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Green Goodness
  • Writer's pictureSylvia Meo, R.D.

The Only Way to Do a Detox...The Foodful Way!

Updated: Apr 22, 2021

We ate, we drank, we were merry during most of December, it’s only fitting that when January rolls around and it’s time for New Year’s resolutions, for many that means getting back on track and healthy, and perhaps even shedding a few pounds. Every magazine, newspaper or lifestyle show out there is making the most of this time of year and offering you advice on what to eat or not to eat, or trying to sell you the idea of a quick, almost miraculous fast, detox or cleanse solution. I’m here to cut through that clutter of information and encourage you not to fall into the trap. Sure we all want a quick fix, and some of these fad diets (because that is all they are) with their promises of big results are hard to resist, but keep in mind that when it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

Detoxes and cleanses are based on the idea that our bodies need help in riding itself of unwanted substances and toxins, when in fact our body has five organs (liver, kidneys, lungs, lymph, colon) that have developed sophisticated detoxification pathways to do this work on a daily basis. In simpler terms, every time you pee, poop (yes I said that!), sweat and breathe our body is getting rid of waste products. On a daily basis we are exposed to toxins in the air we breathe, the foods we eat, the prescription drugs we may be taking, the household and personal care products we use, all of which can make our organs more sluggish putting us at higher risk for getting sick, lacking mental clarity, feeling tired, gaining weight or having a hard time losing it, feeling bloated, constipated, etc. This is where detoxing becomes interesting, but not the type of detox or cleanse you are thinking of. The only detox that actually works is the one where we support our body and help maximize or boost its detoxification process! What this means is we need to make a real effort to minimize the amount of toxins we put inside (and on) our body, as well as incorporate into our daily diet the foods that will give our five elimination organs a helping hand to efficiently do what they are naturally meant to do!

Here are a few things we should do that help us limit the amount of toxins we expose our body to:

· Drink plenty of water and green tea; perhaps even consider giving “dry January” a try, and in

my book that means no alcohol, no soda, no juices!

· Eliminate added sugars and processed foods from our diet by adopting a cleaner diet that

focuses on nutrient-dense, real, whole foods.

· Eat more fruits and vegetables daily, but let's make it a habit to wash them prior to eating them,

even if we are buying organic fruits and vegetables.

· Exercise a few times a week; it could be as simple as getting our 10000 steps in a day or going

for a 20-30 minute walk outside.

· Limit stress by finding ways to better deal with it (meditation, taking a bath, yoga, breathing,

reading, getting a massage or facial, etc.) and regularly get a good night’s sleep.

· Try using cleaner cosmetics, personal care and household cleaning products.

· Follow my tips from the Reducing Our Waste Part 1 and Reducing Our Waste Part 2 segments,

Here’s a closer look at each one of our detoxification organs and how we can help them optimally detoxify.

Our Liver

Think of your liver as the CEO of detoxification. It is a powerful organ that not only cleans and purifies our blood, but also metabolizes proteins, fats and carbohydrates, activates enzymes, stores vitamins and minerals, produces bile to help digest fat and important proteins for blood clotting and other functions. Needless to say, we can’t live without it and it would be to our whole health’s advantage that we make sure it functions optimally.

Foods that are great to boost liver function are green leafy vegetables, particularly dandelion, cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts), avocado, garlic, beets, artichokes, apples, prickly pear, blueberries, walnuts, turmeric, lemon juice and green tea. In fact, these last three foods make the perfect ingredient combination for an afternoon pick me up beverage, besides being powerfully rich in healing antioxidants. It’s actually my beverage of choice in the afternoon. Every day after lunch I make myself a warm cup of matcha tea, add in half a teaspoon of turmeric powder and a good squeeze of lemon juice! Lemon actually boosts the health benefits of green tea and one cup of matcha tea made with one teaspoon of matcha powder is equivalent to drinking 3 cups of regular green tea in terms of antioxidants. I keep my big cup of coffee for my morning breakfast routine, can’t imagine waking up and not smelling that brewing cup of espresso for my caffe latte, and it’s definitely a good habit to have as studies have found that coffee is apparently the best beverage for a healthy liver, in moderation of course!

Our Kidneys

The main role of our two kidneys is to filter our blood and flush out all the toxins and excess fluids transforming them into urine. Together they hold the position of President of filtration. Water is their best ally and staying well hydrated daily is the best thing we can do to support our kidneys. Green tea also has a very positive impact on the health of your kidneys, so if you're not yet convinced, you should definitely consider adding it to your health routine.

But how much water should we be drinking and does the 8 cups of water a day recommendation still hold true? Apparently not! The Institute of Medicine advises men drink 13 cups (3 liters) and women drink 9 cups (2.2 liters) a day of all beverages, not just plain water, but this amount also includes milk, tea, coffee, soup and juice. We all have heard how cranberry juice can help prevent urinary tract infections, well it's true. Cranberries act as renal tonics, which means they help our kidneys flush extra toxins out as well as prevent bacteria from accumulating in our urinary tract. Consider adding fresh or dried cranberries to your grocery list and add them to your salads, baking recipes or just snack on them mixed with your favorite nuts or seeds. If you prefer to drink cranberry juice instead, just make sure to use the unsweetened kind with no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. Finally, celery, cucumbers, leeks, green herbs such as parsley, cilantro, and dandelion leaves all act as a diuretic and are great to help our kidneys increase the amount of urine they produce.

