Extreme detoxification diets and cleanses can be harsh on our bodies. Sipping a liquid diet of lemon water and cayenne or green juice, or eating salad for weeks on end may help you meet short-term health goals, but these detox diets aren’t sustainable because they don’t involve, well, food. Plus they may not provide you with sufficient quantities of protein and fibre needed to release those toxins out of your body.
Instead, let’s stop the cycle of consuming in excess and subsequently cleansing in excess, and try adding detoxifying foods into the diet on a regular basis. These detox foods will gently help you remove harmful toxins from your body, make you feel great, and are absolutely delicious!
What is Detoxification?
Our bodies are exposed to a wide range of compounds in daily life. Some of these are from external sources that we ingest, such as environmental pollution, heavy metals, plastics, from food, drugs and alcohol. Other substances are ones that our bodies make, such as hormones or cholesterol, that serve a purpose and then need to be shuttled out.
The detoxification process is our body’s automatic and natural ability to filter out toxins so they are no longer harmful. You can learn more about detoxification in our podcast episode.
How Foods Help With Detoxification
Increasingly, the constant burden on our bodies from the chemicals in our daily lives means we may struggle with natural detoxification – and this is where food can play a role.
A nutritious diet provides us with key nutrients that support our inherent detoxification processes.
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10 foods to help you gently detox
This family of veggies, which includes broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and bok choy, contain a multitude of nutrients that support detoxification. Crucifers are rich in glucosinolates, which are sulfur compounds that help to neutralize and eliminate carcinogens, as well as indole-3-carbinol (I3C) – an important nutrient that prevents estrogen-related cancers. If you’re looking for more reasons to love that bunch of broccoli, crucifers also activate detoxification enzymes, support the immune system, contain free radical-fighting antioxidants, and are fantastic sources of fibre.
Lemons and Limes
These bright citrus fruits help stimulate digestion and metabolism, and they contain high amounts of Vitamin C, an important antioxidant the liver uses to filter out free radicals. Start off your day with squeezing fresh lemon into a glass of water, use it in your salad dressings, or drizzle it over steamed and roasted vegetables. And if you’re looking for a way to use those lemon peels, try making this easy dried lemon zest.
When we begin to detoxify, we need something to grab on to those harmful chemicals and transport them away. Enter flaxseeds. These little seeds are extremely high in fibre, which is great for the digestive tract and helps us eliminate unwanted toxins. Flaxseeds are also a wonderful source of free radical-fighting antioxidants, anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, and cancer-preventing compounds called lignans. Flaxseeds can be easily added to your:
Garlic and Onions
Photo: Alice Henneman
If you’ve ever sliced an onion or minced a clove of garlic, then you know how pungent these babies can be. But that strong smell is where the power lies – or wafts, in this case. Allium vegetables like garlic, onions, leeks and scallions contain sulfur compounds that enhance the detoxification enzymes, which help us wipe out toxins and inhibit carcinogens. Plus they add flavour to virtually any dish, making them easy to incorporate into your diet.
Cilantro (or Parsley)
Photo: Thamizhpparithi Maari
Cilantro is a powerful herb packed with anti-microbial properties and it is thought to contain compounds that help bind to heavy metals and remove them from the body. If you’re a cilantro-hater, then swap it for parsley.
Turmeric is one of our most-loved herbs and there are so many ways to enjoy it. It’s primary component, called curcumin, is incredibly supportive and protective for the liver, one of our main detoxification organs.
Try this recipe for turmeric paste, which you can use in both sweet and savoury recipes.
Photo: Content Pixie via Unsplash
An incredibly potent antioxidant, green tea helps to prompt the enzymes involved in our liver’s second phase of detoxification, which transforms toxins into less harmful toxins so we can shuttle them out of our bodies.
Research shows that green tea can also protect us from toxins we’re exposed to in the environment, including:
- mycotoxins (compounds from fungi that cause disease and even death)
- polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a set of pervasive industrial chemicals that can impact our immune system, brain and thyroid
Dark Leafy Greens
Photo: Heather Barnes via Unsplash
Greens are incredibly nutrient-dense. They can help rid us of heavy metals, and produce the enzymes that go on to make antioxidants and enzymes that aid detoxing. If consuming greens is challenging, try a high quality greens powder or juicing (see below).
Low Glycemic Vegetable Juice
Photo: Christina Rumpf via Unsplash
Vegetable juices don’t contain fibre and have high concentrations of nutrients so you’re able to consume far more nutrition at once than if you tried to eat all of those fruits and veggies on their own. Aim for juice made with low-glycemic veggies and fruits to help balance blood sugar, like:
- dark leafy greens
- herbs (parsley/cilantro/mint)
- green apple
For more on juicing, we have an entire module on Smoothies and Juicing in the Culinary Nutrition Expert Program.
Photo: Uliana Kopanytsia via Unsplash
These seasonal beauties are not only rich in antioxidants, but they’re also one of the most fibre-rich of the berries, which means they can help us eliminate toxins regularly through our poop.
Lifestyle Tips for Detoxing
We have multiple channels of elimination, and diet and supplements aren’t the only way to support them. Lifestyle practices can help enhance additional detoxification channels like our lungs, skin and mind. Here are a few extra things you can do.
Sweat it Out
Use a sauna 3 times weekly, and preferably an infrared sauna if you can. This helps us eliminate chemicals through our sweat.
Start with 5 deep breaths, inhale for 4 counts, exhale for 5.
Skin Brush Twice Daily
Skin brushing increases circulation, gets the lymph moving, and detoxes the skin.
Walking, swimming, stretching or gentle yoga are great options!
Meditation, reading, taking a bath, colouring, or anything else that helps you unwind.
Health regimens don’t have to be a punishing process. With these 10 foods to help you gently detox, along with a few key lifestyle strategies, detoxification can be a tasty and, dare we say it, enjoyable process!