Our bodies are equipped with ways of eliminating toxins, but the organs in charge of these vital processes are overwhelmed at times, especially in the face of modern stressors such as pesticides and air pollution. Detoxification, a word that carries a certain air of mystery for many, is simply the process of helping these organs to get back to their jobs. Below is a quick primer on the how and why of detox diets.
Day in and day out, our bodies are subject to a long and varied list of toxins, particularly in urban environments plagued by air pollution. Certain medications or hormone treatments, while they may be essential for other aspects of our well-being, can contribute to a build-up of toxins. Alcohol, tobacco and even certain cooking methods (grilling or charbroiling) are also among the leading ways toxins enter our systems.
Fortunately, our bodies are equipped with ways of keeping toxins from entering the system and of eliminating them when they do find their way inside. The warriors in the battle against toxins are found in our intestines, kidneys, lungs and even in our skin, which eliminates some types of waste through transpiration. But the commander in chief in this battle is the liver, which is capable of metabolizing both fat-soluble and water-soluble toxins into their inactive components through its enzyme-rich cells, known as hepatocytes. The main principle behind any detox diet is simply to boost these natural defense and detoxification systems.
The end of winter offers an invitation to head into spring with restored health, particularly for those who may have overindulged somewhat during the holidays, or who spent the cold season ingesting painkillers, antibiotics or other medications due to seasonal maladies such as the flu, bronchitis or ENT infections. In general, patients taking a cocktail of medications on a regular basis are advised to carry out two detox diets per year, always under the supervision of a professional.
A detox diet starts before you bring your groceries home, so it's important to develop healthy shopping habits, including placing fruits and vegetables at the top of your list, and buying organic and or locally grown produce when possible. Opt for cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, bok choy, kale, etc.), artichokes, dandelion greens (for boosting liver function), endives, and cucumbers for their diuretic properties. Add anise, rosemary and turmeric — a time-honored detox agent, to be combined with oil — to liven up your meals while helping to set the detox process in motion. Finally, make a list of foods to avoid for one week: all types of processed foods, pre-packaged meals and sauces, foods rich in saturated fats (butter, red meat, bacon, pastry crust, etc.), foods with added sugar (soft drinks, cakes, candy, sugary breakfast cereals). Rest assured, the idea is to avoid these foods for one week before indulging in them again with moderation, and preferably separately, after the end of your detox diet.
Certain lifestyle factors and habits can be just as important as diet, and perhaps the most important among them, of course, is physical activity. It's no secret that sweating helps your body to evacuate certain toxins, so regular workouts (at least one hour two to three times a week) are essential to any detox regimen. Just think of it as one more reason to put on your running shoes.