Diet for Detoxification
by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist
– The main systems and organs of detoxification
– The liver as your main detoxifying organ
– Contributors to a toxic or clogged liver
– Reduce the toxic load from exposure to air-borne toxins
– Reduce exposure from toxins in food and drink
– Remove foods that are harmful to your liver
– The worst toxin for your liver and digestive system
– Important nutrients to support the body to detoxify
– Specific supportive foods for your liver and other detox organs
– Detoxification dieting
When you research detoxification, you will find a mass of information about detoxifying the liver. The liver appears to be the focus, but when you consider the human body, we have many organs, systems and ways that we detoxify. In truth, the body is generally very good at detoxing itself, but when we overburden our organs, then the natural way may not work as well.
The main systems and organs of detoxification
- Liver: see information below
- Spleen: filters our blood, taking out spent red and white blood cells
- Kidneys: big filterers of water soluble toxins
- Blood: carries toxins with nutrients around the body to be stored or discharged
- Lymphatic system: sucks toxins out of blood (see info on Cellulite Reduction)
- Bowel: flushes toxins down the toilet if the bowels (and the toilet) are working properly
- Lungs: breathe out toxins along with old air (carbon dioxide). Exercise can help to clear the lungs.
- Skin: our largest organ of elimination. If the body is unable to carry out toxins effectively with the other organs and systems, then the skin can be affected with pimples, other skin conditions or dull skin. One way to assist the skin to detoxify is to use a skin brush, drink plenty of water and ensure the other organs and systems that detoxify are working properly (you may need the help of a health practitioner to guide you). Sweating also helps clear toxins via the skin with exercise and saunas (especially the Far infra red saunas) being two methods to induce a good sweat. Do talk to your doctor if you wish to use either of these methods.
The liver as your main detoxifying organ
Your liver performs over 400 different jobs, such as converting hormones and making specific enzymes, but its main role is detoxification. Many people over-burden their livers…and their livers are crying out for help.
Signs that your liver may need help to detoxify:
- Abdominal bloating
- Fatigue – especially after eating
- Sleep apnoea or snoring
- Mood swings and/or depression
- Pain or discomfort over the liver – the right upper abdominal area under the rib cage, but the left lobe of the liver goes across the left side so you can also get discomfort here. But if the discomfort is more centred and a touch to the right, it could be the gall bladder calling for help
- Excessive abdominal fat, pot belly, or a roll of fat around the upper abdomen
- Trouble digesting fatty foods (reflux or you run to toilet or feel nauseous after eating fatty rich foods)
- The need to have your gallbladder removed
- Acid reflux/heartburn
- Fatty yellowish lumps around eyes
- Dark or red ‘liver spots’ on the skin
- Overheating of the body and/or excessive perspiration
- Acne/Rosacea or itchy, blotchy dull skin
- Unexplained weight gain and/or inability to lose weight even with calorie restriction
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol and triglycerides
- LFT’s (liver function blood tests) are elevated
- Very little alcohol creates a ‘hangover’
These are all signs that your liver is blocked or clogged up with unhealthy fat or from the effects of too much sugar. In extreme cases, it can turn into ‘fatty’ liver. When this happens the cells that act as a filter become too swollen with fat and the liver cannot screen out or filter the many substances being passed through it.
The liver’s function is to clean out used blood and return it to the heart, so if the liver is not functioning properly, you end up with recycled toxins entering you heart. This can damage your heart and immune system.
Medication and your hormones are also filtered through the liver. People who do not consume alcohol can still get a non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. In fact, this is directly correlated to people who consume a high carbohydrate diet and eat an abundance of processed foods or foods high in sugar.
Contributors to a toxic or clogged liver
These days we are exposed daily to high levels of toxins from chemicals, pesticides, water contaminants, food preservatives, heavy metals and electromagnetic radiation through our food, water, air, personal care and home products. These toxins lodge in the bowel, liver, kidneys, lymphatic system and fat tissue.
This toxic build up prevents the normal absorption of nutrients, carbohydrates and proteins. It reduces the body’s oxygen uptake and can create an acidic, low-energy state, more prone to infection, inflammation and ultimately disease.
It may be wise to check with your health practitioner for food intolerances, yeast overgrowth, and heavy metals in your body.
The foods, drinks and how you eat are either toxic or non-toxic for your body. They either harm or heal; there is no in-between. Let’s investigate…
Reduce the toxic load from exposure to air-borne toxins:
- Smoke: not just from cigarettes, but also from burning rubbish, paper, wood, plastics (these are particularly toxic). Avoid breathing smoke where possible.
- Gasoline/Petrol fumes: use a respiration face mask or cloth
- Paint & Glue: masks, cloths and special respirators are a must if you need to use these products
- Cleaners and bleaches: preferably use natural cleaners that are non-toxic, but if you must use the chemical varieties, wear a respirator as our lungs breathe in these toxins
- Nail polish & Perfumes: very toxic to breathe in. A mask or respirator is a must when using these regularly and at nail or beauty salons – depending on the products used.
