Last week we discussed detox diets and why they are not only a waste of money but may also do your body some serious damage. I’d recommend reading my previous article, “The Danger Of Detox Diets”, before continuing with this article. You will learn more about our bodies natural detox system and the dangers of following restrictive detox diets.
If well nourished, your bodies detox system should work like a well-oiled machine. We have numerous organs (e.g., liver, kidneys, and intestines) that dedicate a large proportion of their time to detoxifying the body of harmful toxins. Of these organs, your liver is the mecca of detox – processing everything you eat, drink, put on your skin and inhale. Another important organ is your kidney which cleanses your blood, flushing byproducts from digestion out of your body through urine.
Due to the major roles these organs play in removing toxins from your body, looking after them is key. If you live an unhealthy lifestyle, pumping your body full of processed junk, alcohol and mindlessly exposing yourself to environmental toxins, your body has to work overtime to detoxify itself. Over time, your detox organs can become overwhelmed and damaged, leading to the accumulation of harmful toxins in your tissues, which pose a significant threat to your health. Therefore, the best way to support detoxification is to help boost the health of these body systems that cleanse the body naturally.
But detox diets are NOT the answer – they do not and never will work.
Instead, your first step should be to establish a well-balanced diet and minimise daily toxin exposure (more on this here). Beyond this, if you are then looking for the cherry on top of these fundamental foundations, you can try adding these natural detox foods to your diet:
Foods & Nutrients That Aid Your Detox System
When we think of citrus fruits, we think of their high vitamin C content and benefits to the immune system and skin. But did you know that citrus fruits also have detoxifying properties?
Aside from vitamin C’s beneficial effects on the immune system and skin, it can also help convert toxins into their water-soluble forms for elimination.
Furthermore, citrus fruits naturally contain two acids; citric acid and malic acid. Animal studies have demonstrated that the consumption of these acids increases the excretion of aluminium from the body. Citric acid has also been shown to significantly reduces aluminium levels in the bones, which is aluminium’s leading storage site in the body. In addition to incorporating more citrus fruits into your diet, also ensure you are getting adequate iron, calcium and magnesium in your diet. Deficiencies in these elements are associated with more significant aluminium accumulation.
The peels and pulp of citrus fruits contain a nutrient called citrus pectin. A 2008 study demonstrated that citrus pectin drastically reduces the blood levels of lead in children exposed to high levels of this toxic metal. Some citrus fruit (including lemons and oranges) also contains a potent antioxidant, Limonene, which promotes liver detoxification and plays a potential role as an anti-cancer nutrient.
Therefore, incorporating more citrus fruits like lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruit into your diet could help draw both led and aluminium from your body. To reap the benefits of the citrus pectin in the pulp, make sure that you are eating the whole fruit, not just drinking it in the form of juice.
Choosing whole fruit over juices will also increase your dietary fibre intake (which also helps with eliminating toxins) and will help keep your blood sugar levels more balanced.
Apples & Blueberries
Apples and blueberries contain a naturally occurring acid called succinic acid. Studies have demonstrated that succinic acid can help remove aluminium from the body. As the saying goes – “An apple a day keeps the doctor away“.
Selenium is essential to many bodily functions, from reproduction to fighting infection. A 2016 study demonstrated that selenium supplementation could prevent the toxic effects of mercury in mammals, birds, and fish. Although studies in humans are limited, a recent study in China found that three months of selenium supplementation almost tripled urinary excretion of mercury in individuals exposed to mercury over a long period. An earlier study found that selenium supplementation decreased pubic hair mercury levels by 34% in healthy volunteers (I never knew heavy metals could accumulate in our pubes!).
If you’re looking to up your selenium content (and clean up your pubes), try incorporating the following selenium-rich foods into your diet:
- Brazil Nuts
- Fish (Be careful, some fish are high in mercury)
- Cottage Cheese
- Brown Rice
- Pumpkin Seeds
The herb coriander has been used for over 3000 years for both culinary and medicinal purposes. Traditionally, it has been used to treat numerous medical conditions, including gastrointestinal disorders and detoxification of the body.
Studies have shown coriander to effectively detoxify the body of numerous heavy metals, including mercury, lead and cadmium. Animal studies have shown that the consumption of coriander can reduce the accumulation of cadmium in the liver by 20-30% and lead concentration by 22% in bones. At this stage, the mechanism by which coriander enhances heavy metal elimination are unknown. However, it has been proposed that specific compounds within the herb, such as citric acid and phytic acid, are responsible.
The liver is your main detox organ, and therefore having a well-functioning liver is vital if you want to rid your body of harmful toxins. Turmeric extract and curcumin (the active compound in turmeric) have been shown to improve liver function by enhancing the functionality of essential detoxifying enzymes. What’s more, a recent study demonstrated that turmeric might offer some protection against Covid-19.
**Disclaimer: Always consult your doctor before taking high concentrations of turmeric (or any of the things mentioned in this article). Not only can turmeric upset your stomach, but it can also thin your blood, and therefore consuming high quantities should be avoided if you take blood-thinning drugs like warfarin or have a blood condition, like me!**
There is no denying that ginger is a superfood. It can help balance blood sugar levels, aid digestion, lower cholesterol levels, reduce the feeling of nausea, beat bloating, reduce gas, aid weight loss and hydrates you.
