If holiday eating and drinking has left you feeling a little lackluster, you may have recently vowed to overhaul your diet and lifestyle choices in an effort to get back to feeling like a better and brighter version of yourself — and that may have led you to a wellness buzzword that always seems to surface at the start of a new year: Detoxification. But what does it even mean? Beyond that, does everyone need to do it? And if so, what are the most detoxifying foods to try?
Besides the common discussion of it in the health and wellness industry, there's actually a lot of misconceptions about the idea of detoxifying your body — mainly the fact that you're probably already doing it naturally. "Your body has its own detoxification system that is constantly working," says Serena Poon, chef, nutritionist and reiki master, and founder of Culinary Alchemy. "Technically you don’t need to do anything to make this system function."
That said, Poon acknowledges the fact that occasionally your body's detoxification system (your liver, kidneys, digestive system, respiratory system, and skin) might not be working as well as it should, and it's in these times that certain foods or beverages may be able to give it a boost. "The benefit of foods and practices considered to be detoxifying is that they support your body’s innate capacity to rid itself of waste and toxins," she explains. "Going on a ‘detox’ is much less about being on a specific diet and much more about helping these systems in operating at an optimal level."
But before getting into the things Poon — plus a few other nutrition experts — think you may want to consider consuming to get your body's detoxification back on track, you may want to know what you should actually ditch from your diet. "Perhaps the most important component of a detox program is what you’re not putting into your body," she explains. "I think a lot of people think they can balance out a night of drinking with a green juice, but our bodies don’t really work that way. If you want to detoxify your body, you need to give it a rest from foods that are laborious to process. Cutting out commonly inflammatory foods can help the body detoxify on its own." At the top of this list are processed foods, sugar, and alcohol, Poon shares.
Also, the wellness guru believes the importance of rest and breathing exercises be considered as well if you want a holistic and effective detox practice, as stress is a common reason for strain on your body's systems. "When you have been experiencing a lot of stress, haven’t been sleeping well, or have been consuming a lot of indulgent foods, it is common for your body to be out of balance and for there to be inflammation, which can lead to more serious illnesses."
With all those factors in mind, Poon and other experts do believe there are benefits to a few different foods (including beverages and herbs) if your think your lifestyle habits have led to a compromised detoxification system. Read ahead for 12 in particular — but as always, be sure to keep your doctor abreast of any significant changes to your health.
Detoxifying Foods: Water
"Drinking water is one of the best ways to support your organs of detoxification," Poon says. "As our bodies are composed of about 60% water, proper hydration is essential for the optimal function of all of your systems. Drinking a lot of water particularly helps your kidney and digestive function. Your kidneys are crucial for flushing substances out of your body. Drinking water also helps your digestive system run smoothly, which supports the release of additional toxins through waste."
Detoxifying Foods: Lemon
"Lemon contains limonene, a powerful antioxidant that promotes both phase 1 and phase 2 liver detoxification," explains Taylor Stolt, a registered dietician at Plate and Canvas. "I love starting the day with a warm glass of lemon water when detoxification is at its peak (it peaks around 3 to 4 a.m. and slowly decreases throughout the day)." Another easy way to get more lemon in your diet? Stolt suggests creating a simple salad dressing with fresh lemon juice and olive oil.
Detoxifying Foods: Leafy Greens
"Green vegetables support our bodies in numerous ways, from delivering healthy nutrients, to creating an alkalizing environment, to supporting the digestion through a healthy intake of fiber," says Poon, who stresses that eating versus drinking your greens offers different benefits. "Green juices are a great way to get a boost of nutrients, but I usually recommend drinking them as a supplement to an overall diet that is rich in leafy green vegetables. Eating the full vegetable also delivers fiber, which supports optimal functioning of the digestive system."
Detoxifying Foods: Prebiotics & Probiotics
"These healthy bacterias help maintain balance in your digestive system so that it operates smoothly," Poon explains. "Apart from helping the body flush out excess waste, the digestive system is also thought to be the control center for the nervous system and immune system, so creating a balanced digestive environment can help your entire body run smoothly. Probiotics help create homeostasis in the digestive system and prebiotics are necessary to help probiotics function properly." Besides supplements, Maverick Willett, fitness nutritionist and owner of Maverick Online Coaching, mentions that you can get probiotic benefits from fermented foods, like sauerkraut, keifer, kimchi, and kombucha.
Detoxifying Foods: Dandelion Root or Milk Thistle
"If you have been imbibing in a lot of alcohol over the holidays, you might want to give your liver a break," says Poon. "During this rest period, you can support your liver’s healing with dandelion root tea or milk thistle capsules. Before taking any herbs, always check with your doctor for contraindications and test them to make sure that you don’t have any strange reactions."
Detoxifying Foods: Green Tea
"Green tea is loaded with antioxidants, specifically EGCG, which supports phase 2 liver detoxification and protects against phase 1 liver metabolites," Stolt explains. Have a cup to start your day feeling fresh and energized, or try adding matcha to smoothies and baked goods, as the dietician suggests.
Detoxifying Foods: Turmeric
"Turmeric is an amazing spice that stimulates phase 2 liver detoxification, assists in the production of enzymes that flush out toxins, and has antioxidant properties," Stolt says. To incorporate more into your diet, she recommends adding some to roasted veggies, soups, smoothies, or the on-trend golden latte.
Detoxifying Foods: Garlic & Onion
"Garlic and onion are loaded with sulphur, which activates liver enzymes that help your body flush out toxins," explains Stolt. "Garlic also contains a lot of selenium, an essential micronutrient that boosts our liver's ability to fight against oxidative stress." Thankfully, these ingredients are at the core of so many dishes — so it's easy to get them into your diet when cooking at home. "Sauté chopped garlic and onion in a pan with oil and sea salt until cooked before adding in your meat, veggies, or starch," Stolt adds.
Detoxifying Foods: Flax Seeds
"Flax seeds are an excellent source of lignans, a fiber-like compound that assists in detoxifying and eliminating harmful forms of estrogen from the body (yes we detoxify hormones too!)," Stolt says, adding that there's a catch. "Our body is unable to effectively digest whole flax seed so it is important to buy ground flax seed or grind it yourself in a coffee bean grinder or blender." As for how to eat it, she shares that flax can easily be spooned into yogurt, blended into a smoothie, added to soups, or used as a salad topping.
Detoxifying Foods: Apple Cider Vinegar
"Apple cider vinegar [is a] natural internal antiseptic," shares Willett. [It promotes] healthy pH levels internally." Don't like drinking it on its own? You can add ACV to dressings, teas, and other simple, delicious dishes.
Detoxifying Foods: Chlorella/Spirulina
"[Chlorella and spirulina] are superfoods and antioxidants that rid the body of heavy metals," explains Willett. One way to ingest these easily is in a greens mix added to your daily smoothie.
Detoxifying Foods: Ginger
"Fresh ginger can help reduce nausea and it can help improve digestion, bloating and gas," says Oliver Walsh, Co-Founder of ASYSTEM. "You can make ginger tea or add ginger to a raw juice or smoothie."
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