Reduce exposure from toxins in food and drink:
- Alcohol: drinking 100% proof alcohol can make you blind and may even kill you, so why drink a diluted form of it?
- Chemical derived preservatives and food additives: some natural ones are safe, so check
- Pesticides & Fertilizers: OK if from organic sources such as manure. If not, it will be a chemical
- Heavy metals in large fish: particularly if pregnant or breastfeeding
- Contaminated water: invest in a good water filter
- Chlorinated water: in chlorine from tap water, swimming pools, spas or jacuzzis
- Brominated products: these are products containing bromine, a chemical element used as a food additive in brominated vegetable oil (BVO) and many commercially produced breads and soft drinks. BVO is banned for use in food products in Europe, India and Japan
- Petroleum-based preservatives in skin and hair care products: switch to non-toxic and plant-based cleaning and personal care products
Remove foods that are harmful to your liver:
- Eliminate processed foods, simple carbohydrates such as sugar, and instead focus on eating organic or spray-free produce
- Eat less cooked foods and don’t overcook your food. Avoid charred, highly browned foods as this adds toxins
- Eliminate toxic, poor quality fats such as canola, soybean and corn oil
- Avoid products from animals that have been fed genetically modified feed such as wheat, corn and soy.
- Limit or eliminate alcohol if you are experiencing more than three of the symptoms listed above
- Although caffeine from coffee and tea (both green and black) has antioxidants, it is still a substance that the liver can have trouble with if it’s already overburdened
The worst toxin for your liver and digestive system
What’s the worst toxin is for your liver and digestive system? Overeating!
Overloading your digestive system leads to foods moving sluggishly which can lead to an accumulation of toxins. Your body is continuously trying to detoxify, yet poor eating habits can hinder this process.
Make sure that you stop eating when you feel almost full. Also, ensure that you don’t have meals too close together. Snacking on foods throughout the day doesn’t give your body the chance to rest, clean, discharge waste, repair and work efficiently.
An intermittent nutritional fast is the best gift you can give your digestive system and liver. It’s not hard to do – the idea is to give your body sufficient time to cleanse and rebuild. For example, finish your dinner at say 7pm and then hold back for brunch at 11am to have a 16-hour cleansing time, then have your dinner again at 7pm so you get another 8-hour window.
Another example is a 5:2 program where you eat normally for five days and select two days, which don’t have to be consecutive, where you eat one meal a day.
There are other variations. Every little bit helps and only do this if it feels right for you. Why not try some variations at least once to see if it works for you?
Many people don’t feel like breakfast, and don’t truly get hungry till mid-morning or later, but we are led to believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. There’s certainly nothing wrong with breakfast, and if you are hungry first thing in the morning, then follow what your body asks you for.
But even if you can give your body the rest break it needs once or twice a week, or daily if it feels right for you (or even every second day), then your liver and digestive system will love you for it.
If you are going to follow an intermittent fasting regime it is important to ensure that you eat highly nutritious foods and avoid hard to digest, starchy carb fillers like rice, pasta and breads that have less nutrients per cupful than vegetables and salads which are full of nutrients and fibre. Also eat easy to digest good quality proteins and healthy fats – in moderation.
Avoid eating too close to bed times, otherwise your body will actively use up energy to digest the meal during your sleep time, denying you the opportunity for a full night’s rest. How often after a late, heavy dinner have you felt tired and gluggy the next morning, whereas when we wake up, we should be naturally ready to spring into the day?
And while on the subject, eating large mouthfuls, without chewing to break down the food, will place more load on your digestive system, which is not conducive to detoxifying your body.
Important nutrients to support the body to detoxify
- Vitamin K: found in green leafy vegetables and alfalfa sprouts.
- Arginine: helps the liver to detoxify ammonia, which is a toxic by-product of protein metabolism. Arginine is found in legumes such as beans, peas, and lentils as well as found in carob, walnuts and seeds.
- Antioxidants: found in carrot, celery, beetroot, dandelion, apple, pear, and fresh fruits, particularly citrus, berries and kiwi fruit and green drinks from Chlorella and Spirulina.
- Selenium: sources of the antioxidant selenium are Brazil nuts, kelp, brown rice, seafood, garlic and onions.
- Methionine: is essential for detoxification and is found in legumes, eggs, fish, garlic, onions and seeds.
- Natural sulphur compounds: are found in eggs (preferably free range organic), garlic, onions, leeks, shallots and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussel sprouts.
