You want to revitalize your wellness, get an energy boost or maybe lose a few pounds — so you're detoxing. But what exactly are detox foods you can include on this diet?
No specific "detox" diet exists, but usually a simple detox consists of whole, unprocessed foods, including lots of fruits and vegetables and water. Sometimes, a detox may include plain whole grains, lean meats and raw nuts, too. Others may encourage certain supplements, herbs and teas. The point of a detox is to reduce your toxin load and lay off hard-to-digest foods to boost your overall wellness.
Detox foods usually focus on fresh fruits and vegetables. Other unprocessed, whole foods may be included on your specific plan, depending on its focus.
Why Follow a Detox?
A detox or cleanse diet isn't really about weight loss, but that can be a happy side effect. Your body is exposed to toxins regularly. Some are made during regular metabolism and others come from the foods you eat, beverages you drink, pollutants you breathe or substances you absorb through the skin.
Your bodily toxins include lactic acid, urea and waste from microbes in the gut, explains the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Pesticides, processed foods, mercury in seafood, air pollution, tobacco product chemicals, drugs and alcohol are examples of external toxins.
Your personal detoxifying ability depends on genetic factors, lifestyle habits, environment and general health. If the number of toxins you take in exceeds the number you excrete, they may park in fat cells, bone and soft tissue — negatively affecting your health.
The intention of detox diets is to help your body move out these toxins. They aim to:
- Improve your overall nutrient intake
- Promote elimination of bodily waste through increased urination, sweating and defecating
- Rest your internal organs
- Stimulate the liver's detoxifying abilities
The Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism published a paper in June 2015 noting that exposure to and accumulation of toxins play a significant role in cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and obesity. Your dietary intake can have a big impact on the development of chronic disease. A detox diet can help you reset your eating patterns and potentially clear out some of these detrimental toxins.
A naturopathic or holistic doctor may also recommend a detox diet to help determine if you have a particular food intolerance or sensitivity. Detox diets are supposed to improve your overall energy levels and sense of well-being, too. If you've been exposed to toxic chemicals or pollutants, a natural-based doctor may also recommend detoxing to clear your system.
The Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics published a review in December 2015 noting that there is no substantial clinical evidence supporting the use of detox diets, however. While a few studies do show a potential use of detox diets to enhance liver function and elimination of organic pollutants, they have small sample sizes and some design flaws.
If you choose to go on a detox that involves severe food restrictions or the use of supplements or that calls for enemas, talk to your doctor first and be aware of any potential health risks.
Detox Foods Include Leafy Greens
The Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism paper identified certain foods that have an influence on detoxification systems within the human body. They include leafy greens, such as watercress, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables.
Leafy greens, including romaine lettuce, arugula, chicory, spinach and kale, are rich in the antioxidant beta carotene, which helps your body produce vitamin A and can lower the risk for certain diseases, explains the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Leafy greens also contain vitamins C, E and K, and some, like bok choy and mustard, are rich in many B vitamins, explains the United States Department of Agriculture. Antioxidants present in the greens protect cells and may help deter the development of cancer. The greens are perfect for a detox because they also have lots of fiber — to keep things moving in the digestive tract —and lots of iron, magnesium, potassium and calcium. Greens are light and don't weigh you down with lots of extra calories or fat.
Other Vegetables Help Detox Too
The Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism paper also noted that allium vegetables, which includes garlic, onions, scallions, chives and leeks, have detoxifying effects. This is due to the presence of a compound known as astaxanthin. This carotenoid has the potential to prevent diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and neurodegenerative disorders, explains a paper published in a January 2014 issue of Marine Drugs.
Apiaceous vegetables, such as carrots, celery and parsley, offer value on a detoxification diet, too, due to the presence of caffeic acid. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition published a paper in October 2016 noting that caffeic acid has antibacterial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and antiviral effects.
Read more: High Antioxidant Fruits and Vegetables
Additional Foods to Include
As noted in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism paper, detox foods really can encompass a whole range of foods rich in compounds such as resveratrol, fish oil, quercetin and lycopene.
Resveratrol is found in foods such as peanuts, grapes and some berries. It's also found in red wine, but alcohol is usually off-limits on a detox. Fish oil is most abundant in fatty fish, especially salmon and mackerel. If you include fish on a cleanse, make sure it's wild caught and not farmed.
Nutrients published a paper in March 2016 stating that quercetin can be obtained from eating many fruits and vegetables — all appropriate for a detox — such as apples, berries, grapes and tomatoes, as well as many seeds and nuts.
Lycopene is abundant in red-hued fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes, guava, watermelon, papaya and red grapefruit explains Frontiers in Pharmacology, published in May 2018. Lycopene's detoxifying benefits include anti-inflammatory properties.
Don’t Make It Complicated
A detox doesn't have to be comprised of a complex combination of foods and supplements. As explained by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, your body truly is a powerful detoxifier and uses nutrients consumed from a variety of whole, natural foods to remove toxins from the body.
A simple detox that promotes toxin elimination and good health includes lots of fruits and vegetables — five to nine servings per day says the organization. A serving of vegetables is 2 cups, and a serving of fruit is 1.5 cups. Cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts, artichokes and leeks are good. Fruits such as berries are also a super choice.
Read more: 15 of the Best Lean Animal Proteins
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics also recommends you:
- Keep yourself hydrated with clean water or unsweetened green tea.
- Eat lots of fiber from vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
- Consume lean protein, such as plain chicken breast, which is important to your body's levels of glutathione, a natural detoxifying enzyme.
- Add naturally fermented foods such as plain yogurt, kimchi and kefir to your diet. The probiotics in these foods promote a healthy gut.
Also, you might consider taking a comprehensive vitamin-mineral supplement to fill in any nutrient gaps. Talk to your doctor or nutritionist for recommendations about the best brands and types to choose.
Is This an Emergency?
- Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics: "Detox Diets for Toxin Elimination and Weight Management: A Critical Review of the Evidence"
- Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism: "Modulation of Metabolic Detoxification Pathways Using Foods and Food-Derived Components: A Scientific Review With Clinical Application"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Different Kinds of Lettuces and Greens"
- USDA: "Dark Green Leafy Vegetables"
- Marine Drugs: "Astaxanthin: Sources, Extraction, Stability, Biological Activities and Its Commercial Applications--A Review"
- Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: "Caffeic Acid Phenethyl Ester: A Review of Its Antioxidant Activity, Protective Effects Against Ischemia-reperfusion Injury and Drug Adverse Reactions"
- Linus Pauling Institute: " Resveratrol"
- Nutrients: "Quercetin, Inflammation and Immunity"
- Frontiers in Pharmacology: "Lycopene and Vascular Health"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:"What's the Deal With Detox Diets?"