To detox or not to detox, that is the question?

After all the excesses of Christmas and New Year a detox diet sounds like a good idea and, is certainly a fashionable thing to do, but will what does it really mean and will you actually benefit?

Does your detox diet look like this?

Detox diet?

Most ‘detox diets’ generally include a period of fasting, may include juices or raw fruit and vegetables and some even advocate enemas or ‘cleansing’ supplements. Whilst limiting your food intake, stripping out the processed foods, alcohol and caffeine coupled with increasing fruit, veggies will certainly help you, these more extreme approaches are unproven in benefit and may have some serious downsides, such as:

  1. They are impractical – If you are going to remove all solid foods your energy levels will plummet, so this is not something that you can undertake while you are doing any kind of activity e.g. work, exercise, looking after a family. Basically it’s not a realistic option for most people.
  2. You’ll may get headaches – If you are a caffeine drinker and you drop it suddenly you WILL get caffeine withdrawal headaches, cutting it back more gradually will avoid this.
  3. It can be risky – If you on medication, ill or pregnant then starving yourself if a no-go area. Even if you are healthy you should make sure there is someone around who can keep an eye on you – better still do it under supervision by seeking advice from a qualified professional or booking into a reputable naturopathic spa.
  4. They do not give sustainable results– As with any extreme diet approach it can be hard to follow and can make you focus more on wanting food, so when you finish there is a risk of rebound as you treat yourself to all the things you missed. This can undo all the good you set out to achieve and can also set you up for a pattern of yo-yo dieting moving forward.

I have news for you – there is no magic bullet! – A week on juice (likely followed by a return to your old ways) is not going to give you sustained weight loss or transform your health for the long term.

However, a gradual and sustained approach to healthier choices that you can adopt into your everyday life just might.

High fruit and veg intake supports your liver to detox

Your detox diet should look like this

So if you want really want to support your body’s ability to detox let’s start by looking at your major detox organ – the unsung hero that is your liver.
Love your liver!

Your liver is a consummate multi-tasker – whose heady repertoire includes making digestive fluids , creating and breaking down hormones, helping to regulate blood sugar AND processing all food, nutrients, alcohol, drugs and toxins (both from internal processes and external pollutants) that enter the blood stream. Yup, it’s a busy bee and eating well can support it to perform its many jobs more effectively.

It does its vital detox role in partnership with your digestive, urinary and respiratory systems, so give some thought to supporting all three for effective toxin removal. For example, if you are constipated you will reabsorb the chemicals your liver has worked so hard to process, so no amount of ‘detoxing’ will help unless you are ‘going’ regularly. Staying well hydrated is vital for your kidneys to perform their role in elimination and even your breathing plays its part through the removal of waste carbon dioxide.

Take a sensible approach

The liver has one of the highest energy demands of any organ in the body so starving yourself could actually be counter-productive to your liver’s ability to remove toxins. A good strategy to help your body eliminate toxins starts with making some healthier choices to limit your toxic load whilst, at the same time providing a rich range of nutrients to support your gut and liver function.

Reduce the load

To help get your body back on track limit or remove some of the more unhealthy food or lifestyle choices that may be taking their toll:

  • Fried foods and a high saturated fat intake
  • Refined carbohydrates and simple sugars
  • Lots of red meat
  • High wheat and dairy intake
  • High salt intake
  • Heavily processed foods
  • Foods with artificial additives
  • Caffeine, alcohol, smoking, drugs
  • Avoid highly polluted environments (and wear appropriate safety equipment if you handle chemicals)

Give your waste disposal system a helping hand

Your liver is a massive chemical reactor hosting millions of reactions every second, so it needs a lot of raw materials, especially antioxidants, to operate effectively. Here are some things you could consider bumping up to give your liver the support it so justly deserves:

Helpful to the liver How it helps
Lean poultry, fish, dairy produce, eggs, beans, pulses, nuts, seeds Protein – your liver needs amino acids to stick the toxins onto for removal
Yeast, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, offal, meat, fish and eggs B-vitamins – support the energy demands of the liver
Egg yolks, red peppers, garlic, onions, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, sprouts, kale etc) Sulphur – vital for one of the detox pathways
Kale, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts Indole-3-carbinol – antioxidant
Citrus family (excluding grapefruit), caraway and dill seeds Limonene – antioxidant
Fresh fruit and vegetables especially asparagus, avocado, walnuts, cooked fish and meat Glutathione – antioxidant
Any orange yellow and red coloured fruit and vegetables Carotenoids – antioxidant
Fruit, vegetables, beans, onions, leeks, green tea Bioflavonoids – antioxidant
Peppers, cabbage, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, oranges, berries, kiwi, parsley, rocket, watercress. Vitamin C – antioxidant
Olive oil, wheat germ, nuts, seeds, avocadoes Vitamin E – antioxidant
Pomegranate and many berries Ellagic acid – antioxidant
Green tea and grapes skins Catechins – antioxidant
Globe artichoke Silibinin and cynarin – antioxidant
Nuts and seeds, seafood, green leafy vegetables Minerals – to support antioxidant function
Fruit and vegetables, beans and pulses, whole grain cereals, psyllium, flax seeds Insoluble fibre – to keep you regular so you eliminate the toxins
Fruit and vegetables, beans and pulses, whole grain cereals, Jerusalem artichokes, onions, leeks Soluble fibre –  to feed your helpful gut bacteria and improve digestive function
1.5-2 ltrs non-caffeinated fluid per day as:Water, fruit and vegetable juice, herb teas (Relaxing – chamomile, valerian; Detox- nettle, mint, fennel, dandelion, artichoke, liquorice) Fluid – to support excretion via the kidneys
Milk Thistle (N.B. with all herbs and supplements always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional if you are taking medications, as there may be interactions) Silymarin and silibinin – antioxidants that protect the liver from toxins
Exercise Aids the movement of lymph which transfers tissue toxins back into the blood so they can be passed to the liver for processing
Take it easy. For a truly great night’s sleep try an Epsom salt bath. Add 2 cups of Epsom salts to a warm bath, soak for 20 minutes, pat dry and go to bed. Sweet dreams! Getting enough sleep and being relaxed gives the body time to do vital maintenance, repair and detoxification it needs to stay healthy
Colourful healthy food will support your natural detoxification

Antioxidant rich ‘detox’ lunch

And don’t try and change too much at once – you will likely set yourself up to fail. Sustainable results comes from gradual change that in turn become new and better habits – so pick one or two things to target and set yourself a sensible goal, for example:

I am going to add two portions of fruit and veg to my diet every day for a month by having a piece of fruit with breakfast and adding a green vegetable to supper.

OR       I am going to switch refined grains to whole grains.

OR       I am going to keep a bottle of water on my desk and try to replace 2 caffeinated drinks with dilute juice, herb teas or water every day.

By the time you get to the end of your first month they will likely have become integrated into your daily life and you can build on your success by targeting another item.

Wishing you a happy and healthy 2015.