Published on Clean Plates
If you pay attention to trends in wellness, then “detox” is a word you’ve probably heard a lot.
It can mean everything from simply taking a break from sugar after the holidays to a full-on juice cleanse or fast—but no matter the method, the desired result is the same. Detoxing is “our body’s way of taking toxins and converting them into forms that we are able to eliminate from the body,” says Stephanie Mandel, holistic nutrition consultant at New York City’s Morrison Center. “Our body is naturally detoxifying—our liver, lymphatic system, digestive system are constantly working to get rid of toxins we are constantly exposed to.”
Mandel says these toxins can come from “the environment, air, water or our food, or chemicals that we make internally that can become toxic if they are not properly eliminated, like certain hormones.” Pesticides or additives in our food, chemicals like BPA in plastics, parabens or synthetic fragrances in beauty products or household cleaners, some medications and secondhand smoke are all examples of toxins. Over time, with more and more exposure to toxins, the body’s own detox system can get overloaded.
“We all have a certain capacity, but once that trash can overflows and our detox systems can’t keep up, that’s when one might feel fatigue or not being able to think as clearly, have skin issues, retain fluid, have difficulty losing weight,” Mandel says. “Those are just a few of a very long list of potential effects.”
Fortunately, you don’t have to jump into a juice cleanse to detox. Here are 10 gentle, natural ways to do it daily.
1. Drink Water
Downing some H20 upon waking is a good tool for detox. “I can’t tell you how many clients I talk to and they don’t drink water first thing. They go right to their coffee or matcha or smoothie,” says holistic nutritionist and lifestyle cleanse expert Elissa Goodman. “We are so dehydrated after sleeping because our body has been regenerating, replenishing and doing detox work, that we need a minimum of 16 ounces in the morning. If we don’t drink enough water our body won’t know how to get the toxins out of our system.”
Goodman recommends adding fresh squeezed lemon juice and a pinch of mineral-rich sea salt to your water, as both can help to hydrate and energize you. Mandel also recommends warm lemon water to “get the bowels moving.”
As for the rest of the day, keep sipping. “A good rule of thumb is to take in about half your body weight a day of water [in ounces],” Mandel recommends. “We urinate out a lot of our toxins or eliminate them through our stool, and we need enough water to help that move efficiently. A lot of our detox symptoms rely on adequate hydration.”
“Skin aids in eliminating through the sweat glands. So I’m always exercising and going to an infrared sweat, which I absolutely love,” Goodman says. “It helps the lymphatic system move, [which] also helps to carry out these toxins.”
Mandel also recommends getting your sweat on through “Epsom salt baths. Plus, moving and stretching, exercise, dance, and swimming are great for activating the lymphatic system.”
“Breathing clean air reduces your exposure to toxins and also helps get things moving throughout the body,” Goodman says. “The oxygen in the air you breathe helps purify the lungs. I love air purification systems for your house.”
The way you breathe also matters. “I have an app on my phone for [deep] breathing: Calm.com,” she adds. “You can put an alarm on your phone that stops you a few times throughout the day. I think most of us won’t do it on our own, but we need this extra help to sit down, take a break and really breathe for five minutes.”
4. Manage Stress
“Stress, whether real or perceived, physical or mental, can put the body into ‘fight or flight’ mode, as opposed to ‘rest and digest’ mode,” Mandel says. “This means that, in times of stress, the body diverts resources away from the digestive and detoxification organs, and toward the muscles to deal with the stressor at hand, thereby potentially diminishing the body’s detox abilities.”
If we are “constantly stressed out” that means more work for detox organs like the liver, Mandel says.
She recommends activities that help to reduce stress and support the body’s “rest and digest” mode.
“Breathing, journaling, meditating, yoga—whatever works for you—that would be an actual detox support for the body on a physical level,” she says.
5. Reduce Inflammatory Foods
“Inflammation is your body’s natural physiological response to stressors aggravating your tissues and cells,” Goodman says. “When your body is inflamed, it can’t detox properly because it’s busy trying to calm down the inflammation process. When we constantly eat inflammatory foods, we never give our body the space to heal and detoxification takes the backseat.”
Goodman recommends “cutting back on sugar, gluten, dairy [and other] inflammatory foods that wreak havoc on the body. At some point, hopefully cut them out as much as you can.”
