A Guide to Nutritionist-Approved Detoxifying Foods

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The term “detox” is thrown around frequently in diet and wellness culture. However, there are a lot of myths floating around about the process. If done safely and accurately, the process can help you feel and look better. From weight management to giving your immune system a boost, following a detoxification system can benefit you. However, if you go on a detox diet incorrectly or too aggressively it could do more harm than good. That’s why it’s important to hear from experts about the detoxifying foods they recommend.

How to Properly Detox

Detoxification helps remove toxins from your body. Nutritionist and founder of Nourished, Melissa Snover, said flushing the body can take anywhere from five to 45 days. The timeline depends on the method you use. Pharmacist, homeopath and founder of The Organic Pharmacy, Margo Marrone, said the length of time it takes to flush also depends on the state of your body.

“The body cleanses itself all the time through the liver, gut, kidneys, lungs and skin, but there are times when we maybe are not eating well or drinking or are stressed—all these cause a build-up of toxins that our body can’t clean as quickly as it should,” explained Marrone. She tends to recommend 10-day detoxes at least twice a year. “This really allows the body to reduce inflammation and to allow self-healing.”

While a 10-day cleanse is ideal in Marrone’s opinion, she said a seven-day cleanse can also reap some worthwhile results. According to Snover, seven-day cleanses can be effective for weight loss, kickstarting your metabolism and helping to regulate diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol. However, she added that you must maintain a healthy diet plan and lifestyle before and after your cleanse, “by consuming wholesome, natural food, taking regular exercise and supplementing vitamins which are specific to your unique lifestyle and goals.”

Holistic nutritionist Jennifer Hanway suggested that instead of just trying to cleanse the body, we should focus on removing “foods that are a burden on our liver,” such as processed foods, alcohol and caffeine. You should swap those out for foods that help “upregulate our body’s natural detoxification pathways.”

Detoxification happens in two phases. “The removal of the toxin from the cell and then the conversion of the toxin to a water-soluble compound for excretions from the body,” explained Hanway. Without the necessary co-factors, like amino acids, vitamins and minerals, the process won’t happen efficiently.

Hanway cautions people against following detoxification trends and cleanses found on social media. Instead, you need to find a regimen that balances the two phases she outlined. If you’re detoxing correctly, you should feel great “with more energy, better skin, increased mental clarity and improved sleep,” said Hanway. However, if you’re not detoxing appropriately, you’ll likely feel tired, have low energy and experience headaches. If you experience any of these negative side effects, stop the detox. This lethargy and discomfort is a result of not balancing the two phases properly, explained Hanway. 

During detoxification, sugar is the number one thing to avoid, said Marrone. Both Marrone and Snover advised cutting caffeine and alcohol and reducing or eliminating red meat intake. During your detox, you should engage in exercise, get good sleep and eat earlier for easier digestion.

Drinking lemon water in the morning throughout your detox is also advisable. “Lemon water first thing in the morning helps alkalinize the body,” said Marrone. “When we wake up, our bodies are generally acidic (acidity causes inflammation and inflammation causes disease), drinking lemon water makes the body alkaline and more energetic.”

If you’re looking to begin a detox, there’s a wide variety of delicious, nourishing foods that will help flush out the unwanted toxins in your body. We have organized nutritionist-approved detoxifying foods by which part of the body they work to detox. Luckily, many of the foods overlap, effectively detoxifying multiple organs.

Foods That Detox the Liver

The liver is often at the top of peoples’ detox priority list, and it tends to take a beating after drinking. According to Snover, there are a handful of foods that can help detox the liver. Some of these foods include walnuts, leafy green vegetables, grapefruit and beetroot. You could even blend a handful of these ingredients together to make a detoxifying juice. However, she noted that it can be hard to consume enough of these foods to make a significant impact. She suggested taking supplements, like milk thistle extract, which she says will allow you to “easily absorb a high impact antioxidant, which studies have shown to repair cell damage, particularly in the liver when caused by alcohol.”

