8 Foods to Help You Detox Naturally
May 31st, 2018
Detox! You can’t walk into a health food store today without seeing this word touted on countless product labels lining the shelves. From 21 day “detox” programs to full body “cleanses” your detoxification choices are limitless. You’ll find recipes for homemade “detox” concoctions of ginger and cayenne water to a myriad of juices, supplements, and hot teas. We are inundated with this message that we need to “detox” to be truly healthy, however what does this really mean, and is it even necessary?
Every day, we are bombarded with toxins thanks to our modern lifestyles – from the air we breathe, to the water we drink, to the food we eat, to the products we put on our bodies and in our homes. In fact, the CDC estimates that 80% of all illnesses have environmental and lifestyle causes. This is why taming the toxins is the 3rd pillar of The Myers Way®. Fortunately, there are a number of foods to help you detox naturally that you can easily add to your daily diet.
First, let’s dive into what detoxing is all about and why the need for a “detox” might be more than just hype.
What is Detoxification?
Despite the new trend of detoxification, this is not at all a new tenant of natural health. Detoxification methods of healing date back thousands of years–all the way back to Hippocrates, who is known as the “Father of Western Medicine.” Detoxification by definition is the physiological removal of toxic substances from within your body. Your lymph and circulatory systems detoxify your individual cells, while detoxification on a broader scale is mainly carried out by your liver, kidneys, and intestines. Other organs such as your bowels, lungs and skin also play a part in excreting toxins from your body.1
“Toxicity” is determined by the degree to which a chemical substance or a particular mixture of substances can damage your body in any way. In short, a toxin is a substance that is poisonous to your body. This includes heavy metals, pesticides, pollutants, GMOs, food additives and a multiplicity of chemicals. Unfortunately these toxic substances hide in everything from the water you drink, to the air you breathe, the food you eat, your cosmetics and personal care products, and the cleaning products you use in your home. Toxins are even emitted from your cookware. Currently, in the US alone, there are over 80,000 chemicals registered for use with little to no testing. The government leaves it up to the companies themselves to do the testing and tell us whether their product is “safe.”
Bioaccumulation, the accumulation of toxins in the human body, is a major contributing factor to the increase in chronic conditions such as asthma, allergies, cancer, mental conditions and a host of autoimmune issues. Because we are at the top of the food chain, when we eat meat that is not organic, we are consuming all of the antibiotics, growth hormones and other chemicals given to the animals, as well as the herbicides and pesticides sprayed on the grains fed to those animals. This is why I recommend eating only organic, grass-fed meats. Likewise, I recommend organic produce over conventional, which is contaminated with insecticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals.
What Can You Do to Support Natural Detoxification?
When your body’s natural detoxification system is overwhelmed by excess exposure to toxins, poor diet, stress and infections, your body needs extra support for your detox pathways. And if you have an autoimmune condition, your body is even less equipped to deal with toxins. To help manage your toxic burden, you can take detox supporting supplements and you can also include certain foods that help support your detox pathways, which I outline below, into your daily routine.
I recommend a 2-step approach to tame the toxins. The first step is prevention, and this requires some intentional steps. I do this by eating only organic food, and by making my home as toxin-free as possible. You can minimize the toxins in your home by incorporating the following methods:
- Clean your air. Did you know that indoor air is 2-5 times MORE polluted than outdoor air? For this reason, I recommend using a HEPA filter in your home and office. Check out this article for more tips on how to detox the air in your home.
- Clean your water. Whether it’s water you are drinking or bathing in, you can eliminate the toxins in your water by installing filters in your home on the faucets and shower heads or by having a full-house filtration system installed. Avoid drinking out of plastic bottles as well.
- Buy clean food. Eat only organic food, including organic produce and meats. This can get expensive, so if you have to choose, buy organic meat first. Due to bioaccumulation, meat that is not organic can be the most toxic to your body. Simply put, when you eat meat that is not organic, you are also eating the “accumulation” of toxins which the animals are exposed to, from the pesticides sprayed on the grains they eat to the antibiotics they are given. In The Autoimmune Solution, I help you prioritize your grocery list by explaining which foods have the highest and lowest concentrations of toxins.
