You may often see advertisements for “detox” diets to help you regain your health and well-being. But is there really such a thing as a way to detoxify our bodies and do we need to “detox”?
Avi called our office in order to make a consultation to see if any of our programs would fill his needs. Avi is 36 years old and he is overweight. He indicated to me that he would love to lose 20-25 pounds, but mainly, he just felt sluggish, bloated, and not very well most of the time. Avi had heard from an acquaintance that he simply needed to detoxify himself and he would feel like a new person. Avi looked up “detoxification diets” and saw there were a number of nutritionist and nutrition “experts” offering different methods to detox and feel like a new person. These included some radical methods like only having juice for 14 days or only having water, diluted juices and vegetable soups for a week and then easing back in to more normal, but healthy foods. Avi made an appointment to speak to me and to hear my opinion on the matter.
While the word detoxification or cleansing sounds very appealing, it is misleading to the public. Just like the failed dieting that people tend to be attracted to, even though they all end up without long term success, the general population may think that doing something of this nature is necessary in order to keep our bodies working right. However, other than another marketing ploy in order to obtain your business, detoxing is an unnecessary and possibly harmful endeavor.
Our Body’s Internal Detox System
Our bodies do need to detoxify. Yes, we do need to clean out the poisons that we manage to ingest on a daily basis. We are exposed daily to pollutants, chemicals, and even some of the ingredients in processed foods that we might have thought are safe. If everyone had a better understanding of how our bodies work, we would understand that we have a phenomenal built in detoxification system. No one needs to do a detox diet! What we do need to do is give our internal system the proper support it needs in order to detox itself in the most efficient way possible.
The Liver is the Main Player
Your liver is your main detoxifying organ and biochemical synthesizer. It’s responsible for cleaning toxins and wastes from your blood, and separating out the useful nutrients to synthesize hundreds of biochemicals that your body needs for daily functioning. Your liver also activates and regulates important hormones.
After your digestive system has broken down your food, the small particles enter your blood from the intestine and are sent to your liver for filtering. Your liver separates the nutrients from the waste chemicals that need to be removed from circulation. The liver converts amino acids into proteins, produces bile that squirts back out through your gall bladder into your intestinal tract to digest fatty foods and stores energy from sugar as glycogen to be used later. As registered dietician Ashley Koff puts it, your liver works like a factory that receives, filters and then repackages substances for use in the body or for safe removal of any toxic wastes. The liver performs hundreds of functions. Ensuring that toxins are safely removed from your blood is one of its most critical jobs.
Supporting our built-in detox system
It is important to avoid irritating our digestive system and making it inefficient. It is also essential to support the digestive system and its ability to detoxify. In order to make this happen, try the following:
Every day is a detox day, so consume foods whose nutrients support the body’s natural detoxification system. These foods include vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains, seeds and healthy fats, for a start.
- Eat nuts and seeds! From walnuts and cashews to hemp, sesame and sunflower seeds.
- Colors! Green, red, yellow, and purple! Eat and drink a rainbow of colors (from nature, not a chemistry lab) daily: bananas, spinach, strawberries, red pepper, lemons and many other vibrant foods.
- Enjoy frozen fruits and vegetables. They are fresh and often less expensive than other foods plus they’re available year-round.
- Choose plants more often, especially for proteins and fats, such as those found in avocado and olives.
- Consume foods closest to their natural form.
- Add flavor and boost detox support by choosing spices versus flavoring or artificial colors. Horseradish, garlic, oregano, cinnamon, ginger and other spices are all helpful.
- We need glucoraphanin! What’s that? The body’s natural cleansing system identifies and enables the elimination of toxins. Some toxins—from the environment or added hormones—require the detox system to convert them to a different form so they can be eliminated. Phytonutrients like glucoraphanin are found plentifully in broccoli and cauliflower. They help to enable this conversion.
Part of the issue with detox diets is that they are implemented when one feels the need to detox. This approach is short-sighted and seems to hint that it is okay to partake in unhealthy eating habits because there is some way to undo it later. This just isn’t the case. Bad eating and exercise habits bring poor health and when done repeatedly, can bring illness. We can always improve our lot by making the changes necessary. By staying mindful all the time and limiting the amount of poor quality foods we ingest we will be better off. By consuming enough good foods daily, we enhance the ability of our detox system to function efficiently and keep us healthy. It is important to create the proper mindset so that this is part of our life. This isn’t to say that once in a while, we can’t treat ourselves to something considered less healthy. But if you are going to do that, it is even more important to be aware of good and balanced eating on a regular basis so that you’re system can handle it and can cleanse out the toxins in a quick and efficient manner.
Avi and I had a long talk. I told him that I understood perfectly well why he was being pulled in the direction of some kind of quick fix. Avi realized that for him to start feeling better and to lose some weight, it was a matter of making changes DAILY to his eating habits and starting to get more activity and exercise. This would be the best way to ignite his body into working better and consequently, to his feeling better. He agreed to come and see our dietician for 3 visits and to start a daily walk. There was no detox “kick start”, just good, healthy eating. 6 weeks later he came back to see me. In the end, without doing a special detox diet, he began feeling better and better. The best thing about it was that he was on his way to a new healthier lifestyle.
Our bodies are detoxing all the time. Special detox diets are ways to get you into a program that probably isn’t going to have a good long-term result. But, working on good healthy eating habits that encourage your built-in detox system to work with good efficiency will go a long way to “add hours to our day, days to your year and years to our life”.