Advertisements for liver detox products and kidney cleanses are prevalent this time of year, and they might even pique your attention. Wellness resolutions are top of mind, especially after an indulgent holiday season compounded by months in quarantine, which may have led to some unhealthy habits. (Comfort cooking, quarantine snacking, imbibing at virtual happy hours, to name a few).
But, healthy-eating experts say you don’t need any special potions that promise weight loss or funky concoctions that make bold detox claims. In fact, they recommend against these types of cleansing products that claim to be cure-alls for overindulgence. A healthier alternative is to scale back on sugar and processed foods, and focus on eating whole foods to help your body run its natural detoxification process by using nutrients from your diet.
“The good news is that we each have a personal detoxification system: our liver and kidneys, and you don’t need to go on a juice cleanse to detox,” says Chicago-based dietitian Amanda Izquierdo, RD.
With that in mind, there are ways to help promote your body’s natural detoxification process, Izquierdo says. Stay hydrated with water, she recommends, and eat foods with fiber, which keeps your digestive tract healthy and helps remove toxins via waste. In general, foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds are all great for the detoxification process, she says.
Here, nutritionists get specific and share their favorite naturally detoxifying foods. These seven foods can easily be incorporated into your diet and help your body perform its detox duties—no cleanse required.
Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts and broccoli sprouts can all be counted in the cruciferous column, and they are great natural detoxifiers. These veggies are a source of sulfur-containing molecules that are known as glucosinolates, which helps support liver detoxification, explains Mónica Ruiz-Noriega, a functional nutritionist and author in the Bay Area. Plus, cruciferous veggies are a good source of fiber, which is important because it ensures toxin elimination via waste. “Once toxins are processed and tagged for elimination by the liver, it is the large intestine’s job to make sure they leave our body and are not reabsorbed,” Ruiz-Noriega explains. Plus, dark green cruciferous veggies contain vitamins A and C and phytonutrients, which may help lower inflammation and reduce cancer risks, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Kimberly Snyder — a nutritionist who has worked with celebs including Drew Barrymore, Reese Witherspoon and Channing Tatum — advocates starting the morning with hot water and lemon. “Lemons support liver tissue, and are full of enzymes and vitamin C, while the hot water helps relax your gut and promotes more complete cleansing,” she told Elle in an interview. Snyder is the author of “Beauty Detox Power: Nourish Your Mind and Body for Weight Loss and Discover True Joy.”
In addition to fruits and veggies, lean protein is essential for detoxification, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The reason? Lean proteins are essential to maintaining optimum levels of glutathione, the body’s master detoxification enzyme. Glutathione helps reduce the effects of oxidative stress, which could, in turn, help lower the risk for disease, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and cancers.
Protein sources such as meat, legumes, eggs, seafood, poultry and some grains provide amino acids which are needed to tag toxins for elimination from our body, Ruiz-Noriega says.
In general, fruits and vegetables are key for natural detoxification thanks to their antioxidant, fiber and water content, explains Jenn LaVardera, a New York-based registered dietitian and expert nutritionist for produce company Naturipe.
But, fresh berries, such as strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries, contain ellagic acid, which is an antioxidant that stimulates enzymes that can detoxify carcinogens. To get more berries in your diet, LaVardera suggests adding fresh berries as a topping for yogurt, oatmeal or cereal in the morning, and snack on berries drizzled with honey as a nighttime snack.
“Make it a goal to have a fruit or vegetable with every meal and snack, and aim for at least five servings a day,” she says.
This wonder vegetable is extremely supportive of the liver and the gallbladder, says Christine Garvin, a functional health coach. Beets contain betaine, which stimulates bile production in the liver and moves toxins out of the liver and gallbladder into the intestines to be eliminated via the stool, which is often referred to as “Phase 3 detox.” Beets also contain plenty of fiber.
“You can add chopped beets to a salad, or roast them with Brussels Sprouts, olive oil, or freeze them and add them to a smoothie,” Garvin suggests.
Garlic has antiviral, antibacterial and antibiotic properties, and is best consumed raw, says Jolene Caufield, a healthcare advisor at Healthy Howard, a Maryland-based non-profit advocating for healthy lifestyle choices. Garlic contains organo-sulfur compounds (OSCs), she explains, which make it the perfect detoxification supplement. “These compounds boost the number of detoxification enzymes while also increasing levels of glutathione and sulfur so the enzymes have plenty of tools to work with,” Caufield explains. Also, garlic also contains allicin which aids white blood cell production that can help protect the body against infections.
Dietitians recommend drinking water throughout the day to aid your body’s detox process. But, to help you stay hydrated, you can also eat your water since many veggies have a high water content. Tejal Pathak is clinical dietitian and diabetes educator who is based in Houston, recommends adding more cucumbers to your diet. “Cucumbers are 95 percent water, which helps with hydration,” Pathak says. “Hydration is necessary to prevent constipation and to promote healthy kidney function. which is one of the important organs for excreting toxins.”
Make This: Detox Drink
Want to make a detox drink at home? Whitney Ross, integrative Health Coach of Whit and Well, calls upon a variety of ingredients that can help aid in digestion for this detox drink.
Apple cider vinegar has antimicrobial and antioxidant effects, she explains, while lime and citrus contain ascorbic acid and vitamin C, which boosts the immune system and supports digestion. Spirulina and ginger have anti-inflammatory properties.
Here’s a recipe she shared with us:
- 3/4 cup pineapple juice
- 1/2 cup coconut water
- 4 dandelion greens
- Juice of a lime
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 spirulina supplement (blue green algae)
- 1 inch piece of peeled ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon honey
Instructions: Combine ingredients and mix in a juicer or blender.
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Brittany Anas is a freelance writer who specializes in health, fitness, and travel writing. She also contributes to Men’s Journal, Women’s Health, Trip Savvy, Simplemost, Orbitz, and Eat This, Not That! She spent a decade working at daily newspapers, including The Denver Post and the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colorado, and she is a former federal background investigator. In her free time, Brittany enjoys hiking with her gremlin-pot belly pig mix that the rescue described as a “Boston Terrier” and coaching youth basketball. She also works with domestic abuse survivors, helping them regain financial stability through career coaching. Follower her on Twitter and Instagram.