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Joy Bauer's cleanse: Cut out these 4 food groups for a healthier you

A month-long diet cleanse that'll make a huge impact on your health, energy level and waistline.
/ Source: TODAY

Dieting can seem overwhelming, and the term "cleanse" can have so many different meanings. Before you read further, forget whatever you've read about doing a cleanse. This time around, you're going to focus on only four things.

I say “only” four things to show you just how do-able this is, but don’t be fooled. These four things have the ability to make a HUGE impact on your health, energy level and waistline. It may be tough to give up the four diet categories at first, but I promise to make this as realistic and manageable as possible. Plus, the payoff is so worth it. And remember… We are all in this together!

A few things to note:

  1. Some foods fall into more than one category. However, for simplicity’s sake, I’ve listed foods under only one category.
  2. Many sweet treats and popular snack foods are made with white starch and excess sugar, and therefore, are off the menu. Instead, buy or prepare more nutritious alternatives made with whole grains and fruit. Also look for healthy packaged items with less than 12 grams of sugar per serving.
  3. “Diet” items or anything that contains non-caloric sweeteners are not allowed. Why? This plan is about cleansing our palates and learning to enjoy a variety of flavors and textures without being overwhelmed by an intense sweet or salty taste.
  4. If weight loss is your goal, be mindful of portions. For example, while whole grain products are much healthier than their refined counterparts (brown rice versus white rice), they still contain about the same amount of calories, so it’s critical to limit serving sizes.
  5. Make this cleanse your own—these rules are not set in stone and can be personally tailored to ensure your success. Also, if you blow it at one meal, don’t get discouraged and give up completely. Shake it off and make sure to get back on track with your next bite.

Note: Check in with your doctor before making any significant changes to your eating plan. Also, keep in mind, while this plan is presented in a "lose and choose” fashion, you can certainly enjoy small amounts of the off-limit items as part of a healthy eating plan.

#startTODAY graphic of Joy Bauer's foods to lose
Neal Carter / TODAY


White Starch

“White starch” includes all refined carbohydrates or products that are made using refined carbohydrates. Instead, your goal is to consume whole grain versions. Whole grains contain 100% of the original grain kernel, and therefore, retain the fiber and nutrients found within. Refined versions, on the other hand, are stripped of most of the fiber and nutrients (making them subpar selections).

When it comes to packaged goods, the first ingredient MUST be a whole grain in order to be “on plan.” If any of the following refined grains occupy that first ingredient spot, put it back on the shelf: all-purpose flour, bleached flour, degermed corn flour, enriched flour, enriched wheat flour, semolina flour, wheat flour, white flour.

  • Bread, white
  • Breakfast cereal, refined
  • Cakes
  • Cookies
  • Cous cous, refined
  • Desserts
  • Muffins
  • Pasta, white
  • Pastries
  • Rice, white and yellow
  • Rolls
  • Refined flours (see list above)
  • Wraps, refined
  • Tarts

Fatty meats

Fatty cuts of meat come packaged with extra calories and saturated fat, and plenty of research has shown we’d be better off without them. For the month of January, avoid the fattiest offenders, which include the following.

  • Chicken wings
  • Fatty cuts of beef: flap steak, New York strip steak, porterhouse, prime rib, rib-eye steak, rib roast, sausage, skirt steak, T-bone steak
  • Fatty cuts of pork: bacon, Boston butt, pork belly, riblets, sausage, side ribs
  • Fatty deli meats: bologna, ham, pastrami, pepperoni, salami, sausage
  • Ground meat or poultry with more than 10% fat
  • Hot dogs
  • Poultry skin
  • Turkey wings

Sugary drinks

Americans get 7 percent of their daily calories from sugary beverages, which can wreak havoc in the body. This includes beverage sweetened with sugar or artificial or natural non-caloric sweeteners in any form. The following items are not allowed on this plan.

DIFFERENT NAMES FOR SUGAR: Agave, brown rice syrup, coconut sugar, corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, fructose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, molasses, and, of course, sugar.