Our Lungs

Sometimes forgotten, the lungs holds an important position in the filtration department. In fact, consider them as the VPs of filtration. Simply by breathing, inhaling and exhaling deeply, we help our lungs rid our bodies of CO2, mold, allergens, airborne toxins, etc. Consequently, making sure we breathe properly, through the nose and with the diaphragm, is very essential in making sure our lungs work well. Keeping the air in our homes clean and void of unnecessary toxins is also very crucial. Air fresheners, candles, carpets, commercial household cleaners can all contain harmful chemicals which irritate our lungs. Improve your lung health by minimizing the use of these products and improving the quality of the air in your home. Adding plants to our homes can help remove toxins (formaldehyde, benzene, ammonia, xylene, carbon dioxide, etc.) thus naturally purifying the air we breathe. A famous NASA experiment published in 1989, as well as other studies, has found that house plants are effective air purifiers. Finally, if you are privileged enough to live where there is salt water or even salt mines, breathing in that salty air does wonders to help clean our lungs further.

When it comes to food we should try to include foods with pungent or spicy flavors to our menu, such as mustard, radishes, horseradish, wasabi, turnips and cayenne. Olive oil and fatty fish rich in omega 3 fatty acids are antioxidant powerhouses and help reduce inflammation in our lungs. Magnesium rich foods like sunflower, pumpkin, flax and hemp seeds are also critical in reducing inflammation and helping us breathe more efficiently.

Our Lymph

Another system that is vital to the whole detoxification process is the lymph. The lymphatic system touches almost every part of our body by removing the toxins out of the tissues and into the bloodstream where they are purified by the spleen, our body’s largest lymphatic tissue. It helps us fight off and prevent diseases and infections. Unlike in the case of blood, the lymph doesn’t have an organ to pump it and so it relies on our muscles and joints to move it or else it can easily stagnate and put us at risk for a variety of health issues (colds, eczema, sinusitis, tonsillitis, pneumonia, chronic pain, cellulite, etc.). Therefore the best thing we can do to keep it flowing is to keep our body moving through daily exercise. One interesting activity that has been proven to pump both your lymph and blood easily and at the same time is jumping on a trampoline for 10-30 minutes. Besides being fun and good for the health of our lymph, it also improves our muscle tone!

Finally, lymph is 95% water which means that water is critical to its health, as it is for our whole body. So make this your New Year resolution, get into the habit of drinking before each meal and snack, and one last time before bedtime to help you achieve your body’s daily needs. You can also add some ginger, lemon, lime or turmeric to your water as they too help support lymph detoxification while adding extra flavor. Other key nutrients to boost your lymph health are found in the following foods: seaweed, garlic, parsley, dark green vegetables and herbs and flax seeds. In case you haven’t noticed, many of the foods that are coming up support more than one detoxification organ which makes it easier to make the changes we need in order to get healthier!

Finally, these next recommendations are two methods that are trending a lot these days, jade roller or gua sha facial massage and dry body brushing. They both don’t have any scientific studies backing them up, but have been used in Asia for thousands of years and many people swear by them. They are known to help increase blood flow and circulation which may help our body and lymphatic system get rid of toxins, thus helping us detoxify… Although there is no scientific evidence supporting their detoxification benefits, they do offer other interesting benefits. Dry brushing naturally exfoliates our skin, which is much needed as we age and during the colder, dryer winter months, and the gua sha massage is supposed to help support collagen production in our skin and give us a brighter, more radiant complexion. Personally, I find them both quite soothing and relaxing, so if that is all it brings me it’s good enough for me! :-)

Our Colon

The role of the large intestine, our colon, is to reabsorb fluids and excrete solid waste so that it doesn’t find its way back into our bloodstream. To keep waste materials moving out of our body efficiently and avoid symptoms like bloat, gas, constipation, we need to have a healthy diet that is rich in both soluble and insoluble fibers, water and probiotics. Include foods such as fiber rich fruits and vegetables (berries, pears, apples, oranges, bananas, cruciferous vegetables, dark leafy greens, artichokes, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, etc.), legumes (lentils, beans, chickpeas), fatty fish and plant sources of omega 3 fatty acids (salmon, anchovies, herring, mackerel, ground flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts), whole grains (quinoa, oats, whole wheat, spelt, bulgur) and probiotic rich foods (kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, apple cider vinegar, etc.) to your diet.

If you still don’t think you are getting enough fiber daily through food alone, think about adding psyllium to your diet. Psyllium is a form of fiber that soaks up the water in our gut and helps our stools pass more easily, thus promoting regularity. It is also a prebiotic which means it is the food your probiotics need to grow a healthy microbiome and it is effective in improving cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Finally, as you are increasing your fiber intake make sure you are drinking plenty of water daily as it uses up a lot of water to do its job! Umm, in case I wasn't clear about the whole water thing...we need to drink more of it!!


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