and cleanses your body of toxins, but does science really back up these claims?

This article will take a deeper look at the pros and cons of the Master Cleanse diet, discuss whether it leads to weight loss and provide more details on how it works.

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How Does the Master Cleanse Diet Work?

The Master Cleanse diet is relatively simple to follow, but can be quite an adjustment from regular dieting since no solid food is allowed.

Easing Into the Master Cleanse

Since consuming a liquid-only diet is a radical change for most people, it is recommended to ease into it gradually over a few days:

  • Days 1 and 2: Cut out processed foods, alcohol, caffeine, meat, dairy and added sugars. Focus on eating raw whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables.
  • Day 3: Get used to a liquid diet by enjoying smoothies, pureed soups and broths, as well as fresh fruit and vegetable juices.
  • Day 4: Drink only water and fresh- squeezed orange juice. Add maple syrup as needed for additional calories. Drink laxative tea before bed.
  • Day 5: Start the Master Cleanse.
Following the Master Cleanse

Once you have officially started the Master Cleanse, all of your calories will come from a homemade lemon-maple-cayenne beverage.

The recipe for the Master Cleanse beverage is:

  • 2 tablespoons (30 grams) fresh-squeezed lemon juice (about 1/2 a lemon)
  • 2 tablespoons (40 grams) pure maple syrup
  • 1/10 teaspoon (0.2 grams) cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
  • 8 to 12 ounces of purified or spring water

Simply mix together the above ingredients and drink it whenever you are hungry. At least six servings are recommended per day.

In addition to the lemonade drink, consume one quart of warm salt water each morning to stimulate bowel movements. Herbal laxative teas are also permitted, as desired.

The creators of the Master Cleanse recommend staying on the diet for at least 10 and up to 40 days, but there is no research to support these recommendations.

Easing out of the Master Cleanse

When you are ready to start eating food again, you can transition out of the Master Cleanse.

  • Day 1: Start by drinking fresh-squeezed orange juice for one day.
  • Day 2: The next day, add vegetable soup.
  • Day 3: Enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Day 4: You can now eat regularly again, with an emphasis on whole, minimally processed foods.

The Master Cleanse Diet is a 10- to 40-day liquid fast. No solid food is eaten, and only a spicy lemonade drink, tea, water and salt are consumed. Since this is a radical diet change for most people, it is a good idea to gradually ease in and out of it.

Can It Help You Lose Weight?

The Master Cleanse diet is a modified type of fasting, and typically leads to weight loss.

Each serving of the Master Cleanse beverage contains about 110 calories, and at least six servings are recommended per day. Most people will consume fewer calories than their bodies burn, leading to short-term weight loss.

One study found that adults who drank lemon water with honey during four days of fasting lost an average of 4.8 pounds (2.2 kg) and had significantly lower triglyceride levels (1).

A second study found that women who drank a sweetened lemon beverage while fasting for seven days lost an average of 5.7 pounds (2.6 kg) and also had less inflammation (2).

While the Master Cleanse diet does lead to short-term weight loss, no studies have examined whether the weight loss is maintained long-term.

Research suggests that dieting only has a 20% long-term success rate. Making smaller, sustainable diet and lifestyle changes may be a better strategy for weight loss (3).

The Master Cleanse diet typically leads to weight loss and may reduce triglyceride and inflammation levels, but it is unclear whether these benefits are maintained over time.

Does It Actually Remove Toxins?

The Master Cleanse diet claims to remove harmful “toxins” from the body, but there are no studies to support these claims (4).

There is a growing body of research that suggests some foods — such as cruciferous vegetables, seaweed, herbs and spices — can enhance the liver’s natural ability to neutralize toxins, but this does not apply to the Master Cleanse diet (4, 5).

There is no research to support the claim that the Master Cleanse diet removes toxins from the body.

Other Benefits of the Master Cleanse Diet

As a weight loss diet, the Master Cleanse has several benefits.

It’s Easy to Follow

Beyond making the Master Cleanse lemonade and drinking it when you are hungry, no cooking or calorie counting is required.

This can be very appealing for people with busy schedules or those who do not enjoy food preparation.

It’s Relatively Inexpensive

Since the only items allowed on the Master Cleanse are lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper, salt, water and tea, grocery bills are relatively low while on the cleanse.

However, the Master Cleanse is only a short-term diet, so this benefit only lasts as long as you remain on the cleanse.

The Master Cleanse diet is easy to understand and follow, and may be less expensive than a regular diet.

