Eat clean and detox in 8 easy steps

Detoxing is a process. It’s a permanent, continuous process that our bodies perform every day, every minute. Sometimes, this process becomes sluggish, overloaded and inefficient, and this is where we feel the need (or our body tells us, through illness, poor condition or just feeling rubbish) to detox deeper.

If you Google “detox”, you’ll come up with short, intense detox diets, some of which involve fruits and vegetables. This can be handy for a detox boost, after a slightly overindulgent few days (Christmas comes to mind). Or to kick-start your healthy eating journey.

I used to regularly feel the need to go on such short detox diets (extra weight, constant bloated feeling, skin breakout, sluggish liver, fatigue, you know the feeling…). Now that I’m mostly eating clean, however, I do a milk thistle cure every 6 months or so, to be sure, but without suffering from any of the symptoms!

So this post will look at clean eating as a long-term solution to detoxing. Because clean eating is a long-term approach. And will deliver more long-term cleansing. Without your body feeling all gunked up and telling you about it.

Why detox and how long for?

Toxins are present in our environment and we live in highly polluted times, so there’s a lot more of them to deal with than ever before. But toxins also accumulate in our bodies as a by-product of our metabolism and digestive processes.

And due to the sheer volume of additives and lack of nutrients in the typical industrial food diet, we also produce more toxins than ever before. Unfortunately, our sedentary, medicine- and chemical-laden, water-depleted lifestyle isn’t conducive to a proper elimination of all those nasties.

Red and orange pepper saladSo how can eating clean help?

Well, in more ways than one. A clean eating diet is rich in nutrients, which will strengthen our cleaning organs, both primary ones (the lungs, large intestine, kidneys, bladder, and skin), and the secondary ones (the liver, gallbladder, and lymphatic system). Understanding how these cleaning organs work is key.

Before you embark on any detox journey, please read this…

Please always consult your primary care provider to find out if a detox diet is appropriate for you. People who should not follow a detox diet generally include pregnant or nursing women, children, or people with anemia, eating disorders, heart problems, lowered immunity, low blood pressure, ulcers, diabetes, epilepsy, cancer, ulcerative colitis, unless recommended and supervised by their primary care provider.

Step 1 – Stuff to remove from your diet

Processed food

Anything in a package, basically. This indicates they’ve been processed, and processed food are typically loaded with additives. Which our bodies don’t need, usually don’t absorb and will try to get rid of.

Refined sugar and starches

In their natural state, those fruits, plants or grains would have been useful, but in their processed, refined state, they are pretty much devoid of nutrients. Worse, they trigger inflammation in your body. Inflammation is a useful defense and repair mechanism that alerts you something is wrong (redness, swelling, for example), then works at fixing it.

But if triggered constantly by food like sugar, the inflammatory system becomes dysfunctional, leading to low-grade, chronic inflammation. Which is linked to a whole host of serious disease, like diabetes, cancer or heart disease.

{See how, so far, this ties in nicely with the basic concept of clean eating?}

Inflammatory food, as much as possible

These include wheat (and other gluten-containing grains), dairy products, fatty meats (unless organic), sugar, coffee, soft drinks, alcohol, energy drinks, for example. Those are most known to trigger inflammatory responses in your body, so it’s important to avoid them at this stage.

They can be reintroduced slowly after you’ve finished your detox. If any of them trigger acute symptoms, like bloating, cramp, diarrhea, headaches, skin breakouts etc., it’s best to avoid them as much as possible in the future. It just means your body doesn’t break them down easily and properly.

Step 2 – Stuff to add to your diet

Lemon waterWater

Drinking enough water is paramount to your health, you’ve heard it before. And you’ve also heard before that our bodies are 70% water and just need the clear stuff to function properly. So go ahead, drink water!

But if, like me, you battle with drinking that clear, tasteless liquid neat, find a way that works for you. For example, round our neck of the woods,

  • I alternate a hot drink and a glass of water. So if I have a hot chicory/cocoa drink/almond milk, I’ll make I follow that with a large glass of the clear stuff.
  • My kids love it with a dash of lemon in their school bottle and at home, either a few slices of strawberries or a few sprigs of mint.
  • Hubby packages his water in 500ml water bottles which he carries around and refills during the day.

Water is best, but plain non-caffeinated or lightly caffeinated teas and herbal teas seem to be fine too. Just don’t add sugar or milk. Think herbal teas, green tea, rooibos etc.

Find whatever works for you. And just stick with it!

How to calculate your water needs per body weight?
  • Take your weight in pounds. Let’s say 175 pounds.
  • Multiply this by 2/3 (or 67%, i.e. by 0.67 on the calculator). We get 117. This is your basic number of ounces of water you need to drink per day.
  • Add 12 ounces for every 30 minutes of exercise per day.
Organic proteins

Livestock farming accounts for 80% of all antibiotics sold in the world. Enough said.

Organic, sprouted grains

Whole grains are great, but sprouted grains contain more proteins, vitamins, and minerals and neutralize phytic acid. What’s that, you’ll ask? Phytic acid is a substance present in grains which inhibits absorption of nutrients.

