If a detox diet calls to mind gallons of water with lemon and cayenne pepper or slurping bowls of cabbage soup for days on end, think again.
Detoxing like that may only weaken your system and release more toxins into your body, says Angie King-Nosseir, a master’s level certified integrative and functional medicine dietitian.
“What I recommend is a slow detox that’s meant to leave you in optimal health,” she says.
She defines a detox as clearing toxins from the body, not something to do periodically, but something that “happens continuously, either efficiently or inefficiently.”
In her workshop, Detox 4 Real, she emphasizes adding super foods that support the body’s natural detoxification systems – kidneys, liver, skin and respiratory system – while leaving off food with little nutritional value.
Toxicity and chronic illness are linked, she says, pointing to reports like the Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, Updated Tables, September 2013, from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that look at the levels of known pollutants in humans. Nearly every person tested in the study had levels of the 250 chemicals tested in fat, blood and urine. For example, flame retardants were stored in fatty tissues and a hormone-like substances found in plastics, Bisphenol A, was excreted in urine.
Another study, from the Environmental Working Group in 2009, found the average newborn has 287 chemicals in its umbilical cord blood. Of those 217 are known to be neurotoxic or poisonous to the nerves and nerve cells.
That’s the very definition of toxicity, she says: “Any substance or environmental influence that disturbs metabolism in a manner that results in chronic illness.”
For her, as an integrative and functional medicine dietitian, that means getting to the source of the problem, instead of managing the symptoms, she says.
She recommends eating organic food and making sure than anything you put in your mouth or on your body doesn’t contribute to the load of chemicals that surrounds everyone.
Another side to the story
Not everyone is convinced that the individual exposure level of pesticides, fertilizers, plastics and other pollutants in the air, water and food supply is necessarily toxic, says Stefanie Tierney, also a master’s level registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the New Mexico Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“I haven’t seen any definitive data or significant research that we know of at this moment that the low level of pesticide residue on conventionally grown crops adversely affects health,” she says. “If you can’t afford organic fruits and vegetables, the advantages of having lots of fruit and vegetables in your diet outweighs the benefit of only eating organic.”
Tierney says detox food plans that eliminate whole food groups, like grains or gluten, dairy, legumes and certain kinds of nuts, probably work to lose weight because dieters eat less food.
“If you restrict so many different things, you will lose weight whether you are sensitive to those foods or not,” she says. “There’s no doubt that if you lose weight, you’ll feel better.”
Her advice is “to eat less, more often. The other thing I say is ‘don’t drink your calories.’ ” She also advocates eating vegetables or fruit, organic or not, with every meal and snack because the fresh food helps fill the stomach faster, lowering the amount of food necessary to feel full.
She says it’s easy to overthink food and diet, because of all the confusing and contradictory messages in society.
Some people become so restrictive and rigid with food, they develop an eating disorder called orthorexia nervous, which means “fixation on righteous eating.”
“You can’t eat in a bubble. In our society, we’re made to feel guilty for what we eat,” she says, adding that if you eat a toaster pastry and a piece of fresh fruit for breakfast, why not feel good about the fruit, not guilty about the pastry? “Why should you feel bad about yourself, if you’re
doing the best you can? So many people feel like everything they’re eating is wrong. Eating is so individualized, what’s right for you, may not work for me.”
Not a disorder
King-Nosseir agrees that individuals need specific plans and that well-stocked vegetable and fruit bins are more important that buying only organic, but adds confusion and economics shouldn’t be a reason to throw caution to the wind.
“Of course, it’s better to have more fruits and vegetables, if you can’t afford to buy organic,” she says. “Just make sure you are washing them well and are aware that you aren’t going to remove everything.”
But it’s a little absurd that wanting to have good, clean food could be associated with an eating disorder, even as she understands that some people can’t afford to eat what’s most healthy.
“But if we can do something about it, we should,” she says. “Honestly, the whole system needs to change. Why in the world are we pumping toxins into the food we eat?”
In the meantime, she suggests eating food that helps liver enzymes convert the toxins lodged in our tissues from fat-soluble to water-soluble compounds that the body can more readily eliminate.
Research is ongoing on the best ways to do this at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, John Hopkins University School of Medicine and other institutions, she says.