- Buy clean body products. You shouldn’t put anything on your skin that you wouldn’t eat, because your skin absorbs whatever you put on it. If you can’t replace all your personal care products at once, you can replace them slowly. Make it your goal to eventually have all clean beauty products.
- Buy clean household cleaners. I also recommend using DIY cleaning products, as your household cleaning products can be highly toxic.
Because exposure to some toxins in our environment is unavoidable, the second step for taming the toxins is through natural means. To support your body’s natural detoxification, I recommend drinking lots of water to enable your body’s ability to eliminate toxins. I also recommend you do something every day that makes you sweat. Whether you exercise or sit in an infrared sauna, sweating equals detoxification! If you are on the autoimmune spectrum, your body has a harder time detoxifying, so supplements play a big role in supporting your liver as it excretes toxins–specifically, glutathione, or N-Acetyl-Cysteine (a precursor to glutathione). Coconut charcoal is also optimal for binding and chelating toxins.
Eating foods that support your body’s ability to detox is another great way to flush the toxins from your body. Let’s take a look at some of the best foods to help you detox naturally.
Chlorella tops the list of detoxifying foods for many reasons. This freshwater algae, native to Taiwan and Japan, is a “superstar” superfood replete with phytonutrients, amino acids, chlorophyll, beta-carotene, potassium, phosphorous, biotin, magnesium and B-complex vitamins. It is by far one of the most nutrient dense superfoods for supporting your immune system. In fact, a 1-ounce (3 tbsp) serving of chlorella contains:
- Protein: 16g
- Vitamin A: 287% RDA
- Vitamin B2: 71% RDA
- Vitamin B3: 33% RDA
- Iron: 202% RDA
- Magnesium: 22% RDA
- Zinc: 133% RDA
If you have mercury fillings, for example, or consume large amounts of fish, you most likely have elevated levels of heavy metals in your body. We are also exposed to metals in our water, makeup and personal care products, and conventional produce. To determine if you have heavy metal toxicity, you can ask your doctor to test your blood with a red blood cell test or a hair test. You can also have a urine “challenge” done. You can read more about this in my article, “How to Test for and Address Mercury Overload.”
Another amazing health benefit of chlorella is its ability to help detoxify the body of radioactive particles resulting from chemotherapy and ultraviolet radiation treatments commonly used to treat cancer. This is due to its high levels of chlorophyll. The list of health benefits is extensive with this amazing superfood, however today I’m just focusing on its detoxification “super power”!3,4
Spirulina, a cousin of chlorella, also offers immense detoxification support to your body. This blue-green algae, also called a cyanobacterium, originates from both fresh and salt water sources. It is another power house of nutrition! It’s so impressive as a superfood, that NASA now sends it in space for our astronauts to consume to stay healthy.5
A single tablespoon (7 grams) of dried spirulina powder contains:
- Protein: 4 grams
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamin): 11% of the RDA
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): 15% of the RDA
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin): 4% of the RDA
- Copper: 21% of the RDA
- Iron: 11% of the RDA
It also contains magnesium, potassium and manganese. Similar to chlorella’s chlorophyll, Spirulina’s driving engine is a compound called phycocyanine, which has significant antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, therefore inhibiting cell oxidative damage. This damage contributes to chronic inflammation, cancer and autoimmunity in general.
Among the many other health benefits of spirulina, it has been shown to help patients detoxify from heavy metal exposure – mainly in the form of arsenic. The World Health Organization has labeled arsenic toxicity as a global problem around the world including the US. Chronic arsenic toxicity is the result of exposure to arsenic primarily in ground water. The effects can be very damaging and can be seen even years after exposure. Arsenic is a known carcinogen which affects many organs. Spirulina, which is also very high in chlorophyll, can counteract this damage by removing toxins from the blood stream while strengthening the immune system.6,7,8
Turmeric is a perennial herb in the ginger family containing a phytochemical called curcumin. This gives it the distinctive deep golden color so commonly associated with curry, of which turmeric is a key ingredient. Turmeric’s surge in popularity in the Western World is due to its medicinal properties that offer all the health benefits without the negative side effects of conventional drugs. This amazing spice provides wonderful detoxification support for your body.
Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent reducing pain associated with autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. In regards to detoxification, curcumin helps your liver process metabolic waste and toxins by stimulating your gallbladder to release bile, which in turn improves liver function. Bile cleanses your liver and rejuvenates liver cells. Bile also prevents toxins from being converted to harmful compounds that damage your liver.
Because turmeric only contains about 2-5% curcuminoids by weight I recommend taking a curcumin supplement to maintain optimal levels (particularly if you have an autoimmune condition). However, making turmeric part of your daily diet is also a powerful tool for detoxification.
So, how can you add this miraculous spice to your menu? Along with traditional Indian-style curries, my golden milk recipe is unbelievably delicious! Curcumin is best absorbed when consumed with some fat (found in the coconut oil) and black pepper. Piperine or bioperine, the substance found in black pepper, enhances the absorption of curcumin. Without the piperine, most of the curcumin would just pass through your digestive tract.
Ginger is a flowering plant closely related to turmeric. The root, or rhizome, of the plant has been used for thousands of years as an anti-inflammatory agent and antioxidant. Ginger is definitely a main contender in the world of detoxification. You will find it is a common ingredient in detox and cleansing recipes and supplements–for good reason!
Ginger stimulates digestion, circulation, and sweating, which are your body’s three main avenues of natural detoxification! This rids your body of the build-up of waste and toxins in the colon, liver, and other organs. Ginger has a high concentration of gingerol and shoga, both of which offer anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic effects on your gastrointestinal system. Ginger also helps to maintain digestive enzymes. This can alleviate a wide variety of digestive issues from stomach pain to gas and bloating.9
5. Leafy Greens
Leafy greens are a fabulous way to support your body’s natural detoxification, so add them to as many meals as you can on a daily basis! Certain leafy greens rank high on the list including spinach, kale, moringa leaf, alfalfa leaf and parsley.
Leafy greens are chock full of minerals, including iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium, and vitamins, including some B vitamins as well as vitamins K, C, E. Many of these nutrients are involved in the detoxification process. They are full of fiber, which makes them slow to digest and good for detoxifying your bowels.
Leafy greens contain a variety of phytonutrients including beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. They also contain chlorophyll, which gives them their green pigment. As I explained above, chlorophyll is great for detoxifying heavy metals and toxins from your body.10
An apple a day really can keep the doctor away! Apples provide amazing detoxification support for your liver. The pectin and malic acid in apples, particularly the Granny Smith variety, offer a one two punch to the toxins in your body! The soluble fiber in the pectin helps remove cholesterol and toxins from your blood, while the malic acid is a cleansing nutrient that removes carcinogens and toxins from your blood. Remember to eat only organic apples as their conventionally grown counterparts are highly contaminated with pesticides.11
7. Broccoli Sprouts
It’s true, you should eat your broccoli! More specifically, eat broccoli sprouts. Broccoli contains a chemical called sulforaphane, which fights malignant cancer cells in the body. New research by Johns Hopkins has shown the ability of this chemical to detoxify carcinogens before they actually cause harm to the body. Some functional medicine practitioners recommend avoiding cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, because they contain goitrogens. However, I have found that the health benefits far outweigh the minimal risk. You can further reduce any impact on your thyroid by cooking any cruciferous vegetables.
Beets are another blood-cleansing and purifying food, which your liver loves! A cleansed bloodstream and “happy” liver results in increased nutrient production in your body. Beets are also high in antioxidants and many nutrients including folate, pectin fiber, iron, betaine, betalains, betacyanin, and betanin. They also contain pectin, a natural blood cleanser. It is important to assist your body in eliminating toxins by eating a diet high in fiber to prevent reabsorption, and beets do this beautifully!