Early January: the time of year when the gym is full and diet buzzwords are on the tip of everyone’s tongue. For years, “detox” has been included in that lexicon. But are detoxes and cleanses worth it, or beneficial to your health? As a tool for everyday weight-loss, detoxes aren’t highly recommended. James Dillard, MD, assistant clinical professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City, explained his stance to WebMD. ”There’s nothing wrong with going on a juice fast for a few days,” he says. “But it’s not a great way to lose weight, because you’ll gain it all back — you yo-yo. It’s just like the Atkins diet. The weight you lose is water weight.” Jackson Blatner, an American Dietetic Association spokesperson told Fitness Magazine that when used for a prolonged period of time, detoxes can lead to health complications. Particularly “for someone who has conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, digestive issues, or women who are pregnant.”
Blatner and Dillard do agree that detoxes can help a person’s perception about a new diet program or lifestyle change. “A healthy person following a short-term detox diet may get a bit of a mental jump start into eating healthier and exercising for the rest of the year,” Blatner said. ”People love the idea of cleansing, of purification rituals, going to the Ganges, to the spa. It has powerful psychological, religious, spiritual meaning,” Dillard stated. “That has its own positive effect on health.” The bottom line? Don’t look at detoxes as a magic bullet — but if you want a mental boost heading into a lifestyle change, a detox may be the answer. Whether you plan to eat them raw, or incorporate them into recipes, here are five detoxifiers and how they help.
1. Green vegetables
In advice that echoes what everyone heard growing up, Registered Dietitian Keri Glassman recommends a healthy dose of green vegetables for her clients who are starting a detox. Fresh green vegetables Glassman says, are “glutathione-essential for detox of liver pathway.” The best options are the crisp, crunchy variety, which will be high in insoluble fiber. Glassman specifically calls out broccoli, kale, and collards. In collards, for example, there are four glucosinolates that specifically assist the process of cleansing the body: glucoraphanin, sinigrin, gluconasturtiian, and glucotropaeolin. The glucosinolates are converted into an isothiocyanate, supporting anti-inflammatory, and detox systems in the body.
Heralded for giving the liver a helping hand, beets are one of the best foods to add to your detox plan. Betaine promotes proper liver function, by stimulating the liver to get rid of toxins. Beets keep betaine levels in check, meaning it keeps your liver in check too. Pectin, also in beets, is another factor that helps cleanse the body. After the liver removes toxins, pectin flushes the toxin from the system completely, rather than letting it be reabsorbed.
Beets keep the liver healthy, with studies suggesting they help the liver heal after being damaged. Improvements in the production of stomach acid have also been noted. Properties such as these are not directly tied to detoxification, but are part of the overall, optimal operations of the body.
As a natural diuretic, watercress may help relieve bloating. It can improve digestion and appetite as well. Watercress releases enzymes in the liver, helping it get rid of toxic buildup. There are reports that watercress can also fight bacteria. These properties make watercress perfect for starting a diet through detox.
Due to its spicy flavor, people often add it to salads. Not everyone will be a fan of the way it tastes — so it is best to sample this leafy green before adding it to your salads. In addition to its abilities to detoxify, watercress is high in vitamins A and C.
Grapefruit often receives the lion’s share of attention when it comes to detoxing citruses, but many people dislike the taste and add sugar to cut the bitterness. Sugar is a substance to be avoided when on a detox, so switching to an orange is a great option for people who want a grapefruit alternative.
Rebecca Katz told Prevention that oranges contain limonoids, which help the body detox. Oranges are high in fiber, important for detoxing, but also for preventing colon cancer. The fiber in oranges prevents cancer-causing chemicals from reaching colon cells. The limonoids are pulling double-duty too, with detoxification properties when it comes to certain cancer-causing compounds and carcinogens.
Essential for many detox diets, ginger contains gingerols, and shogaols, which enhance digestion. Food moves more quickly through the digestive tract, and at the same time, it is detoxifying the body. Hunger is a common complaint of people who follow a detox regimen, but ginger may be able to combat that.
One study that added a hot ginger drink to a subject’s daily diet found the “reduced feelings of hunger with ginger consumption, suggest a potential role of ginger in weight management.” Ginger has a long history in playing a healing, detoxifying role. The University of Maryland Medical Center states that the Chinese have used ginger for more than 2,000 years “to help digestion and treat stomach upset, diarrhea, and nausea.”