- Essential fatty acids: fish & other seafood, fresh avocado, fresh raw nuts and seeds, legumes (beans, peas, lentils), green vegetables such as spinach, green peas and green beans, eggplant, cold pressed fresh vegetable and seed oils, freshly ground seeds, especially flax seeds (linseed). Essential fatty acids are required for healthy membranes in every cell of the body and plentiful amounts are required for healthy liver function. Therefore, strict low-fat diets are not beneficial for general health, weight control, or liver function.
Specific supportive foods for your liver and other detox organs
Eating 30-40% of your diet as raw live vegetables and fruits can really help your digestion and liver because they contain living enzymes, lots of vitamin C, natural antibiotic substances and phyto-nutrients.
Some of the following liver ‘super foods’ are best eaten cooked, so please don’t think you have to eat them all raw. Even lightly cooked is fine. Aim to have 80% of your diet plant based; this includes the fruits, raw salads and veggies, nuts and seeds (preferably soaked first) as well as lightly cooked vegetables.
Apples are high in pectin, which assists the body to cleanse and release toxins from the digestive tract, which in turn makes it easier for the liver to handle the toxic load during the cleansing process. Eat apples whole (washed and organic) or blend with greens. Preferably not juiced or you will lose the valuable fibre and there is a tendency to use more of them which adds extra sugar to your system. Cooked or raw are both good.
Artichokes help the liver produce bile, which helps your body break down fats and waste products. Aside from the benefits to your liver, artichokes are also filled with fibre, protein, magnesium, folate, and potassium.
Asparagus is known to help the liver filter out the toxic materials in the food and drinks we consume. If you get a ‘funny smell’ after eating it, don’t worry, that’s a sign you have a missing enzyme in the liver. Some say it is a sign of a poorly functioning liver but so far, I haven’t seen proof of that. Interestingly if you take digestive enzymes when eating asparagus, you may not get the smell.
This nutrient-dense ‘super-food’ helps the body to produce glutathione, a compound that is necessary for the liver to cleanse harmful toxins, but is also high in fibre, antioxidants and good fats. Avocados are a useful detoxification addition, but if you add things to it like sour cream then it will counter the positive effect. Avocado with lemon juice and a bit of pepper and chilli is all that is needed.
Beets/Beetroot & Carrots
Beets have been used for a long time as a great liver supportive food. They are extremely high in plant-flavonoids, antioxidants and beta-carotene. Eating beets and carrots can help stimulate and improve overall liver function.
Broccoli & other Cruciferous Vegetables
Eating broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and brussel sprouts will increase the amount of glucosinolate (natural enzymes) in your system. These natural enzymes help to flush out carcinogens and other toxins from our body more easily.
Garlic activates liver enzymes that help your body to flush out toxins. Garlic also holds high amounts of allicin and selenium, two natural compounds that aid liver cleansing.
High in vitamin C and antioxidants, grapefruit increases the natural cleansing processes of the liver. A small glass of fresh grapefruit juice can boost production of the liver detoxification enzymes that help to flush out carcinogens and other toxins.
Leafy Green Vegetables
Leafy greens can be eaten raw, cooked, or blended, are extremely high in plant chlorophylls and help to suck up toxins from the blood stream. With their strong ability to cleanse heavy metals, chemicals and pesticides, these amazing foods offer a powerful protective mechanism for the liver.
Leafy greens such as arugula/rocket, dandelion greens, kale, spinach and mustard greens all help to increase the creation and flow of bile, the substance that removes waste from the organs and blood.
This is an herb that is used in Thailand and other parts of the world as an effective natural way to cleanse all of the detox organs at once. It not only helps the liver but also the kidneys, the bladder and the entire digestive tract. Benefits of using lemongrass as a tea or in your cooking include a better complexion, better circulation and better digestion. It is most often used as a tea but is also used in many Asian recipes.
Lemons & limes
These citrus fruits contain very high amounts of vitamin C, which aids the body to synthesize toxic materials into water soluble substances that can be cleared through our urine. Drinking freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice in the morning helps to stimulate the liver to flush out toxins.
Cold-pressed organic oils such as olive, coconut and flax-seed oil are great for the liver when used in moderation (high calorie). They help the body by providing a lipid (fat) base that can help flush out fat soluble toxins.
You may have seen liver and gallbladder programs where you drink a mixture of olive oil and lemon juice to help flush out stones from the liver and gallbladder. Some say this has changed their lives and others have ended up in hospital with gall stones stuck in their bile duct. I suggest you do not do this unless it has been advised by your doctor (and supervised).
Seaweed is packed full of nutrients and trace elements that can help the liver to detoxify. You may be aware of seaweed on sushi rolls, but it can also be used as dried seaweed and added to soups or sprinkled on foods.
This is an herb or spice that has specifically been studied in relation to the positive affect that it has on the liver, and it also has great anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric can be used as a tea, or added as a spice to your food.
