Contrary to what you might think, detoxing is not about extreme dieting, calorie restriction, special teas or juice cleanses (though juicing can be a good way to increase nutrient intake).
Real detoxing, the type that I’d take a client through, takes time and effort - there are no quick fixes, and it centres around supporting the detox systems that we already have.
When we say ‘detox’ in Nutritional Therapy, what we actually mean is biotransformation and elimination of toxins. Now this could be serious toxicity like heavy metals or mycotoxins (from mould), but in most cases and especially in January, it’s likely that you want to reset and recharge your body after a Christmas and New Year full of indulgence.
January, in my opinion, is not the time for a reduced-calorie diet or extreme exercise challenge. Our daylight hours are limited and temperatures are cooler, so it’s natural that we simply don’t have the energy to put ourselves through extreme situations - biologically we should be hibernating a bit, not shedding kilos. Nevertheless, with Christmas when it is, and the fact that it’s a joyful experience to indulge in some good food with friends and family, many of us are left feeling that we do need to make a change in January.
So, how can you detox healthily?
Firstly, let’s recap the routes out of the body, i.e. our available detox pathways
- Lungs - exhalation
- Kidneys - urine
- Liver and bowels - stool
So biotransformation and elimination, a.k.a. detox, takes place using any or all of these pathways (and some more than others, obviously) so supporting these routes out of the body is the safest and easiest (and most effective) way of detoxing healthily.
There’s one crucial point that I want to drive home: you cannot successfully biotransform or eliminate anything without adequate nutrition. For example, the CYP enzymes in phase one liver detox require a lot of cofactors (different chemical compounds), and yes, these all come from our diet, in particular the B vitamins, glutathione, magnesium, zinc and copper among many others. The second phase of detox in the liver is called conjugation. It’s where toxins that have been worked on in phase one by the CYP enzymes get conjugated (attached) to molecules of protein so that they can then be excreted from the body. So even something as simple as insufficient protein intake, as in a fast or a cleanse, can impair detoxification.
These important vitamins, minerals and amino acids from quality sources of protein, are found in a wholefood diet - not deliveroo. So it makes sense to firstly be cooking a lot from scratch (and, incidentally, steaming your veggies or making a soup is far better for maintaining their nutrient content than frying or roasting), and eliminating some of the ‘big players’ that hinder detox. For example, too much sugar and alcohol. If you find it relatively simple to eliminate these two things, then you might want to experiment with dairy and gluten if you have reason to believe that either of those two foods are causing you an issue.
Food is extremely powerful for detoxification, and in this sense can be seen as a demonstrable form of ‘food is medicine.’ So actually, rather than limiting food intake in January, what we actually need to be doing is keeping intake adequate, but crucially, consuming the right types of food to help our bodies gently rebalance and recalibrate.
There are now multiple, reputable studies that demonstrate foods and nutrients can change the way the body converts and excretes toxins from the body. In general, findings indicate that specific foods may increase the speed or balance metabolic pathways to assist with toxin biotransformation and subsequent elimination.
Some of these foods are:
- Cruciferous Vegetables (eg broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens)
- Berries (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, blackcurrants, currants etc)
- Spices (turmeric, ginger)
- Herbs (in particular, rosemary)
Below is a useful table that shows some common foods and the active compounds they contain that support detox. I think everyone’s January should be about trying to include as many of these foods as possible!
Now that I’ve convinced you to eat and not restrict in January, let’s discuss supporting some of those other routes out. Firstly, the skin.
Supporting skin detox
Lymphatic stimulation: dry body brushing, rebounding, lymphatic drainage massage, red clover tea.
Sweating: steam sauna, hot yoga, physical activity
Epsom salts bath: 1 cup epsom salts, ½ cup bi-carbonate of soda, as hot as you can comfortably manage
Supporting the Kidneys
Drink 8 cups or water and herbal tea per day
Include kidney-supportive foods: pomegranate juice (¼ cup per day), hibiscus tea, green tea, artichoke, asparagus, beetroot, celery (and juice), sprouts.
So there you have it, some tangible ways to really support your body - instead of punishing it. If you’ve spent all of December eating too much sugar and processed foods, then not only should you be trying to increase your vegetable intake alongside good quality protein, but be actively avoiding processed food - that’s a good detox in itself!
And don’t forget the importance of movement and daylight for keeping us motivated and well. All forms of exercise are great for detox if you get a little bit of a sweat on. So to recap:
More nutrient dense foods, adequate protein intake at every meal, you might like to try Dry January too as that will certainly have a positive impact, keep moving and try to include any or all of the foods on the detox food list above!
Grace Kingswell, Nutritional Therapist