Over the past two weeks, I’ve received so many emails offering discounts on “detox plans”. “Detox” always seems to be quite the buzz word in January, and I get a lot of people asking me what I think about these plans. So, if you’re thinking about doing a detox plan, let’s take a look at if you would benefit from detoxification and what a healthy “detox diet” looks like.
To start, let’s look at what detoxification means. It’s the metabolic process by which toxins are changed into less toxic or more readily excretable substances. In other words, detoxification allows you to remove toxic substances from your body easier. (I mention this because I think sometimes people confuse detoxification with weight loss. They are not the same thing. If you lose weight on a “detox diet” it is likely because it is lower in calories, not because of detoxification itself. There is no research that supports that detoxification aids in weight loss.)
As a dietitian, I think it is so important to see what the research/science says. So it is important to note that NIH (national institute of health) states: “There isn’t any convincing evidence that detox or cleansing programs actually remove toxins from your body or improve your health.”
Does that mean that there aren’t circumstances in which a detox diet may be beneficial? Not necessarily. We absolutely do know that certain nutrients do play a role in the detoxification system in our body. We also know that genetics, environmental exposure and dietary inadequacies combined can lead to diminished detoxification in our liver. In my opinion, removing environment exposures and correcting dietary inadequacies can only be beneficial to a person as a whole and may help to optimize the body’s natural detoxification system. However, be aware that our body has an amazing ability at regulating it’s detoxification system (even if we aren’t eating perfectly). If it’s not sluggish, there are no foods or products that can speed up the rate of detoxification process.
Who might be at risk of having a “sluggish” detoxification system? There are lots of variables that play a role: diet, exercise, stress, sleep, age, medical conditions, medications and various environment exposures. So, someone who has high stress levels, is not physically active, takes certain medications that deplete nutrients in the body and doesn’t get enough sleep, may be more susceptible to the risks associated with exposure to certain chemicals in the environment or food. However, a healthy individual who exercises and eats well, may not benefit from a detox diet because the body may be working efficiently already.
If someone is really concerned about this topic, working with a dietitian is definitely a good idea, especially when dealing with medications or medical conditions. However, the following are a few general tips on Detox:
Food That Help Our Body’s Detoxification System:
There are nutrients that are known to play an integral part in detoxification and improve our body’s ability to fight oxidative stress. The following are some tips to meeting those needs:
- Eat Foods high in fiber (aim for 30 gm per day)
- Beans, Whole Grains, Fruits and Vegetables
- Include foods rich in Phytonutrients:
- Red, orange and yellow fruits and veggies (Tomatoes, carrots, squash, peaches, mangos, melons and berries, etc.)
- Dark green leafy veggies (Spinach, kale, broccoli, swiss chard, romain lettuce)
- Garlic, onions, chives and leeks
- Vitamin C rich foods:
- Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits, etc)
- Red/Yellow/Orange peppers, kiwi, papaya, strawberries, tomatoes, sweet potato, broccoli
- Don’t forget the protein! Glutothione is antioxidant that plays a crucial role in detoxification. It is made in our body from amino acids (amino acids are the building blocks of proteins). It has been found that people who don’t consume adequate protein do not create as much glutathione. This is one more reason why an appropriate diet is more beneficial than most detox plans out there…many of them lack the crucial protein that our body needs.
- Foods containing Alliums may also help stimulate the production of glutathione:
- Onions, scallions, Chives, Leeks, Shallots, Garlic
- Foods containing Sulforaphanes:
- Cruciferous Vegetables- Arugula, brussel sprouts, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, turnips, mustard greens
- Hint- eat these vegetables raw or steam for 1-3 minutes to help them maintain their highest level of nutrients.
- Foods Rich in B Vitamins:
- Whole grains, Legumes (beans, lentils), Eggs, Fish, Nuts and seeds, Meat and Dark green leafy vegetables
- Herbs and spices such as ginger, mint, anise, pepper etc may offer digestive support
- Also, don’t forget to increase fluids, especially water.
BOTTOM LINE- Think whole, unprocessed, plant-based foods for detoxification. The bonus is, these are all foods I advocate as part of a general healthy diet. So, there are only overall health benefits to including these foods in your diet.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Remember body has an amazing ability to regulate the detoxification process and you can’t really eat any foods or take any supplements that will speed up the rate of this process if it’s already working efficiently. Also, many studies that have found benefits with a nutrient in food, have failed to find the same benefit when the same nutrient when it is consumed in supplement form. This is likely because many foods have different nutrients that work synergistically. For example, Berries are a great source of phytonutrients, vitamin C and fiber…all of which are important to detoxification. So, it is impossible to isolate which nutrient in the berry is providing the benefit, rather it is likely many different components working together. Also, certain foods/nutrients can affect our body in one way at certain dosages, but at higher does, they can have another, opposing effect. Rarely do people see harmful effects of nutrients from food, but supplements can be a whole other story. So, always speak to a health care professional before starting a supplement regimen.