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Posted by on Mar 2, 2012 in Commentary, Korean Culture, Korean Food | 7 comments

Korea’s new fruit diet craze: The Master Cleanse aka Lemon Detox

Korea’s new fruit diet craze: The Master Cleanse aka Lemon Detox

The Chosun Ilbo reports that the lemon detox diet, aka the Master Cleanse, has become such a craze in Korea, the government believes it is the main reason that lemon imports into Korea heave increased by 31 percent between 2010 and 2011.

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Spicy lemonade does not a diet make. (Photo by Steve Woods via

The Master Cleanse is basically a modified juice fast. A lot of people don’t know that the regimen was invented in the 1940s by Stanley Burroughs. The diet didn’t become a fad in the United States until the 1970s, and it has popped up off and on in Hollywood circles ever since.

Here is the basic recipe from the Master Cleanse website:

Mix each of the following lemonade diet ingredients into a large glass:
2 Tablespoons Fresh Lemon Juice
2 Tablespoons Rich Maple Syrup
1/10 teaspoon of Cayenne Pepper Powder – or to taste (as much as you can stand)
8 ounces (250 milliliters of Pure Water)

Notice that the only source of calories is maple syrup, which is a simple carbohydrate. I’m not exaggerating this is a starvation diet and not recommended at all.

Ed Zimney, M.D., posted a very harsh commentary on the Master Cleanse about five years ago:

So let’s take a look at the components of this diet. Nearly all of it consists of water, which is essential for life, but is of no nutritional value.

Next comes the maple syrup. This is the sole source of calories in the diet and prevents you from starving at a faster rate than if it were not included. The calories come from the sugar in the maple syrup. Why maple syrup? No reason except to make it sound esoteric and magical. As far as your body is concerned, sugar is sugar.

Next, we add some lemon juice. Essentially, this drink is a form of lemonade using maple syrup instead of plain sugar. What does a lemon contain that makes it so important? Nothing! Lemon juice is a weak acid as is vinegar. The amount of acid already in your stomach is orders of magnitude higher than the little bit of added acid from the lemon juice, so it is essentially like spitting in the ocean. Does lemon have any other magical properties that might help “detoxify” the body or otherwise aid in weight loss? Absolutely not!

Last is the cayenne pepper. The only possible effect of this substance is to irritate the lining of the GI tract and to potentially cause diarrhea.

There’s more to the Master Cleanse than drinking a special lemonade recipe for a week. It includes the use of herbal laxatives and a salt water flush to clean out the bowels.

If Koreans are using this as a weight-loss tool, they are setting up their bodies for disaster. As Dr. Zimney noted, it is a starvation diet. Although you will lose weight, you will also gain it all back once you return to a solid-food diet, which one must inevitably do. No one can live in good health for a long period of time on a diet in which maple syrup is your only source of calories.

I can’t imagine taking dietary advice from a man such as the late Stanley Burroughs. In the 1980’s, he was convicted in California of felony practicing medicine without a license, and unlawful sale of cancer treatments because he treated a terminally ill cancer patient with his Master Cleans diet instead of encouraging him to seek legitimate medical treatment. This is not the resume of a person I would consult with dietary, or any medically related questions.

It was only a few years ago that the Japanese banana diet was one of Korea’s hottest diet trends, which in my estimation is a much more healthful than the Master Cleanse. You don’t have to starve yourself, take lots of laxatives or cause a nationwide spike in lemon imports (and prices) in the process. And even more importantly, you don’t have to pack a spare change of underwear and slacks or wear adult diapers to work in case of a random attack of diarrhea.

The above opinionated views and information educates and informs the consumer. Information provided here should not be used during any medical emergency or for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. It should not replace professional advice from and consultation with a licensed physician. 


  1. Ridiculous. That's all I gotta say. I was hoping to hear from this post how Koreans are eating more fruit and the options of fruit here have gone up. haha …I'll check the lemon prices next time at the store…hmmm and maybe Maple syrup.

  2. It is still quite a popular cleanse in the U.S., so it's not just a Korean thing. I know of many American followers of the Master Cleanse who swear by its results, but I agree that it's not healthy and can be hard on the intestines.

  3. I was all agog…but glad to see you straighten THAT out. I will take my Maple syrup with some pancakes, thank you….

  4. Tastingkorea, the Master Cleanse program has been a part of American culture for about 40 years and its popularity ebbs and flows. Singer/Actress Beyonce Knowles caused the most recent spike in popularity of the diet a few years ago when she admitted to the press that she went on it for a short time to prepare herself for her role in the movie Dreamgirls. Even at at time, the USA did not have a

    • My point was that it was not just a Korean thing as your previous comment implied. The Master Cleanse was already quite popular in the U.S. before Beyonce went on it.

    • I never implied that it was "just a Korean thing" just that it's newly popular there, which is what the Chosun Ilbo article points out. My post also points out that this cleans has been around for over 40 years so it's not necessarily new, just new to Koreans.

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