Marrone said turmeric is a great spice for detoxing the liver as well. She added that broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and kale are all rich in glutathione, “the antioxidant that triggers the liver-cleansing process.”

Foods That Detox the Lymphatic System

“The lymphatic system moves toxins and waste products out of the body for excretion via lymph fluid, so staying hydrated is especially important for this,” said Hanway. When it comes to food, Snover advised including apricots, cranberries, avocados and garlic in your diet if you want to help detox the lymphatic system.

Marrone added that lemon and ginger can also aid in cleansing the lymphatic system. Although it’s not a food, both Marrone and Hanway suggested implementing dry brushing your skin. This practice helps get the lymphatic system going during your detox.

Foods That Detox the Kidney

“Kidneys play a pivotal role in preventing the amount of toxins in your body, so we need to pay special attention to maintaining this vital organ,” said Snover. She suggested consuming fruit such as apples, melons and berries and supplementing vitamin C “to keep our kidneys free from radicals.”

In addition to taking vitamin C supplements, Marrone advised adding citrus fruit, like oranges, to your diet. Sometimes it’s not only about what you add to your diet during a detox, but what you subtract as well. Marrone noted that reducing meat intake can help the kidneys detox “as the kidneys eliminate the water product of protein metabolism.”

Can You Flush Out Sugar?

According to Hanway, “No foods will ‘flush out sugar,’ but if you have been consuming a lot of sugar, then balancing your blood glucose levels with foods rich in protein, fiber and healthy fats will be helpful.” Snover noted that studies show vitamin C to be effective at reducing the amount of sugar in the body. Additionally, leafy greens, protein and healthy fats can help diminish sugar.

Hanway said a diet high in sugar or refined carbs can lead to candida overgrowth. Candida is a fungal infection caused by yeast. According to Marrone, getting rid of candida is challenging and can take months of adhering to a strict regimen. Cutting sugar is one of the best ways to work toward removing candida. However, Hanway said there are herbs and plant compounds that can also be helpful. Some things to try include oil of oregano, pau d’arco tea, garlic capsules and caprylic acid. She suggests discussing the usage of these supplements with your doctor before starting a regimen.

The Best Overall Detoxifying Foods

“It is widely recognized that cruciferous vegetables and leafy greens are the most detoxifying foods, as well as lemons, avocados, green tea and garlic,” said Snover. A handful of these ingredients thrown together could even make a yummy soup. According to Hanway, “A diet high in protein, fresh produce and healthy fats with minimal processed foods is ideal for every health goal, including detoxification.” She suggests consuming an abundance of amino acids through protein. Vitamins, minerals, polyphenols and antioxidants from fresh produce and nutrient-dense foods are also essential.

“Foods that people might not include in their everyday diets, such as shellfish and liver, are wonderful for boosting detoxification,” said Hanway. Cruciferous vegetables, including cabbage and watercress, are especially beneficial for healthy estrogen detoxification, she added. Probiotics and fiber-rich foods are also essential for detoxification, “as you cannot detoxify efficiently if you have poor gut health,” she noted. In fact, Hanway recommends healing the gut before you dive into a detox.

Hanway added that we need to consider which nutrients are essential for both phase one and phase two of detoxification. B vitamins found in wild-caught salmon, seafood, leafy greens and liver are essential for phase one. Amino acids are also necessary, so you’ll want a protein-rich diet.

“There are six different pathways through which phase two detoxification can take place,” explained Hanway. “So different nutrients are needed for each of these pathways.” Fruits, vegetables, garlic, onions and eggs are all beneficial to phase two.

Marrone assured that doing a detox doesn’t mean you have to eat bland food. She suggests beets grated with a ginger and turmeric olive oil salad dressing, which will help cleanse the blood and is also anti-inflammatory. She loves to blend turmeric, garlic, ginger, apple cider vinegar and chili in a blender and drizzle it over steamed or sauteed veggies and some grilled salmon. Handfuls of berries such as blueberries, raspberries and blackberries are great as a delicious snack that’s rich in antioxidants.

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