Around the start of the new year cleansing and detox are buzz words that abound. But all too often the super attractive “10 day detox regimens,” don’t actually target the organs of elimination. Unfortunately, the term detox has also become synonymous with a restrictive diet or a way to reactively rebound from a bit of over-indulgence.
Consider this your science-based [no-fluff] guide to understanding how the body detoxes itself and how to support it in a comprehensive way. As a functional registered dietitian, I delight in teaching how to be a catalyst to the detoxification pathways working on our behalf around the clock to keep us safe.
In a nutshell, cleansing and detoxification entail decreasing exposure to toxins, then feeding your body with an abundant supply of nutrients [found in whole foods] to support the organs of elimination including: liver + kidneys + lymphatic system + digestive tract + skin + lungs.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN YOU NEED DETOXING?
Toxicity can show up in a variety of symptoms; some of which are obvious and some are not. The more common signs and symptoms of toxicity include [categorized by area of compromise]:
- cognitive: depression, anxiety, brain fog, memory issues, irritability
- mitochondrial: fibromyalgia, lack of energy, chronic fatigue
- skin: rashes, eczema, itching
- inflammation: joint pain, headaches, muscle aches
- digestion: food sensitivity, GI distress, diarrhea, constipation
- general: weight gain, sluggishness, blood sugar irregularities
WHAT ARE WE DETOXING FROM?
Just like the word detox, “toxin” is a very nebulous word but in order to focus on the elimination for my clients, I’ve broken it down into 2 main categories: internal and external.
- internal toxins include lactic acid, urea, and waste products from microbes in the gut that occur during natural metabolism.
- external toxins come from outside the body and are introduced through eating, drinking, breathing, or are absorbed through the skin.
My clients always ask me why we need to detox if our body is designed to cleanse itself and my answer is this: now more than ever we face countless exposures to external toxins like chemical compounds and environmental pollutants. This happens on a daily basis even if we try hard to limit toxin exposure. In fact, it’s estimated that more than 80,000 chemicals fall into the category of food additives, food packaging, and environmental chemicals making it more important than ever to give our body more catalysts for cleansing efficiently to prevent overwhelming toxic burden.
MAIN SOURCES OF TOXINS:
- outdoor air: exhaust, tobacco, particles from industrial emissions, etc.
- indoor air: mold, chemicals released from cooking, furniture, carpet, construction materials, etc
- drinking water: tap water contaminated with pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, chemicals from agricultural runoff, etc
- food: pesticides, heavy metals in soil, food dyes, preservatives, drugs, alcohol etc.
- household products: food containers, cleaning products, fertilizers, weed killers, bug sprays, etc
- beauty products: skincare products, makeup, deodorant, hair products, etc.
Pause. Take a deep breath. And remember that while the list of incoming toxins is overwhelming, the body is beautifully designed to keep us safe. We just need to know how to get out of its way and give it the nutrients it needs to do it’s job instead of leaning into a restrictive regimen and calling it a “cleanse.”
THE NO FLUFF GUIDE TO CLEANSING
Take some time to read through the following targeted ways to decrease incoming toxins while also supporting the key organs of elimination. Spoiler alert: you’ll feel incredible without even having to go on a diet. Instead you’ll learn how to celebrate a cleansing and detoxify lifestyle.
STEP ONE – ELIMINATE STRESSORS
water: take a peek at your water supply
• consider installing an under the sink water purifier or even a whole house water filtration unit to keep harmful chemicals, chlorine and medications from tainting the purity of your most valuable wellness asset: water
air: it’s nearly impossible to completely eliminate toxins from our air supply so consider investing in a purifier for your home [a space we have the most control over]
• having done research on all the different purifiers out there, I personally landed on Air Oasis and Better Air [I rotate the two throughout my house to get the probiotic infusion from better air and the air detoxification from air oasis]
food: read labels on your food > organize pantry > consider filling your pantry back up with these “pantry staples”
• take inventory of the following foods in your life and how often you consume them setting goals around how to realistically decrease exposure
- inorganic foods
- processed and fried foods
- refined carbohydrates
- refined vegetable oils [soybean, corn, canola, safflower]
- anything listed on a label that you cannot pronounce
beauty products: plug your beauty products into skindeep.com to see how clean they actually are systematically make swaps for any not so clean products you find
household products: stick with simple
• companies like Aunt Fannies make vinegar and probiotic-rich cleaning sprays very accessible and affordable
STEP TWO: OPTIMIZE FUNCTION OF ORGANS OF ELIMINATION:
There are simple things you can do to keep the organs of elimination functioning at tip top speed and here they are:
- skin: sweat daily [exercise // sauna]
- liver: consume bitters before meals
- kidneys: hydrate in abundance
- gut: feast on fiber [ideally in the form of vegetables]
- lymphatic system: skin brush 3-5 x per week
- lungs: exercise!
STEP THREE: FLOOD THE BODY WITH CLEANSING + DETOXIFYING NUTRIENTS DAILY
While there are so many different ways to support the body using food, I’ve compiled my top 6 foods I ask my clients to consume on a weekly basis to celebrate daily cleansing and detoxification. Note the foods listed are tailored to this winter season. As we transition into spring the list changes to celebrate the foods provided by nature in the timing that we need them most.
- sea vegetables: sea vegetables pack a punch of fiber and antioxidants to protect the body from potential damage caused by internal or external toxins. The iodine content in sea vegetables supports thyroid function, a key player in our body’s natural detoxification process. Try on some seaweed snacks for size or a sea vegetable seasoning like Bragg’s Sea Vegetable Delight.
- alliums [onions + garlic + shallots + leeks]: bind to toxins in the body so that they can be easily eliminated. Because of this, alliums have been shown to reduce risks of certain cancers. Garlic is a particularly effective detoxifying allium. Prioritize recipes with alliums and consider doubling the garlic in the recipe.
- cruciferous vegetables: enzymes in cruciferous vegetables help to metabolize carcinogens, hormones, and medications so that they can be excreted by the body. Strive to consume 1-3 cups of cruciferous vegetables day. Roasting 1 large sheet pan of them per week will create traction in this goal.
- green tea: the ingestion of green tea provides a sulfur molecule that attaches to ingested toxins rendering them less reactive and less toxic. Consider sipping on a cup of green tea before your coffee.
- broccoli sprouts: the benefits of broccoli sprouts are similar to their mature counterparts, just more potent. They contain sulforaphane, a chemopreventive phytochemical praised for its ability to decrease inflammation and fight cancer. Consider growing your own broccoli sprouts in just days and sprinkling them in your salads + smoothies throughout the week.
- beets: beets are one of the few vegetables that contain betalains, antioxidants which protect cells from toxin damage and help to eliminate free radicals from the body. Not only will they “ground you” in these colder winter months but they add that subtle dirt candy-like flavor to dishes. Try roasting a sheet pan of them and weaving them into salads, smoothies and recipes. Or adventure out into the world of beet brownies. Why not!
A GUIDE TO IMPLEMENATION:
- decide upon where you see toxins coming into your life most heavily and focus your attention on that area for a full 4 weeks [or until you feel like your exposure has decreased by 50-80%].
- choose one way in which you can support the innate function of the organs of elimination… never tried bitters? start there. Or perhaps skin brushing is new to you. Do that but do it consistently for 4 weeks before you decide to add in 1 more tactic.
- add the 3-6 of the detoxifying foods to your grocery list this next week and make it a goal to have 1- 2 of them a day.
While we are exposed to toxins everyday, our body is beautifully designed to defend us and by following this 3 step [no fluff] approach, you will unlock your body’s full capacity to detox and thrive.