Jana Nalbandian, ND
Detoxification, cleanses and fasting have been used throughout the centuries for various reasons, such as religious/spiritual, medical purposes, and seasonal cleanses to detoxify the liver and cleanse the colon. Detoxification is a traditional healing modality used by naturopathic physicians to assist patients in optimizing their health. In my practice, I often use the classic detox diet to start the process of resetting the digestive tract for repair and rebuilding along with using the diet as a springboard to identify underlying food hyper-sensitivities.
The change of seasons is the perfect time to do a whole foods detoxification to help support liver function. We are exposed to many toxins in our daily lives due to high fat and highly refined carbohydrate diets, riddled with alcohol, caffeine, and sugar. We also come in contact with environmental toxins through exposure to pesticides and chemicals. The constant onslaught of toxins our liver has to process can lead to a "sluggish" liver and imbalances throughout our physical body and mind. Symptoms of a sluggish liver include a weakened immune system, low energy, mood swings, difficulty concentrating and poor memory, not to mention a direct effect on digestive function. The detox diet will increase your energy, help create a clearer mind, decrease the number of colds you develop, and increase your sense of physical well-being.
The systems of detoxification in the body include the miraculous liver, the major organ of detoxification, along with the colon, kidneys and skin. The colon, kidneys and skin are the major routes of elimination after the liver detoxifies a substance. Whole foods and adequate fluids, especially water, provide just what the body needs to accomplish detoxification and elimination. The liver has two important phases that detoxify all foods and chemicals including medication, alcohol and caffeine. All substances processed by the liver are either fat-soluble (requiring bile with adequate fiber to be excreted out of the colon) or converted to a water-soluble substance that exits the body through the kidneys. Some of these substances become highly toxic intermediates that must quickly be metabolized by the second phase of liver detoxification. If the liver is sluggish, the highly toxic intermediates back up and can have a negative effect on the whole system. Alcohol and Tylenol are good examples of common substances that the intermediate metabolite is more toxic than the original substance. Without adequate nutrients needed in the detoxification phase, the bodies toxic burden increases, leading to many chronic diseases and imbalances in the body.
A whole foods diet with its focus on foods that provide nutrients that are critical in daily liver detoxification provide the simplest and least invasive approach to a liver cleanse.
What does a whole foods detox diet look like?
Foods that create a burden on the system are removed from the diet including all alcohol, caffeine products (except green tea), animal fats (including all dairy), refined carbohydrates (including white flour, white rice and sugar), and foods with dyes, chemicals and preservatives. The focus of the diet is on whole grains including quinoa, brown rice, and whole wheat products (unless you are gluten intolerant), legumes and fresh fruits and vegetables. The diet does include wild caught fish, organic chicken and game meat in moderate amounts for those who prefer some animal protein in diet. Fresh fruits and vegetables should comprise 60% of the diet due to the phytochemicals (phyto = plant) that are considered "liver foods." Good examples of vegetables that provide nutrients for detoxification include garlic and onions and the cruciferous vegetables, which include: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts, and all greens such as kale, spinach, chard, collards, etc. During the detox diet, you should eat 3-4 servings a day of cruciferous vegetables. Onions and garlic should also be eaten liberally. Catechins found in green tea along with curcumen (turmeric) are potent antioxidants that can prevent free radical formation during liver detox. Bioflavinoids including the aforementioned foods along with citrus, berries and red peppers assist the first phase of detoxification. The final requirements are water and fiber. During the diet, eat at least 25 grams of fiber in the form of whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
These are needed to assist regular bowel movements to eliminate the toxins from our body. Decreased bowel movements prevent elimination and increase the potential for re-absorption of toxins back into the system. The fat-soluble toxins bind to bile along with cholesterol and are picked up by fiber to be removed from the system. Adding fiber during a detox is a good idea including psyllium products, oat bran, and ground flax. Increasing water (with lemon) intake to at least 64 fluid ounces a day assists in flushing the toxins from the body.
A 10-day detox diet is the perfect solution for a sluggish liver to offset the daily onslaught of toxins in our environment, to bolster our immune system, and up our energy during the transition from one season to another. Make sure when you come off the diet to incorporate the great whole foods in your diet for continual liver support and to decrease those foods that your body truly does not need.