“To metabolize something like refined white sugar requires certain B vitamins … the same our liver requires to detoxify,” Mandel notes. “Processed foods like carbohydrates—any food not in its whole form, anything with white flour—can be inflammatory for the body and use up some of the nutrients we would otherwise be using for our daily routine detox.”
Too much meat and poultry can also be problematic. “Cut back on animal protein,” says Goodman. “I think we potentially overdo it and it’s full of toxins, unless you’re getting really high-quality meat and cooking it at home.”
When you do go for animal protein, seek out beef that is “organic, pastured and 100% grass fed”; chicken that is “pastured and organic”; and “wild-caught fish that are typically lower in pollutants and heavy metals, like wild Alaskan sockeye salmon,” says Goodman. “Stick with animal protein once a day, then do vegan protein because it’s easier to digest and lighter on the body.”
For vegan protein, she recommends beans, legumes, lentils and quinoa.
“Soy is ok if it’s organic and in small amounts, and I recommend tempeh, which is fermented soy,” says Goodman. “Avoid highly processed vegan proteins like tofu and fake meats.”
6. Eat Sulfur-Rich Foods
You may associate sulfur with hot springs or that rotten egg smell, but it’s a “mineral that is essential for life, which plays an important role in detoxification,” Mandel says.
Sulfur is “a component of the proteins that make up many different types of tissues in the body, including muscles, skin, and bones, as well as hair and nails,” she adds. “Sulfur is needed for the body’s production of glutathione, our master antioxidant and detoxification enzyme, which keeps the body’s detoxification processes running efficiently.”
To up your sulfur intake, she recommends cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, alliums such as garlic and onions, and pasture-raised or organic eggs.
Sleep is an important tool for detoxing. For one thing, it can help you manage stress, Mandel says.
The brain also detoxifies at night as it cleans itself of harmful waste proteins that build up between brain cells during waking hours. When the brain doesn’t get enough sleep and these waste proteins build up, you experience brain fog. Over the long term, you may increase your risk of Alzheimer’s.
8. Try Alternative Greens
No doubt you’re already downing kale, broccoli and plenty of other green vegetables. But there are other, lesser-known ones that can help your body detox.
Spirulina is blue-green algae often found in powdered or liquid extract form that has “plant-based protein and a lot of vitamins and minerals,” says Goodman.
It’s especially good for the detox of heavy metals. “It binds to heavy metal so that your body can process and expel them through your digestive system,” she says.
Goodman suggests adding spirulina to green juice, smoothies or lemon water throughout the day. To make it more palatable, she recommends adding 3 to 5 drops of “100% pure liquid organic stevia.”
Dandelion greens and nettle leaves “help the lymph system and are really great for the kidneys,” says Goodman. “Your lymphatic system is kind of like a circulatory system that flushes your body. It consists of a liquid called lymph that moves through your body, helping you to eliminate toxins.”
You can have dandelion greens or nettle leaves as tea, or in juice or a smoothie. Look for dandelion greens at your farmers market; they make a great addition to salads.
9. Get Your Probiotics
Probiotics, which help regulate the good bacteria in our gut, also play a major role in detox.
“Digestion is our number one detox system,” says Goodman. “It’s important in regards to making sure we are breaking down our food and actually digesting and absorbing nutrients, and also eliminating the toxins. Probiotics and fermented foods ensure everything is moving through the system and being effectively eliminated.”
10. Dry Brush
“Unlike the circulatory system, there’s nothing pumping the fluid through the lymphatic system,” says Goodman. “This means if you don’t move your body, your lymph stays stagnant, allowing toxic buildup.”
It may sound odd at first, but “dry brushing”—brushing dry skin regularly with a natural bristle brush—can help stimulate lymph flow.
Here’s how: “Using a natural bristle brush, start at the feet and brush in a circular motion,” says Goodman. “Slowly work your way up the body. Always brush toward the heart, which is the area where lymph actually drains. Do this for 3 to 5 minutes before you shower.”
BIO: Jessica Hamlin is an LA-born and bred journalist and editor and works as a freelance web editor for NPR affiliate KPCC. She’s written about healthier food and events for various publications including Eater LA and was an editor for AOL’s Patch, where she won an LA Press Club Award. In addition to her BA in journalism, Jessica is a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition’s health coach training program.