Big winners so far are crucifers, such as broccoli, brussel sprouts; the allium (onion and garlic family) and the carrot family, she says. The list is long and highlighted in her workshop, but also includes particular animal protein, healthy fats and oils, like avocado, some nuts and seeds and healthy grains and many kinds of vegetables, including detoxifying leafy greens like spinach, parsley, cilantro, chard along with asparagus, artichokes and beets.
In the seven-day detox core food plan, recommendations are based on a score from a functional medicine symptom survey from a dozen categories, like emotional well being, sleep, elimination, digestion, allergy symptoms and more.
The first day
Here are the first-day recommendations and recipes from the Detox 4 Real, Gourmet Healer LLC, eating plan:
“The purpose of this dietary program is to supply your body with various specific phytonutrients to help improve the complex process of detoxification and elimination that goes on in your body 24/7.”
BREAKFAST: One cup of green tea and fruit smoothie.
LUNCH: Three or four ounces of roasted chicken over mixed greens with avocado, sliced tomato, grated or thinly sliced zucchini, red or yellow peppers, with olive oil and sea salt, side of sweet potatoes, Asian salad and one cup green tea.
AFTERNOON SNACK: One-fourth cup almonds.
DINNER: Broiled wild salmon, lentil and veggie torte, fresh fruit and one cup of green tea.
2 tablespoons almond butter
6 ounces unsweetened strongly brewed herbal tea, like rooibos
2 tablespoons flax meal
Dash sea salt
1/8 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup frozen raspberries
1 small banana or ½ cup sweet fruit, such as mango, pear, pineapple, kiwi or peach
½ teaspoon grated ginger
½ teaspoon citrus zest
Optional: cacao nibs, chia seeds, raw maca powder, greens powder or other similar ingredients
Blend and enjoy.
2/3 cup unrefined sesame oil
1/3 cup rice vinegar, unseasoned without added sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
1 3-inch piece ginger
1 teaspoon agave or maple syrup
Salt and pepper to taste
1 medium head Napa cabbage, ends removed and quartered
8 ounces bean sprouts
1 small jicama or daikon, peeled and sliced thinly
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced, dark green end discarded
1 large red pepper, cut in half and sliced thinly
1 stalk celery, sliced thin
½ cup slivered almonds
1 bunch cilantro, chopped, save several tablespoons for garnish
Whisk all dressing ingredients and set aside. Can keep in the refrigerator several days.
Slice cabbage quarters thinly and place in a large serving bowl. Add bean sprouts, jicama or daikon, green onion, pepper and celery and mix well. Add half the cilantro and half the dressing and toss well. Allow salad to sit to blend flavors. Add more dressing if needed, but carefully, so as not to drown the salad. It becomes wetter as it sits; wait until serving to add more if necessary. Refrigerate if not serving immediately. Just before serving garnish with almonds and remaining cilantro.
Lentil and Veggie Torte
2 teaspoons virgin, unrefined coconut oil or ghee
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chop finely
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 cup finely chopped arugula
1 cup finely chopped turnip greens or bok choy
2 cups broccoli florets
2 cups cooked red lentils
1 large tomato, chopped
1 teaspoon each basil and thyme
2 egg whites
½ cup full fat coconut milk, organic, bpa-free canned
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Paprika for garnish
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Oil a 10-inch pie plate.
Heat oil over medium heat in wok or sauté pan. Add garlic, onion, seeds, curry powder and arugula. Sauté for 3-4 minutes. Transfer to medium mixing bowl. Bring large pot of water to boil and immerse broccoli florets and turnip greens or bok choy for 2 minutes. Drain well and mix with sautéed garlic mixture. Add lentils, tomato, basil and thyme.
In separate bowl, combine eggs, egg whites, coconut milk and mustard. Add to lentil mixture and mix well and put into pie plate. Sprinkle with paprika and bake for 25-30 minutes or until firm in center. Let cool slightly before serving.
Protein- Chocolate-Covered Strawberries
2 tablespoons almond butter
1 teaspoon virgin unrefined coconut oil
Dash of sea salt and cinnamon
¼ teaspoon pure vanilla
1 teaspoon raw cacao powder
1 cup frozen organic strawberries (or other frozen fruit)
In a small bowl, slightly warm almond butter and coconut oil so that they mix easily. Add seasonings and mix well. Toss with berries and coat well. Let set for a minute, for coating to form a hard shell around berries.