After holiday bingeing, it’s common to go on a detox diet. Nutritional experts recommend you carefully consider the possible downsides before you get started.
It’s the new year, which for many people cues a desire to make up for the dietary excesses — real or perceived — of the preceding weeks or months. While this might nudge you toward a traditional calorie-restrictive diet, more and more people are considering a juice cleanse or other detoxification diet. Should you?
Detoxification, or “detox” diets, claim to eliminate toxins from the body in order to promote health and weight loss. They range from “starvation” fasts (no calories) to juice cleanses to solid-food diets that restrict intake of certain foods or food groups. These types of diets have been around for a long time, but they have become trendy, with juice cleanses in particular becoming a status symbol of sorts. But what is it that you are supposed to be “detoxifying” from?
Many detox diets specifically tout removal of toxins and weight loss along with improved liver, kidney and colon function, better sleep, improved digestion, mental clarity and improved immune function. However, they don’t specify what toxins you will supposedly be removing, or how they will be removed.
Your body has highly sophisticated mechanisms for eliminating the toxins you eat, breath, absorb and produce every day. Your liver takes the lead, but your kidneys, digestive system, skin, lungs and lymphatic system all play supporting roles.
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How your body removes a toxin depends on the specific substance, but generally it involves converting the substance into a less-toxic form that can be removed from the body with other normal waste products.
Are you in a detox-retox cycle?
It’s one thing if you are craving healthier foods after a few months of enjoying more sugar than usual, but if you are detoxing as punishment for, or redemption from, “bad” eating habits, or to regain a sense of “purity,” then that’s another animal. Thinking of food as sinful or contaminated isn’t a recipe for a positive relationship with food.
Eating-disorder treatment centers have seen an uptick in patients being admitted after doing juice cleanses, but whether juice cleanses trigger eating disorders or people with eating disorders are attracted to juice cleanses is unclear.
The problem with detox diets is that they can be lacking in nutrients — and may be dangerously low in calories, as well. Juice fasts can also overload the body with natural sugars. Your body needs good, complete nutrition to support its natural detoxification processes and run optimally.
Many of these plans promise weight loss, but there’s nothing magic about them — it’s a diet with a new marketing spin. For most people, diets just lead to weight regain.
The better road is to support your body’s hard work by cultivating balanced, nutritious eating habits that you can sustain for the long term. Aim for balance year round, rather than doing a pendulum swing from detox to retox.
• Focus on getting the nutritious foods your body needs to function optimally. Adequate fluids from water and tea, along with a variety of whole, unprocessed fiber- and nutrient-rich plant foods, will help your body eliminate toxins and support a healthy gut microbiota.
• Prioritize vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and lentils, nuts and avocados. Include brightly colored produce, including dark leafy greens, berries, broccoli, cabbage and beets. Herbs, spices and allium vegetables (garlic, onions and so on) also support health and functioning while providing a variety of flavor to foods.
• Make your kitchen a more appealing place to cook. Kitchen clutter can be a big barrier to cooking more at home.
• Eat enough protein. Your liver and other organs are made of protein, so you need to eat it.
• Assess your alcohol intake. While moderate amounts of alcohol (one drink per day for women, two for men) might have some health benefits, the jury’s out on that — plus alcohol is a toxin, pure and simple. When you imbibe, your liver has to deal with the cleanup. Similarly, if you use tobacco or other recreational drugs, consider their impact.
• Weed your pantry, freezer and fridge of foods that are past their prime. As you restock, shift more of your future food purchases to natural, whole foods and minimally processed foods.
PROTEIN CRUNCH SALAD
About 8 servings
This is a fresh, light-but-hearty, highly textured salad that can be just the thing after the holidays. It keeps well for lunch leftovers. It has moderate protein from the chickpeas, seeds and whole grains, but it would also be nice with some salmon, either fresh cooked, leftover or canned.
3-4 cups cooked whole grain (from 1 cup uncooked)
2 14-ounce cans garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed and drained
1 pound broccoli, stems peeled, stems and florets chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeds removed and diced
1 carrot, shredded or finely chopped
1 bunch green onions (scallions), sliced (white and light green parts)
1/3 bunch parsley, chopped
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
1/3 cup tahini (sesame-seed paste)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2-4 tablespoons water, as needed
1. In a medium bowl, mix together cooked grains, garbanzo beans, broccoli, red bell pepper, carrots, green onions and chopped parsley.
2. Place dressing ingredients in a jar and use an immersion blender to blend until the mixture resembles a thick paste. Slowly add the water and continue to blend until the mixture is creamy and pourable. Pour over the salad and toss well to coat. Add additional salt and pepper to taste.