When we hear the word detox, we often think of what not to eat. But what we put into our bodies is critical. Your body works to eliminate toxins all day every day—through sweat, elimination and internal systems (of which your liver is a part)—and certain foods help facilitate that process.
Rather than thinking of detoxification as something you do to yourself (“I’m going to do a cleanse”), we encourage you to think of it as a process your body is doing continuously that requires constant nutrition support from you.
“We often use the term ‘bio-transformation’ to describe detoxification,” says Lisa Powell, M.S., R.D.N., director of nutrition at Canyon Ranch in Tucson. “It’s a good description of the process of changing an unwanted compound into a form that can be easily excreted.”
The way the liver removes toxins from the body is fairly complex and entirely amazing. Most toxins—prescription drugs, pesticides, alcohol, for example—are fat soluble, meaning they are unable to circulate in your blood stream, which is water-based, or be eliminated through urine, which is also water-based. With the help of the bioactive components of certain foods, the liver converts these toxins into water-based metabolites so they can be eliminated. (We also eliminate toxins when we exhale air from our lungs.) If they’re not converted, the toxins may be stored in your fatty tissue.
“Nutritionally speaking, your body needs continuous support for ongoing detox,” Powell says. “This can include things like water, fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and enzymes you manufacture from protein.” Antioxidants, for example, scavenge toxic free radicals, compounds that promote the harmful process of oxidative stress in the body. Eating well is great for a week, but you need to have these helpers all the time.”
Add these foods to your weekly shopping list. You’ll support detoxification and reap the many additional health benefits they offer.
Layered with many health benefits, onions contain allocin, quercetin and several other polyphenol antioxidants. These compounds help protect the body from oxidative stress, which contributes to conditions like heart disease and cancer. The healthy compounds in onions are more concentrated in the outer layers, so peel off as little as possible the next time you slice. Garlic also contains allocin!
Cruciferous vegetables—like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts—are loaded with detoxifying sulfuric compounds such as sulforaphane, which give them their sharp flavor and smell. They help the liver perform its role in eliminating toxins. These crunchy veggies have also been linked to inhibiting the development of several types of cancer (sulphoraphane helps process estrogen, too).
Native to South and Southeast Asia, this yellow spice used in curry has been relied upon for centuries to treat liver and digestive problems such as colitis, ulcers and indigestion. Tumeric’s primary benefit is its role as an anti-inflammatory, which helps support strong immune function. Research finds turmeric supports brain health, lowers triglycerides and may protect against colon, stomach and esophageal cancer.
These small berries pack a concentrated punch. Anthocyanin, which gives them their color, can act as an antioxidant and help neutralize free radicals, the unstable molecules linked to the developing cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Blueberries also contain dietary fiber (as do most plant foods), which is changed in the gut in beneficial ways. “Fiber is digested by probiotic bacteria, which then produce a source of fuel for our bowel cells,” Powell explains. “This process is critical for both digestion and also helps balance immune function.” Fiber also binds to harmful compounds, ensuring that they are not re-absorbed from the bowel back into the bloodstream. If you can, opt for wild blueberries, which pack more anthocyanins than larger, commercial varieties.
5. Green Tea
If sipping green tea isn’t part of your daily ritual, consider trying it out. It’s concentrated with catechins, powerful antioxidants that can assist with the detoxification process. It also protects against cancer, cardiovascular disease and even cavities.
Yogurt is an excellent source of probiotics, good-for-you microorganisms that can help fight inflammation. “Anything that decreases inflammation supports the immune system, of which detox is a component,” Powell says. Probiotics also support a balanced bowl ecology by producing colonies of healthy bacteria that can help fight their harmful counterparts.
Flaxseeds are by far and away nature’s most concentrated source of lignans, chemical compounds in plants that deliver antioxidant benefits, help the body regularly clear itself of waste and metabolize estrogen. They also contain omega-3s—alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), in particular—which fight inflammation. Flaxseeds may lower cholesterol, improve hemoglobin A1C (blood sugar over three months) and even relieve mild menopausal symptoms, too. Ground flaxseed digests more easily (its nutrients are exposed for better absorption), giving you a bigger health benefit than whole seeds.
Good news for edamame lovers: Soy is rich in vitamin E, which acts as an anti-oxidant in detox reactions in your body. Plus, its isoflavones are involved in detox reactions that convert free radicals into water-soluble compounds so they can be easily excreted. We suggest purchasing only organic soy foods to avoid genetic modification and pesticides.
9. Red Grapes
Red grapes contain resveratrol, a phytonutrient and free-radical scavenging antioxidant that may protect us from heart disease. Resveratrol has also been linked to longevity and cancer prevention in the lab and in mice other animals. But be conscious about the bunches you buy: Because of their thin skins, grapes contain more types of pesticides than any other fruit. Consider organically grown grapes to reap the greatest detoxifying benefit.