Do you need to detox?
In the space between holiday indulgences and the return of shorts and swimsuit season, you might decide that a detox is in order.
But before you sign up for the latest juice fast or elimination diet, consider that your body comes equipped with an amazing detoxification system. Your liver, kidneys, lungs, gastrointestinal tract, skin and lymphatic system work together to eliminate toxins that you eat, breathe, absorb or produce as waste.
Trying to detox by dramatically cutting back on calories or entire food groups can actually be counterproductive, as it deprives the body of the energy and balance of nutrients it needs to run its detoxification system.
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Juice fasts can also overload the body with natural sugars.
Instead of going to these extremes, opt for reducing your exposure to substances that can cause problems, while giving your body what it needs to run optimally. Here are some tips to start:
• Weed your pantry, freezer and fridge of foods that are past their use-by dates (especially perishable items). Pay special attention to grains, nuts and oils — toss them if they smell rancid or otherwise “off.”
As you take inventory, read the ingredient lists on food labels. If you notice that many of them read like chemistry experiments, shift more of your future food purchases to natural, whole foods and minimally processed foods. Cutting back on added sugars, refined carbohydrates (namely white flour) and fried foods are three changes that can significantly improve your diet and your health.
• Consider your alcohol intake. While moderate alcohol use can have cardiovascular health benefits for some people, it’s also a toxin, like it or not. When you imbibe, your liver has to deal with the cleanup.
• If you have known food allergies but haven’t been diligent about avoiding your trigger foods, now is a good time to get up to snuff. Ditto if there are foods that make you feel lethargic or bloated but keep finding their way onto your plate.
• Buy organic foods when availability and budget permit to reduce your exposure to pesticides. If you need to prioritize your purchases, the Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org/foodnews) offers a starting point. Storing leftovers and bulk pantry goods in glass or ceramic instead of plastic will reduce your exposure to bisphenol-A (BPA) and other chemicals released from many plastics as they break down.
Once you cull out potential troublemakers, support your body with the materials it needs to take care of business. Adequate fluids and fiber-rich foods will help your body eliminate toxins and support a healthy intestinal flora.
Water is the best beverage, hands down, and you’ll find a variety of fiber in vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds. (Keep in mind as you increase fiber intake that individual tolerance to amount and type may vary.)
Our bodies also rely on a variety of nutrients to function optimally. Food is the best source of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and other healthful food components, because they come in a complete package rather than isolated in a supplement.
Include brightly colored vegetables and fruits, including dark leafy greens, berries, broccoli, cabbage and beets. Herbs and spices are a potent but often overlooked source of antioxidant nutrients and phytochemicals that also make your meals more delicious.
Carrie Dennett has a Master of Public Health degree in nutritional sciences from the University of Washington. Her blog is nutritionbycarrie.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.