Q&A: Thinking of Detox Dieting?

“I want to go on a detox diet.  Which is the best one to try?”

There are dozens of so-called “detox” diets out there–from juice fasts to elimination diets–but at best, most make the vaguest of claims about what substances they’re supposedly detoxing you from, and what scientific evidence exists to support these claims.

In reality, the best, more scientifically-sound way to ‘detoxify’ yourself is to cut back on your exposure to substances that your body’s built-in detox systems have to contend with, and to focus on foods that help support your body’s own natural detox capabilities. Between your digestive system, your kidneys and your liver, you already have multiple–and very efficient–systems to metabolize toxic substances like alcohol and drugs into safe by-products; neutralize and excrete toxic byproducts of dietary protein metabolism; sequester harmful carcinogens in the intestines to prevent them from being absorbed; and remove heavy metals from your body.

While daily exposure to toxins is inevitable, there are things you can do to minimize your exposure to substances that tax your system and boost your body’s own natural detox capabilities:

  • Avoid alcohol and minimize your use of non-essential medications, like ibuprofen or acetominophen, all of which stress your liver
  • Avoid caffeine
  • Drink plenty of plain water to allow your kidneys to filter waste effectively
  • Choose organic foods whenever possible to minimize the load of chemical pesticides you inadvertently take in.  For a list of fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide loads, check out The Environmental Working Group’s list of the “Dirty Dozen,” and focus your dollars on organic versions of these foods in particular.
  • Eat a high-fiber diet from natural, minimally processed foods like whole grains, vegetables and beans to keep waste moving expeditiously through your intestines…and out of your body.
  • Eat lots of vitamin-and-mineral rich fruits and vegetables to provide a steady flow of antioxidants to replace those that are used up in the line of duty.  Place special emphasis on vegetables from the cabbage family (broccoli, bok choy, kale, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards), as they contain compounds that support the function of glutathione–a super-potent antioxidant made by your liver.
  • Avoid processed (“pink”) meats that contain sodium nitrite as a preservative and charred/grilled meats; these types of foods tend to produce carcinogenic compounds as they are metabolized.
  • Choose fish that’s lower on the food chain (sardines, anchovies, herring, freshwater trout, catfish, flounder, sole) rather than larger, older fish (like tuna, swordfish, grouper, tilefish, orange roughy, bluefish, halibut, lobster), as it contains much less mercury, a toxic heavy metal.  If you eat salmon, choose wild Alaskan over farmed salmon from anywhere, as the latter is raised with very high doses of antibiotics.

I don’t recommend juice fast diets for the purpose of detox. There is no science to support their utility, plus they’re nutritionally (and calorically) inadequate. When you induce a starvation-like state, your metabolism actually slows down, which will also slow down your body’s natural detox mechanisms… a result that would seem counterproductive to your detox effort!

Happy, clean eating!




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