Fruits and vegetables,
  • preferably organic. The idea is to provide your detox organs with a maximum of minerals, vitamins, enzymes, antioxidants, and phytonutrients.
  • and fiber-rich (see below).

Fruits and vegetable fruit appetizerStep 3 – Get serious about fibers

Fibers are the roughage part of grains and seeds and are indigestible carbohydrates. They are mostly contained in the husk (outer shell) of plants. They work by grabbing the undigested bits of food as they move along your intestinal tract then flushing them out. Fibers basically come in 3 formats:

  • Insoluble fibers do not absorb water or get dissolved. They travel through your body pretty much intact.
    Good sources are whole grains, zucchini, cabbage, onions, tomatoes, dark leafy greens, grapes and root vegetables, skin-on.
  • Soluble fibers dissolve in water and form a viscous gel. They help you feel full for longer and stabilize blood sugars. But they also play a role in flushing out bile loaded with fat and toxins and replenishing it with fresh bile.
    Good sources are pulses (dried beans, peas, lentils), whole grains (whole oats, rice bran, barley) and fruits & vegs such as apples, strawberries, citrus fruits or carrots.
  • Gelatinous fibers act like a sponge to trap the toxins and flush them out. Add them to your smoothies or your porridges to speed up the detoxification process.
    Good sources are flaxseeds, chia seeds, aloe vera, psyllium, slippery elm, and seaweed.

Dietary fibers (all kinds) also play a large role in keeping a healthy gut and helping it flush out toxins. How? They feed the healthy bacteria in your gut, improving its barrier function (against toxic matters), its immune functions, and its hormonal response, among other things.

They have also shown to improve your enzyme levels, particularly the detox and antioxidant enzymes in your liver. Enzymes are essential to break down all the food and nutrients you eat, so the healthier and stronger they are, the better you absorb the nutrients you need and get rid of unwanted matters.

Step 4 – Increase your glutathione levels

Glutathione is a sort of master antioxidant, produced by the body. Unfortunately, taking supplements or increasing your intake of glutathione-rich food doesn’t provide many benefits. It’s better to eat the right foods and adopt a lifestyle which will encourage your body to increase its production of glutathione.

Cruciferous vegetablesFoods to increase glutathione levels

are proteins (beef, fish, poultry, organic please), cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, kale, watercress etc.), allium vegetables (garlic, onions).

Eating more vitamin C-rich food

(such as citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwis, papayas and bell peppers) can also help. But to increase notably your vitamin C to the appropriate levels, it is far easier to take a good supplement (500mg per day). Some studies (like this one and this one) showed an increase of glutathione levels of 18% to 47% by taking a vitamin C supplement.

Add selenium to your food

Good sources are beef, chicken, fish, organ meats, cottage cheese, with vegetarian options being brown rice and Brazil nuts.

Take milk thistle and turmeric extract supplements

Those are inexpensive and easy ways to give your liver and your immune system a boost and make sure they’re on top form to despatch whatever toxins come their way. I personally take a milk thistle supplement every 6 months and a turmeric supplement (or even better, a curcumin supplement, its active ingredient) every 6 months as well, alternating the two. My liver is definitely my weak point and I find that this routine keeps tummy bugs and difficult digestion after large meals at bay.

Get enough sleep

I know this is not food-related, but it’s nevertheless part of a clean lifestyle and plays an important role in detoxing. Why, I hear you ask? Well, because sleep is when the body eventually stops trying to digest all the food we’ve eaten during the day and actually gets to focus on other important matters. Like repair, growth, cell renewal… That’s why, for example, giving your body a 13-hour window (plus) without food intake can drastically boost its cancer-fighting capacities.

Exercise regularly

Preferably combining cardio and weight-training exercises. This has been proven,  and again, although not directly food-related, it’s super important to help your body cleanse itself day after day.

Step 5 – Eat more herbs for detox

Luckily for us, most common herbs and spices have powerful detox and chelation properties. Our ancestors clearly knew they were onto a good thing when they started cultivating and using them.

Herbs in potsHerbs are good for chelation

This is basically the process of removing heavy metal toxins, including lead, mercury, and arsenic. Cilantro and garlic help with chelation.

Check this easy lunch recipe for optimum everyday health! Broccoli and Cauliflower Salad with Lime and Cilantro (Whole Foods Detox Salad), as seen on The Taste Space.

Load up on diuretic herbs

Parsley, ginger, dandelion, and caraway seeds are among the best diuretic herbs. Team them up with green or black tea to help flush those toxins.

Tip – Replace the lettuce in your sandwiches and lunch salads by dandelion leaves or parsley for a hassle-free health boost.

Best anti-inflammatory herbs & spices

Turmeric and cinnamon are powerful anti-inflammatory spices, along with ginger, cayenne, garlic, black pepper, and clove. They’re packed with antioxidants and will help your body recover.