Walnuts hold high amounts of the amino acid arginine which aids the liver in detoxifying ammonia. Ammonia is a by-product of protein digestion that can build up to toxic levels if you either eat too much meat or can’t digest it properly. Walnuts are also high in glutathione and omega-3 fatty acids which support liver cleansing actions.
Other nuts and seeds also contain Arginine but walnuts hold the highest amount. Be sure walnuts are fresh, because any nut or seed that smells stale is rancid and more harmful than beneficial, as the fats in them have basically ‘gone off’.
Soaked (activated) nuts and seeds are even better because soaking discharges their enzyme inhibitors (designed to keep the nut/seeds from sprouting before it is time for them to grow). If you can get your seeds to sprout, then this activates more nutrients to be released. These nutrients are there for the seed to grow, but available for you to benefit from if slightly sprouted before eating. Soaking nuts and seeds is a bonus for your body.
Water is very important for all your organs and specially to assist your kidneys to flush water soluble toxins from your body. The amount of water to drink each day is said to average two litres. But there are many variables such as: how hot or cold it is, exercise, the type of work you do. The main point is to stay hydrated, whether you’re a marathon runner or an office worker.
If you are not used to drinking water daily, gradually increase your intake by one glass a day till you reach a desired level, rather than suddenly upping your intake in one go so you don’t stress your kidneys if they are not used to it.
Give your liver a big boost with the cleansing action of watercress, which is great in salads, adding a peppery flavour to your meal. Watercress helps to release enzymes in the liver which assist to clean it out.
The idea of a detoxification diet is to eliminate foods and substances that are detrimental and include supportive foods and drinks to allow your body do its natural job of clearing and healing.
The focus is on foods considered to be ‘clean’, light, easy to digest, liver and gut supportive, and contain many of the detox super foods listed above. It’s recommended to be free of gluten, dairy, additives and heavy foods. Smoothies are also easy to digest and give the detox organs a good flush out.
The length of time to be on a detox is up to you. Because of the nutrients a detoxification diet like this provides, you can stay on the diet indefinitely or finish when you wish.
As mentioned, the worst enemy for the liver and digestive systems is overeating. If this is the case, go easy and look after yourself and perhaps consider an intermittent fasting program.
By the way, there are plenty of choices in a detoxification diet…and it tastes great!
Important: Before you commence a detox, see your medical or health care professional for qualified guidance about what foods and supplements are best for your body. While on the diet do not stop any medications or supplements previously prescribed unless advised otherwise by your medical or health care professional.
Note: During the early stages of a new diet, you may experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches or body aches, which may occur because your body is detoxifying. However, if you are unsure about a symptom at any time, check immediately with your medical or health care professional.
Client name and identifying information changed
Sam, an older age client in his early 80’s, felt that his energy wasn’t what it used to be. His doctor ran some tests and said he couldn’t find anything wrong with him, so he deemed it was due to aging.
Sam had been very health conscious as he used to do boxing training, lots of weight lifting and running on the beach, but it changed after meeting the new love of his life.
Sam and his wife started to drink wine in the afternoons, something that Sam only used to do at functions like weddings. Soon he started to feel more tired, so he stopped his fitness regime and replaced it will naps with his wife and short evening strolls on the beach.
His diet also changed from a variety of raw and cooked vegetables served very simply with grilled or steamed proteins like fish, meat and chicken, to more gourmet type meals with rich sauces, minimal ‘overcooked’ vegetables and yummy creamy desserts, often followed later with cheese and crackers. Sam felt very loved and cared for but missed how he previously felt in his body.
Relieved that he didn’t have any illnesses, Sam knew that things had to change, so he arranged to see me. He also asked his lovely wife to come to the clinic with him, which was a great idea, so that she could hear what he already knew in his heart (but didn’t know how to say to his wife) that she was killing him with love (food).
I had seen this many times with couples before, but fortunately Sam knew what it felt like to have more energy and vitality, which he thought was what attracted him to his younger, bubbly vital wife in the first place. But then she started to ‘love him’ and ‘love herself’ with food…even though she too had previously been on a much healthier diet.
We discussed the option of implementing a detox diet which was similar to how Sam used to eat (which I saw on his confidential client form showing his ‘before’ and ‘after’ diet). I suggested to do the diet together for mutual support, and base it on 80% plant based diet (with 30% minimum of these raw) and the remainder of the foods to be good fats like coconut oil, olive oil, nuts and seeds and lean protein foods steamed or stir-fried.
As this was a 12-week detox, they were to also asked to go off alcohol and caffeine and remove gluten and other grains as well as dairy products.
Fortunately, Sam’s wife was a very creative cook and prepared very tasty meals to enjoy on their detox. When they returned to see me, they both welcomed the weight loss, more energy and felt so good that they decided to remain on the diet indefinitely and keep drinks and nibbles solely to functions and celebrations.
Sam was also back to his slow runs on the beach and his weights in his personal little gym at home that had been collecting dust for the previous two years.