Detoxing. My first reaction upon hearing this word is to squint my eyes skeptically. I, along with a lot of other dietitians, tend to reject the word. Perhaps for good reason. While detoxification is a perfectly natural bodily process, the term has been overused and incorrectly referred to by non-scientific media, non-credentialed practitioners, and sometimes deceptive health food manufacturers.
Do a quick search on the internet and you’ll find a wide variety of water fasts, liquid diet plans, and recipes for drinks made of lemon, paprika, and maple syrup (ew). It’s an emerging world of research and claims of cleaning your body are compelling. The world of detox can be difficult to navigate, even for a nutrition professional.
On a basic level, most people seem to understand the filtering process carried out by your organs. Your liver takes care of alcohol after a night at the bar, and your kidneys filter blood to make pee, right?
Your liver breaks down foreign toxic substances such as alcohol, drugs, medications, pollutants, pesticides, and phthalates from plastic. It also breaks down natural waste, like lactic acid or urea produced by metabolic processes. From there, toxins exit through your intestines, through the kidneys as urine, through the pores in your skin as sweat, or by exhalation.
Your body is extremely capable of cleansing itself without help from a special beverage or supplement. Toxins leave your body through their intended pathways, as long as they’re functioning properly. So… is there any way that detoxing programs could actually help?
Sure. While research on nutrition’s role in detoxification is still young, some things are certain. Here are a few confirmed ways to support your body’s natural detoxification processes. (You’ll notice they sound just like a healthy, well-balanced diet!)
Vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients: Eating a wide variety of fruits and veggies provides all of the nutrients you need to boost your body’s detoxification processes. If adding special detox smoothies to your day gets you excited, and they’re made up of natural fruits and veggies, I support you! However, in most cases, I don’t support drinking ONLY juice or shakes. You should be skeptical of any diet that omits entire food groups (like protein or fat).
Fiber: Both soluble and insoluble fiber found in whole grains, nuts, seeds, and vegetables promote bowel health and regularity, supporting waste excretion. There are numerous juice fasting programs out there that usually overlook this aspect – count those out.
Water: A perfect way to get your toxin-filtering organs in tip-top shape is to drink some good ol fashion H2O. A lot of people who swear by detox beverages usually feel better simply because they’re well hydrated. It’s really that easy.
Protein: One of the liver’s duties is converting waste into a form that can be excreted. Much of this is done by an enzyme called glutathione, which is made up of amino acids. Eating adequate amounts of protein allows glutathione production, supporting your liver’s ability to process waste. Note: you don’t need to take a glutathione supplement - your body makes plenty of it as long as you eat enough protein.
Probiotics: Many of the harmful chemicals we ingest enter our body through the intestines. Luckily, your gut flora has actually been shown to break down common environmental chemicals, like pesticides. Try building up your army of toxin-busting gut bugs with probiotic-rich foods. See your guide to probiotics.
Nutrition Technique: There’s no magic potion or powder our there that can perform miraculous detoxification. Your body is designed to rid itself of harmful substances and waste products all on its own. However, you can (and should!) support natural detoxifying processes with what you eat and drink. While research on nutrition’s role is ongoing, there is a proven way support it. Staying hydrated and eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is all it takes to keep your detox game going strong!
Amy Jones, MS, RDN, LD, CD