Golden latte is very popular lately, only takes minutes to prepare, is really easy and delicious! Check this golden latte recipe and add some gold goodness to your drinks.

Step 6 – Jump on the juicing bandwagon

If you haven’t done so already, start juicing (or blending if you prefer, check this post on blending vs. juicing to find out which one would work best for you).

Beets are a great way to improve your liver. Team them up with greens (spinach, celery etc.) and carrots or apples for taste, and you’ve got yourself the perfect pick-me-up to start your day.

For tasty and healthy recipes of juices including vegetables, you can check the following post on how to create colorful vegetable juice recipes.

Pinterest is an endless source of yummy and nutrient-packed juice recipes and I’ve been compiling them for you! Follow me there!

Step 7 – Start sprouting

Sprouting is a great way to add much-needed nutrients to your diet, while neutralizing the bad stuff, like phytic acid (inhibits the absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, and zinc) and enzyme inhibitors (works against our own enzymes).

Easy starters are lentils, mung beans, quinoa, sesame seeds, almonds or sunflower seeds. You simply need to soak them for a specific period of time, then drain and rinse them for a few days. Et voilà! Check out this blog for soaking/sprouting time.

Elzed -tier sprouterThere are a lot of nifty sprouters out there, from single mason-type jars (with the added bonus of looking pretty on a window sill) to three-tiered ones or large trays. I have plastic 3-tier sprouters like this one, and I love the fact that they’re so compact.

Step 8 – Now is the right time to try fermented food

Sauerkraut (the home-made one), kimchi, kefir, kombucha, miso, tempeh, all these fermented food and drinks contain a whole lot of goodness. They also play a key role in detoxing. How? They contain a lot of probiotics, which are beneficial to your gut bioflora. You need a strong and healthy gut to be able to remove toxins on a daily basis from your body.

Try a few of them and find out which one you prefer. Be wary of the ready-to-eat varieties in the shops, as pasteurization basically kills all the good bacteria.

What have we tried at home?

We tried milk kefir for a while, coz the kids love it (especially with a teaspoon of raw honey…), but my daily schedule would always become hectic at some point and those poor grains would be forgotten and suffer.

Since then, my neighbor shared her secret: she makes one batch of kefir, then rather than starting a new batch, she puts her grains in a bit of milk in the fridge, on hold until needed again. Then she gets them out and into a new batch of milk as and when required! For her, it’s about once a week or so. Far better than my stringent (and somewhat hit-and-miss) daily schedule!

We now have kombucha going and we ferment cabbage, carrots, chilies, beetroot etc. One day maybe, when I feel brave, I’ll go back to making kefir again!

And if you’re not sure how it all works and how to get started, Cultures for Health (link https://www.culturesforhealth.com/) is my bible for anything fermented.

The take-home message – get in that kitchen!

Oh, and listen to Grandma (or whoever around you still knows how to preserve, sprout or ferment stuff!)

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the majority of the tips listed above involve rethinking what we eat and how we prepare our food. And that’s a common factor in any of the diets embraced by those niche populations who have outlived all the other. Be it the Sardinian diet, the Okinawan one, the centenarian, the Mediterranean and other longevity diets, all those diets start with raw, unadulterated, organic ingredients, associated with mindful and careful preparation.

It doesn’t mean you have to slave over a hot stove for hours every day, oh no! Preparing sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) only takes us minutes, once per month or so. Juicing can be super quick if you have all your ingredients at hand. A healthy salad takes minutes to put together, and a hearty soup not much longer.

In fact, because it is best to eat food raw or with very little cooking, your healthy meals can become a doddle. Check good’ol Pinterest for more ideas on meal prepping!

To make the most of your detox, don’t forget to re-think your lifestyle too! Sleeping enough, managing your stress and living mindfully are essential to support your cleaning organs.

Eat well, go well and don’t forget to follow me on Pinterest for more tips and recipes!

Eat clean and detox

2 Comments

  1. Joo

    March 25, 2019 at 11:29 pm

    Hi Isabel,
    Love the information in this post! I regularly do a 2-week detox for my son with bad eczema, as we know diet affects him a lot, but kids are kids, they need those off days even though his diet is generally clean. So during those detox weeks, we do Karen Fischer’s eczema diet, which excludes all the inflammatory foods, as well as foods high in salicylates. It helps to calm his itch lots.
    I’ve been wanting to do kombucha, but have not plucked up the courage, as I know it’s going to take some commitment to take care of the brews.
    I love your idea of sprouting!! I may give it a go one of these days.
    Keep your articles coming in, they always give me inspiration for eating and living healthy.

    1. Isabel

      April 5, 2019 at 12:39 pm

      Hi Joo, thanks for your input! I just checked your review of Karen Fischer’s book, and it made me realize that our recent eczema flare-up might be linked to avocado season, which has just started here…
      Ella doesn’t care too much for them, but we’ve got sooo many right now that she’s had the odd guacamole or avo salad for sure. I’ll remove them from her plate and I’ll let you know. Just bought the book from your review page, this is my next read! Thanks again! Keep well, Isabel

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