Therefore, if you think your digestive system might be bogged down by too much alcohol or fatty food, it might be worthwhile adding ginger to your diet to boost your digestion and help eliminate these toxins from the body. In addition to this, ginger is high in antioxidants and can help boost your immunity, a key component to protecting your body from foreign invaders. My favourite way of upping my ginger consumption is to make a large pot of ginger and lemon (added detox benefits) tea. Add slices of both to a pan and boil for around 10 minutes. Add some manuka honey if you’d like for an added boost to your immunity and some sweetness.
Garlic & Other Alliums
Alliums are a group of vegetables that includes garlic, chives, leeks, onions, daikon, scallions and shallots. They all contain a sulfur compound, responsible for their strong smell and potential health benefits, including protection against cardiovascular disease and cancer of the stomach and colon. It is believed that these benefits come from aliums specifically enhancing the detoxification process in the liver, helping to eliminate toxins and potential carcinogens.
Garlic, when crushed or chopped, also releases a chemical called allicin. This excellent chemical has been found to reduce inflammation and offers antioxidant benefits while promoting white blood cell production, which helps to fight against toxins.
If your stomach is not sensitive to alliens, make sure to include them in as many dishes as you can.
Cruciferous is another vegetable family containing broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and many more.
Cruciferous vegetables are highly nutritious, rich in folate, vitamin C, E and K, and fibre – which can help eliminate toxins. What’s more, they are rich in phytonutrients and glucosinolates. Both of these compounds have an anti-cancer effect and are great for metabolic detoxification and liver support. In addition, phytonutrients may help lower inflammation in the body. As a bonus, the green crucifers also contain chlorophyll, which boosts detox capacity even more.
Don’t go crazy on the cruciferous vegetables if you are prone to bloating as their high insoluble fibre levels can make some people, including myself, bloat like a balloon!
Parsley + Other Leafy Greens
Leafy greens are rich in chlorophyll, the chemical that gives them their colour. Chlorophyll and chlorophyllin (product made from chlorophyll) have numerous health benefits, including:
- stimulating the immune system
- eliminating fungus in the body
- detoxifying your blood
- cleaning your intestines
- getting rid of bad odour
- energising the body
- preventing cancer
Therefore, adding as many greens to your diet as possible will boost your bodies detoxing capacity.
Beets contain a group of phytonutrients called betalains, an anti-inflammatory, which help support liver detoxification. Additionally, beets are high in fibre, which can help improve digestion and eliminate toxins.
Artichokes have numerous health benefits, from providing you with plenty of fibre to reducing inflammation. In addition, artichoke leaf extract is liver-protective and promote the growth of new cells. They also have a mild diuretic effect on the kidney, ensuring proper removal of toxins once the liver breaks them down.
Green tea is jam-packed full of polyphenols (potent antioxidants), supporting the body’s natural detox system. The primary polyphenols in green tea are flavonoids, with EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) having the most potent antioxidant effect and being the most abundant flavonoid in green tea.
EGCG directly supports the liver by increasing enzyme activity and therefore drives liver detoxification.
If you are looking for something to add to your smoothies that’ll boost your heavy metal detoxification, Chlorella and Spirulina (mentioned below) is the answer.
Chlorella is a green algae which has become well known in the wellness community due to its impressive nutritional profile. Because Chlorella has a rigid wall that humans cannot digest, you must take it as a supplement to reap its benefits. It’s available in capsule, tablet, powder and extract form. I like to add a teaspoon of chlorella powder to my morning smoothies.
Studies have shown that Chlorella has many health benefits, including binding heavy metals and aiding your body’s detoxification system.
Animal studies have shown Chlorella to help weaken the liver, brain, and kidneys’ heavy metal toxicity. In addition, Chlorella has been shown to remove dioxins from the body, a harmful chemical that is sometimes found in food.
Nori is a traditional Japanese marine foodstuff. Nori is well known to contain a large quantity of protein and dietary fibre, the respective amounts of 43.6% and 44.4% on a dry weight basis. Nori is also rich in minerals, vitamins, and chlorophyll. Animal studies have demonstrated that nori’s dietary fibre and chlorophyll content can accelerate the excretion of dioxins from the body. This suggests that nori might be beneficial to humans in protecting them against the harmful effects of environmental toxins.
Like Chlorella, spirulina has been honoured with the superfood title and with good reasons. Not only is spirulina a great source of protein, vitamins and minerals, but it also has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
In addition to promoting overall health, spirulina consumption can also help alkalise the body. This can in turn, enhance liver function and detoxification of the body. In fact, during Chernobyl, spirulina was used to save children from radiation poisoning.
Whilst there is no evidence that specific detox diets can help detoxify your body of harmful toxins, there are some preliminary studies that suggest the foodstuff mentioned above can help boost the functioning of your detox organs.
However, moderation is key. Just because there is some evidence that these foods can boost body detoxification, doesn’t mean that you should begin chugging down litres chlorella water. Similarly to detox diets, consuming large quantities of the above foodstuff could actually backfire and do your body more damage than good.
Instead, try adding a variety of the detox-boosting foods mentioned above, in small quantities, to an already healthy, balanced diet. For example, add some chlorella or spirulina powder to your protein smoothie in the morning, add some cruciferous and allium vegetables to your lunch or dinner and season your foods with some garlic, turmeric, coriander and ginger. All of these foods bring different antioxidants, phytonutrients and micronutrients to the table, which all boost different parts of your detox system. Therefore, consuming a variety of them will have the most significant effect on your health.
Which is your favourite detox-supporting food?
Let me know in the comments below.