DIFFERENT NAMES FOR NON-CALORIC SWEETENERS: aspartame/Equal, monk fruit, saccharin/Sweet-n-low, stevia/Pure Via/Truvia, sucralose/Splenda.

  • Energy drinks (regular and diet)
  • Fruit juice (see allowed list for diluted fruit juice)
  • “Fruit” drinks
  • Soda (regular and diet)
  • Sweetened coffee
  • Sweetened milk and milk alternatives
  • Sweetened teas (regular and diet)
  • Tonic water

Salty foods

It’s easy enough to remove the saltshaker from the table, but with so many hidden sources of sodium (AKA salt) lurking in food products, it’s nearly impossible to cut it out completely. (We need some sodium to maintain blood pressure, keep fluid balance, and transmit nerve impulses, but most of us consume way more than necessary.) In an attempt to be realistic as possible, these are the limits on sodium we are enforcing for this meal plan. Note that these are based on the serving sizes specified on the nutrition panel, so be mindful of portions.

No more than 200 mg per serving for:

  • Bread
  • Canned vegetables
  • Cereal
  • Cheese
  • Condiments
  • Nuts
  • Pasta sauce
  • Prepared sides
  • Pre-seasoned grain and pasta mixes
  • Salad dressings
  • Snacks
  • Vegetable juices

No more than 300 mg per serving for:

  • Canned soups
  • Deli turkey or chicken

No more than 600 mg per serving for:

  • Frozen entrées


A few extra items to avoid during January’s Cleanse:

  • Anything fried (including French fries, chicken nuggets, potato chips, etc.)
  • Candy
  • Flavored yogurt (with more than 17 grams sugar per single container)
  • Milk chocolate




  • Fresh/frozen fruit (with no sugar added)

  • Fresh/frozen vegetables


  • Amaranth

  • Barley

  • Bread, whole grain

  • Brown rice

  • Buckwheat

  • Bulgur

  • Corn

  • Cous cous, whole grain

  • Einkorn

  • Farro

  • Flour, whole grain (such as brown rice, oat, and whole wheat)

  • Flour, nut (such as almond and coconut)

  • Freekeh

  • Kamut

  • Kaniwa

  • Millet

  • Oats

  • Pasta, whole grain

  • Popcorn

  • Quinoa

  • Rice, brown and wild

  • Rye

  • Sorghum

  • Spelt

  • Teff

  • Triticale

  • Whole wheat

Meats and Proteins

  • Beef (lean cuts): bottom round roast and steak, chuck shoulder steak, eye round roast and steak, flank steak, round steak/cubed steak, round tip roast and steak, shank cross cuts, sirloin steak, tenderloin roast and steak, top round roast and steak
  • Eggs
  • Fish and seafood
  • Legumes (beans, peas, etc.)
  • Lentils
  • Nuts
  • Pork (lean cuts): loin chops, loin roast, pork tenderloin, rib chops, and rib roast, sirloin chops, sirloin roast, top loin chops
  • Poultry: light and dark meat without skin
  • Seeds
  • Tofu


In addition to water, you may have:

  • Alcohol*
  • Club soda
  • Coffee
  • Milk
  • Milk alternatives (including unsweetened soy milk, almond milk, cashew milk, coconut milk and rice milk)
  • Seltzer/Sparkling water (including naturally flavored)
  • Teas, unsweetened (all varieties, including herbal)
  • Water

*A note about alcohol: When it comes to wine, beer and spirits, limit your intake to no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. “A drink” is equal to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor and avoid sugary mixers.

Tasty extras

  • All herbs and spices
  • All vinegars
  • Cacao nibs
  • Cacao powder, unsweetened
  • Cooking oils
  • Dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa; limit to one ounce per day)
  • Lemon and lemon zest
  • Lime and lime zest
  • Yogurt (plain or flavored, with less than 17 grams of sugar per container)

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