Lifting the Lid on Fad Diets: The Maple Syrup Diet

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Thrust into the limelight by Beyonce the fad diet known as 'The Maple Syrup" seems bizarre, but for weight loss, it works! On surface value it seems like a wonder diet, but how great is it?

What is a Fad Diet?

A fad diet is a diet that promises quick weight loss and/or body detoxification through what is usually a highly restrictive, unhealthy and unbalanced diet. Due to the restrictive nature of these diets, they are promoted as a short-term endeavour that can act as a quick fix to physiological problems. Fad diets aimed at weight loss tend to provide fast results, due to the limited amounts of foods you can consume. However, the results are not sustainable once coming off these diets and the process of limiting a range of foods for a significant length of time can lead to health issues, such as nutrient deficiencies, eating disorders and metabolic complications.

What is the Maple Syrup diet?

The Maple Syrup diet (also referred to as the Lemonade Diet/Master Cleanser Diet) is an extreme diet first introduced by holistic healer Stanley Burroughs in the 1940’s in a pamphlet called "The Master Cleanser" [1]. Although originally it was seen as a method in which to detoxify and cleanse one’s body, it is now predominantly known for its dramatic weight loss results. Beyoncé claimed it allowed her to lose “20 pounds in 10 days” during production of the film Dreamgirls, but she now refrains from promoting the diet to the public [2].

The Maple Syrup diet is highly restrictive, only allowing the consumption of a homemade drink consisting of 2 tablespoons of maple syrup, 2 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice, 1/10th teaspoon cayenne pepper and 8 ounces of water. There is no official guide to how the diet should be approached, but Burroughs recommended:

  • 6-12 glasses of the drink daily. If you get hungry, just have another glass.
  • For those who are overweight, less maple syrup may be taken. For those underweight, more maple syrup may be taken.
  • Extra water may be taken as desired.
  • No other food should be taken during the full period of the diet.
  • Do not use vitamin pills.
  • Follow the diet for a minimum of 10 days or more — up to 40 days and beyond may be safely followed for extremely serious cases.

Are the health claims backed by science?

The diet has several key health claims such as:

  • “It may be used with complete safety for every known type of disease”
  • “Fat melts away at the rate of about two pounds a day for most persons”
  • “All mucus diseases... are rapidly dissolved and eliminated from the body”

I’m sure you’ve heard of the saying, “if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is”. Well, this is a perfect example. Unfortunately, the health, safety and body composition benefits of the Maple Syrup diet are not based upon evidence from the scientific literature.

The concept of consuming or avoiding specific foods to cleanse or detoxify the body is based upon pseudo-science. In fact, the word “detox” was mentioned by over 300 young UK scientists and engineers to hold no meaning outside of the clinical treatment of drug addiction and poisoning. Human beings have highly evolved and adaptive biological systems. The body possesses self-regulatory mechanisms (mainly within the liver and kidney), and a healthy body is more than capable of eliminating the toxic substances imposed on it by the environment or through food. Toxicants within food are not a major health concern, and it is unnecessary for individuals to make drastic dietary changes in fear of toxicity issues. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other regulatory agencies make use of limits, specifications, action levels and tolerances during food manufacturing to ensure added chemicals or nutrients do not possess the ability to impact human health given highly excessive amounts are not consumed [3]. If you are still concerned with chemicals in food, focus on consuming natural, whole foods that are not (or minimally) processed instead of focusing on maple syrup to act as a magical cleaning system.

In terms of the Maple Syrup diet acting as a weight loss method, you could argue it is a valid method but for all the wrong reasons. The diet will make an individual lose weight in the same way that starvation will also cause weight loss, which is not a preferable or recommended option. Following the diets recommendations, people could be consuming as low as 650 calories per day. The severe caloric restriction inevitably leads to drastic weight loss, noticed after only a few days. However, losing weight too fast has been shown to lead to significant losses in lean mass and muscle tissue which could be reduced or avoided by following more conventional, less extreme weight loss methods [4]. In addition, the Maple Syrup diet consists of no dietary protein, and therefore losses in muscle mass will be accentuated even in comparison to a very low caloric diet. The synergistic effect of a low energy intake coupled with no dietary protein is truly a recipe for disaster. Severely restrictive diets also promote “dieting-induced weight-gain” when people return to normal eating habits. The weight-amplifying effect of extreme dieting is most notably seen in a study on over 2,000 sets of twins, noting twins who embarked on one or more intentional weight loss episodes were significantly heavier than their non-dieting co-twins [5].

Does the diet lead to nutrient deficiencies?

The Maple Syrup diet contains only 3 foods, all of which are not micronutrient-dense, and therefore a range of micronutrient deficiencies are inevitable and unavoidable. It is clear from looking at the nutritional profiles of the foods included in the diet that they are not substantial enough to satisfy the bodies metabolic demand for a variety of micronutrients. Based on the diets recommendations, people who follow it will only be consuming adequate amounts of vitamin C and manganese. All other micronutrient recommendations will not be met, and should be noted as a health risk. There are currently 14 known vitamins and 15 essential minerals that health departments advise to consume daily in their recommended amounts [6]. Based on this, a diet that only makes it possible to consume 2 of these 29 essential micronutrients is not a healthy short-term diet, and could potentially cause serious complications. Very low micronutrient intakes are linked to low energy levels [7], the acceleration of degenerative diseases of aging and DNA damage [8], especially when maintained over long periods. Short-term side effects of dramatically low micronutrient intakes are susceptibility to allergies, impaired thermoregulation and decreased functional performance [9].

To avoid health issues on the Maple Syrup diet, rich sources of vitamins and minerals such as fruits and dark, leafy green vegetables should be included. Multivitamin supplementation can also be used as a preventative measure to decrease the chances of poor nutritional status. Oily fish would also be a good inclusion to make up for the lack of dietary protein and fat present in the foods you can consume on such a restrictive eating plan.

At Oxford Vitality we do not condone or recommend undertaking the juice cleanse diet, however, if you are adamant we ask that you do so carefully and putting your nutrition as your top priority. Consult a doctor before undertaking any drastic diet or if you experience any strange side effects. There is no substitute for a healthy diet and exercise programme for healthy weight loss.

  1. Burroughs.S. (1942). The Master Cleanse. Available: http://www.circle-of-life.net/PDF/TheMasterCleanse.pdf
  2. Beyonce’s Maple Syrup Diet. Available: https://www.families.com/blog/beyonces-maple-syrup-diet
  3. Dolan.LC et al. (2010). Naturally Occurring Food Toxins, Toxins
  4. Most.J et al. (2016). Calorie restriction in humans: an update, Elsevier
  5. Pietiläinen.KH et al. (2012). Does dieting make you fat? A twin study, Int J Obes (Lond)
  6. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2010). Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. 7th Edition, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office
  7. UHN Daily. (2016). 3 Top Nutritional Deficiencies as Fatigue Causes. Available: http://universityhealthnews.com/daily/energy/3-top-nutritional-deficiencies-as-fatigue-causes/
  8. Ames.BN. (2006). Low micronutrient intake may accelerate the degenerative diseases of aging through allocation of scarce micronutrients by triage, PNAS
  9. Beard.JL. (1996). Micronutrient Deficiency States and Thermoregulation in the Cold, Institute of Medicine

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