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”.

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.

The Maple Syrup diet is highly restrictive.

Allowing, only, 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.

The Cons

  • Guaranteed 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 serious health risk.

There are currently 14 known vitamin groups and 15 essential minerals that health departments advise to consume daily in their recommended amounts [1]. 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 severe complications.

Very low micronutrient intakes are linked to low energy levels [2], and the acceleration of degenerative diseases of aging and DNA damage [3], especially when maintained over long periods. Short-term side effects of dramatically low micronutrient intakes are susceptibility to allergies and disease, impaired thermoregulation and decreased functional performance [4].

  • Extreme, unsustainable weight loss

The Maple Syrup diet is a valid weight loss 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, which equates on average to a 3lb per week loss in females and 4lbs in males (based on recommended daily energy intakes). The severe caloric restriction inevitably leads to drastic weight loss, noticed after only a few days.

However, drastic and rapid methods of fat loss also come accompanied with high levels of muscle loss which together cause feelings of fatigue, weakness, mental blurs, memory loss and hormonal complications.

It is not uncommon for extreme diets to cause male’s testosterone levels, and females estrogen levels, to crash to a point where there is a loss of menstruation and sex drive. Decreases in serum T3 concentrations and body cell mass induced by severe restriction of energy intake also tend to reduce the resting metabolic rate by ~10% per month, increasing the likelihood of instant weight regain once normal eating habits are re-established [5].

This concept is known as “dieting-induced weight-gain”. A real-world example of this is seen on the popular program ‘The Biggest Loser’ where morbidly obese individuals compete to lose the most amount of weight in the shortest amount of time. A study on the program measured weight loss at the end of the competition, which was ~58.3kg on average. However, in a follow-up 6 years later, the resting metabolic rate of competitors was decreased by 610kcal/day compared to baseline levels, and ~41.0kg of the lost weight was regained [6].

  • No legitimate reason for body detoxification

Before it was co-opted in the recent craze, the word “detox” referred chiefly to a medical procedure that rids the body of dangerous, often life-threatening, levels of alcohol, drugs, or poisons.

Nowadays the word has spread to diet programs and fear mongers to sell products based on psychological manipulation without supporting scientific evidence.

We have, in fact, highly developed and expertly designed mechanisms to naturally detox and eliminate toxins. Specific organs, such as the liver, kidneys, digestive system, lungs and skin, and conjugating enzymes, co-factors and our remarkable gut bacteria, work efficiently to make sure we are getting rid of these toxins constantly and without adverse effects.

The concept that we build up an accumulation of waste or toxic products is, for the majority of us, simply not true (unless you are consuming petrol maybe?). 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 [7].

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.

Who should run this diet?

There is not a known circumstance where the Maple Syrup diet should be recommended to anyone under any conditions. The diet is likely to pose significant health risks to anyone who follows it for any significant length of time (1 week+), and it should be advertised alongside a health warning.


References

1) 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

2) UHN Daily. (2016). 3 Top Nutritional Deficiencies as Fatigue Causes. Available: http://universityhealthnews.com/daily/energy/3-top-nutritional-deficiencies-as-fatigue-causes/

3) Ames BN. (2006). Low micronutrient intake may accelerate the degenerative diseases of aging through allocation of scarce micronutrients by triage. PNAS

4) Beard JL. (1996). Micronutrient Deficiency States and Thermoregulation in the Cold. Institute of Medicine

5) Welle SL, Amatruda JM, Forbes GB, Lockwood DH. (1984). Resting metabolic rates of obese women after rapid weight loss. J Clin Endocrinol Metab.

6) Fothergill E, Guo J, Howard L, Kerns JC, Knuth ND, Brychta R, Chen KY, Skarulis MC, Walter M, Walter PJ, Hall KD. (2016). Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after “The Biggest Loser” competition. Obesity

7) Dolan LC. (2010). Naturally Occurring Food Toxins. Toxins