Detoxing: A Trendy Term, But Is It Safe or Effective?
By Leah Kleinschrodt, MS, RD, LD
December 17, 2019
As your guests head home, the Christmas tree comes down, and the New Year’s ball drops, many people look ahead with excitement and new-found resolutions for the coming year. For many, this also involves some sort of “detox” or reset in the name of health.
This resolution is usually in relation to the weight gain, bloat, sluggishness, achy muscles and joints, foggy brain, and other vague symptoms that accompany the food and beverage indulgences from the previous month (or, let’s be honest, since Halloween). The cookies, the pies, the alcohol, the work parties, the Secret Santa exchanges–it’s a sugar- and processed-foods wonderland!
Let me assure you, though, that a water fast, a juice cleanse, a sweat-fest in the sauna, hitting the gym for two hours every day, or doing a colon cleanse is not necessary to “jumpstart your detox organs” or get back to feeling like your best self. In fact, these types of extreme interventions can cause more harm than good, placing additional stress on our already-stressed system. Let me explain…
The dictionary definition of “detoxify” is to remove a harmful substance (such as poison or toxin). If we think about this in terms of nutrition and the holidays, our “poisons” include the usual list of suspects: added or hidden sugars in baked goods and stocking stuffers, the third cocktail of the night, the refined oils in store-bought cookies (along with other questionable ingredients), and many others. That cinnamon roll for breakfast? That will net you 56 grams of carbohydrates (14 tsp of sugar!), and that’s not including the glass of orange juice or the coffee with pumpkin-spice creamer on the side. These “health robbers” end up replacing beneficial foods and healing nutrients, like whole-food proteins, vegetables, and healthy fats. Now throw fasting, over exercising, and a detox powder on top of a diet inadequate in nutrients, and this is where a lot of New Year’s resolutions get thrown out the window by the end of January.
Luckily, our bodies come equipped with our own built-in detoxification and elimination systems: our liver, kidneys, intestinal tract, lymphatic system, skin, and lungs. Even luckier for us, these organs don’t just call it quits or take a back seat when the going gets rough for 4-6 weeks a year. When I inevitably sit down with a client who is wanting a post-holiday detox program, I try to liken it more to a “refresher” approach. To bring your body and mind back into the balance it’s craving, it’s important to recommit to the key principles that we know fuel our tissues and organs properly.
Here are a few healthy practices that you can start TODAY:
1. Start your day with a glass of lemon water and a pinch of salt or some homemade bone broth. Hydration is the name of the game when you’re showing your liver and your other organs some love. What better time to start than right when you wake up? Before you reach for the coffee mug, try one 8-12 oz glass of water with half of a lemon squeezed into it and a pinch of sea salt. The lemon is a gentle digestion stimulant, and the salt helps with water absorption and is also calming to our adrenal glands. Bone broth is chock full of collagen and other absorbable minerals, and a steaming cup warms the bones on a chilly winter morning (Here’s how to make your own bone broth.) For the remainder of the day, aim to drink half of your body weight in ounces of water.
2. Eat a savory breakfast. If you think about it, many standard breakfast items are really more like desserts for breakfast–the aforementioned cinnamon roll at 14 tsp of sugar, a bowl of cereal (2 cups of most brands will be around 20 tsp of sugar), a bagel at 14 ¼ tsp of sugar, 6 oz of low-fat yogurt with ½-cup granola topping also at 14 ¼ tsp of sugar. These high-sugar options set you and your palate up to want sweet things throughout the day. So let’s rethink our options. How about:
- 2 eggs and leftover ham scrambled with butter, with a side of roasted cauliflower and ½ cup sweet potatoes
- 4oz of turkey breakfast sausage with sliced avocado and tomatoes
- Holiday leftovers: turkey breast with raw veggies and homemade ranch dip + ½ banana
3. Eat a balanced meal or snack every 3-4 hours. Fasting or skipping meals in an attempt to detox or shed a few quick pounds sends your blood sugar into the pits, which in turn drives the sugar cravings, stress, and anxiety levels through the roof. Nobody needs that, period. You can avoid the blood sugar rollercoaster and keep your wits about you by planning to eat something with protein/fat/real-food carbs every few hours. Time to put those leftovers to good use!
- RX nut butter on an apple
- Turkey or ham for a mayo-based salad
- 1-2 cups of your favorite chili recipe, topped with olives, sour cream, or avocado slices
- A smoothie with ½ - 1 scoop of our Key Greens
4. Get your cruciferous veggies in. Cruciferous vegetables are known for their beneficial effects in upregulating liver enzymes that metabolize pro-carcinogens, hormones, and medications.1 Aim for at least one serving per day (more if you can manage) of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy, kale, arugula, or Brussels sprouts.
5. Move your body. Movement in any form gets the lymph system and blood flowing, making it easier to eliminate waste products in our body, and also brings beneficial nutrients to each organ, including our brain. The result: a fresh, energized out look!
There you have it, folks. Five of my best tips to help you get back to health after the holidays, without depriving yourself, detoxing, or going hungry. Enjoy!