Refresh and Recharge: The EatSmarter! Healthy Detox Guide
New year, new you: Now's the time to recharge your health by hitting the reset button on your diet. Rather than short-term deprivation, think long-term rejuvenation. As in adopt a whole-foods (read: no processed foods!), plant-based diet that will heal your body, boost your energy and have you looking and feeling your best.
Detox the Right Way with EatSmarter!
While many detox diet plans involve fasting, juicing or otherwise depriving yourself of food for a matter of days or even weeks, you don't have to go to such extremes to recharge your health and well-being. Turns out our organs are pretty efficient in flushing out all the toxins that we take in from our diets and the environment, so long as we supply them with the right foods that deliver the right nutrients. EatSmarter! has all the recipes you need to do just that, as well as some tips for what you can do each and every day to aid in detoxification. Before you get started, here's an overview of the guiding principles of any detox regimen.
1. Eat whole, unprocessed foods
It is well established by now that processed foods contain many additives that can be harmful to the body and have little or no nutritional value. These foods are also typically high in sugar and sodium, which are associated with numerous health issues including obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, and many include trans fats, which are harmful in even trace amounts. Whole foods, on the other hand, supply the body with all the essential vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals needed to function properly.
2. Embrace a plant-based diet
Studies also show that people who eat a plant-based diet have significantly lower incidents of heart disease, certain types of cancer and many other chronic illnesses including arthritis and Alzheimer's. (Click here for a round-up of research findings.) Besides supplying essential vitamins and minerals, plant-based foods--basically anything that's harvested from the earth, including fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds and healthy oils--are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory substances. Think of it this way: Fill three-quarters of your plate with these types of foods and then the rest with lean proteins such as fish, eggs and poultry (white meat), while limiting refined grains, red meat and cheese. (For more information, see The Healthy Eating Plate.)
3. Identify any food intolerances
Anyone with nut allergies or celiac disease knows to avoid certain foods, or else. But many people may suffer from food sensitivities without even realizing it. The suggested way to determine which if any foods you might have an intolerance for by an exclusion diet: You eliminate them from your diet for a period of time and then gradually reintroduce them into your diet while being on the lookout for any adverse reactions; bloating or other digestive discomfort, irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, irritability and/or mental fogginess. (Click here for how to tell the difference between a food allergy and a food sensitivity.) The primary allergens are peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, milk, eggs and wheat (gluten). Refined sugar, caffeine and alcohol should also be avoided during these times. It is always a good idea to work with a nutritionist or knowledgable physician if you think you may have a food intolerance and especially when giving up certain foods, as you may need to replace the nutrients that those foods would have provided.
4. Establish healthy eating habits
If you make eating a whole-food, plant-based diet part of your everyday routine, you'll be less likely to crave those unhealthy processsed foods, but it's still better to avoid the temptation to begin with by keeping them out of your kitchen (and out of your shopping cart). The key to success is to stock up on all the nutritious staples to ensure that healthy, wholesome meals are within easy reach. See How to Stock a Healthy Kitchen. Besides watching what you eat, you can help your body detoxify with some simple daily steps:
- Start your day with an invigorating cup of hot water and lemon juice.
- Skip the coffee latte and drink green tea instead; green tea is among the best sources of catechins that help with detoxification.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day to regularly flush out toxins.
- Cook your own meals whenever possible, and that goes for packing your own lunches, too.
- Don't skip meals; instead, eat smaller meals and snacks to keep your energy level on an even keel.
- Get plenty of sleep, critical to proper organ funtioning and detoxification.
Top 20 Detox Foods
Pretty much all fruits and vegetables have some detoxifying qualities, but the ones below will give you the most bang for the buck, cleansing-wise. Herbs and spices also make the list, as do flax seeds, though other seeds, especially sesame seeds, are also excellent detoxifiers. The same goes for nuts, especially walnuts, almonds and brazil nuts.
- Blueberries (and other berries)
- Cabbage (any of the brassicas, including broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage)
- Cayenne pepper
- Cilantro or parsley
- Citrus (lemon, lime or grapefruit)
- Dandelion greens (or tea)
- Flax seeds (or flax seed oil)
- Garlic (and other alliums, including onion, shallot, leek and scallion)
- Ginger root
- Legumes (beans and lentils)
- Kale (and other hearty greens, such as chard and spinach)
- Sea vegetables (such as kelp, dulse and kombu)
- Watercress (or other types of cress)
EatSmarter! Detox Recipes
Here are a full five day's worth of recipes that put those super-detoxifiers above to delicious use, along with all the other components of a whole-food, plant-based diet. Whole grains play an important role; quinoa in particular is a source of complete protein, important for vegetarians and vegans. What you won't find is any butter or white flour or sugar. Although they're organized by meal, the recipes can be enjoyed any time of day, so feel free to mix and match.
Detox Juices and Smoothies
Spinach, kale and other dark greens, beets, celery, fresh herbs, ginger root, lemon or other citrus: These are among the more potent ingredients in detoxifying drinks. Carrots can also be the basis of healthy tonics and add their own brand of sweetness, as do apples, pears and kiwi. If making smoothies, you can add banana or avocado for creaminess. Yogurt and buttermilk provide probiotics for a healthy gut. Juices and smoothies make a refreshing breakfast or between-meal pick-me-up.
Detox Breakfast Ideas
Think outside the cereal box for breakfast ideas that pack a lot of nutrients early in the day, giving your liver a jump start. Oats and other whole grains like barley and quinoa (actually a pseudocereal) are rich in fiber to keep you fuller longer, especially when topped with fresh fruit and nuts. Yogurt, buttermilk, and kefir offer gut-healthy probiotics, but if you are avoiding dairy you can use almond milk or coconut milk for creaminess. Eggs, of course, will bring protein to the plate, while avocado provides satisfying and healthy fatty acids.
Detox Lunch Ideas
You'll need some protein to power through the afternoon, as well as some complex carbohydrates and heart-healthy fat to keep you feeling satisfied. Grain salads and bowls are easy and portable, as are hot or cold vegetable-based soups. Other ideas include adding hard-boiled eggs or tinned fish, including sardines, anchovies or tuna, to a mixed green salad with a flavorful vinaigrette made with extra-virgin olive oil or other heart-healthy oils. Add avocados, beans or nuts for more satisfying heft.
Planning ahead for energy slumps is the best way to avoid grabbing something unhealthy (say, from the vending machine).
Detox Dinner Ideas
Meals with substance: That's what these nourishing dishes have in common, besides being chock full of detoxifying ingredients that help your body restore overnight.
Extra Credit: Detox Vegetable Dishes
These vegetable-based dishes will boost your detox efforts, whether eaten as a light lunch, healthy snack or a starter course or side dish at dinner.
Bonus: Wholesome Desserts
A little bit of wholesome sweetness now and then might be enough to stave off cravings for sugary treats. These are all rich in fiber and flavor.