Downsides of the Master Cleanse Diet

While the Master Cleanse diet may lead to rapid weight loss, it has some downsides.

It’s Not a Balanced Diet

Drinking only lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper does not provide enough fiber, protein, fat, vitamins or minerals for your body’s needs.

The World Health Organization (WHO) advises getting no more than 5% of your daily calories from added sugars, which equals roughly 25 grams per day for the average adult (6).

Just one serving of the Master Cleanse lemonade contains over 23 grams of sugar, and maple syrup is the main source of calories during the cleanse (7, 8).

Therefore, the recommended serving of six lemonades per day includes over 138 grams of added sugar.

Interestingly, even though Master Cleanse lemonade is very high in sugar, it does not appear to negatively affect blood sugar levels when consumed in small quantities during a week-long fast (2).

It Can Be Stressful and Difficult to Stick to

Going more than a week without solid food can be very difficult, both mentally and physically.

Some people may find it difficult to attend social events or outings with friends, since they cannot partake in group meals.

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Additionally, restricting your calorie intake can be taxing on the body and temporarily increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is linked to weight gain over time (9, 10, 11).

It Can Cause Unpleasant Side Effects in Some People

Very low-calorie diets, including the Master Cleanse, can cause side effects in some people.

The most common complaints are bad breath, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, irritability, muscle weakness and cramps, hair loss, poor cold tolerance and nausea (2, 12).

Gallstones can also occur in some people, since rapid weight loss increases the risk of developing them (13, 14, 15).

Constipation is another common complaint, since no solid food is eaten during the cleanse.

Salt water flushes and herbal laxative teas are used to stimulate bowel movements instead, but may cause abdominal cramping, bloating and nausea in some people (16).

It’s Not Appropriate for Everyone

Very low-calorie diets like the Master Cleanse are not appropriate for everyone (12).

Women who are pregnant or lactating should not do the Master Cleanse, since they need larger amounts of calories and nutrients.

It is also not appropriate for those with a history of eating disorders, since restrictive dieting and laxative use may increase the risk of relapse (17).

People who take insulin or sulfonylureas to manage blood sugars should also use caution before starting a juice cleanse, as they may develop low blood sugar.

Anyone with a history of heart issues should consult with their doctor before fasting in order to avoid possible electrolyte imbalances that might affect the heart (13).

The Master Cleanse diet lacks many of the important nutrients your body needs, and may be difficult to maintain. This diet is not appropriate for everyone, and may cause unpleasant side effects in some people.

What to Eat on the Master Cleanse Diet

Master Cleanse lemonade, made from fresh lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper and water, is the only food allowed during the diet.

Warm salt water can be consumed in the mornings to stimulate bowel movements and herbal laxative tea can be enjoyed in the evenings.

No other foods or beverages are allowed during the Master Cleanse diet.

The only foods allowed on the Master Cleanse diet are freshly squeezed lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper and water. Herbal laxative tea and warm salt water are used to stimulate bowel movements as needed.

Sample Day on the Master Cleanse

Here’s what one day on the Master Cleanse diet can look like:

  • First thing in the morning: Drink one quart (32 fl oz) of warm water mixed with 2 teaspoons of sea salt to stimulate your bowels.
  • Throughout the day: Have at least six servings of Master Cleanse lemonade whenever you feel hungry.
  • Before bed: Drink one cup of herbal laxative tea, if desired.

The Master Cleanse diet is relatively straightforward. It starts with a salt water flush in the morning, followed by the Master Cleanse lemonade throughout the day. Herbal laxative tea can be consumed at night as needed.

Shopping List

If you’re considering embarking on the Master Cleanse diet, the following shopping lists can help you prepare:

For the Master Cleanse

The main ingredients for the Master Cleanse are lemons, maple syrup, cayenne pepper and water. Other suggested ingredients for easing into and out the cleanse are provided in the list above.

The Bottom Line

The Master Cleanse diet, sometimes called the Lemonade Diet, is a 10- to 40-day juice cleanse designed to help people lose weight quickly.

No solid food is allowed on the cleanse, and all calories come from a homemade sweetened lemon beverage. As needed, salt water flushes and herbal laxative teas are used to stimulate bowel movements.

While the Master Cleanse may help people lose weight quickly and in the short term, it is an extreme form of dieting and there is no evidence that it eliminates toxins.

It important to note that the Master Cleanse diet is not for everyone, and you should always check with your doctor before starting any dramatic diet change.

Additionally, it is not a long-term solution. For lasting, sustainable weight loss, diet and lifestyle modifications are key.