"I would do anything right now for a bite of crème brulee or, really, pretty much anything edible," my friend said, pointing to the dessert counter at our favorite coffee shop while we awaited our green tea. "Why does a three-week detox feel like that time I got trapped at my neurotic mother-in-law's house during a January vortex?"
Juice detoxes, master cleanses, and air fasts (okay, kidding about that last one) become all the rage as people become desperate to ditch those refuse-to-vacate post-holiday pounds. Like holiday-gift credit card charges, they subtly creep up, yet their cumulative effect hits with a massive thud come late January.
Manufacturers, desperate for you to buy their products, hyperbolically promise their juice cleanses -- you know, the one your once-favorite celebrity does and costs nearly $100 a day -- will help you magically shed fat for a hot summer beach body. It's so easy!
Except that it isn't. Most of the time, you're cranky, starving, and craving your coworker's delicious-smelling pepperoni deep-dish as you devoutly abstain at your cubicle.
Why Most Detox Plans Are Bogus
Detoxification happens in two phases. During phase one, a fat-soluble toxin becomes water-soluble. In phase 2, your body actually excretes that toxin via urine, sweat, and feces. Scientists debate a phase 3, but we'll leave it at two for right now.
Most commercial cleanses and detoxes are just sugar water. They don't provide the essential protein or nutrients your liver demands to effectively detoxify. Without sufficient dietary protein, your liver cannot perform phase 2 detoxification, where you actually excrete toxins. Like Los Angeles rush hour traffic, those toxins just pile up and create a serious metabolic traffic jam.
Rather than living on sugar water -- I mean, juice cleanses -- or otherwise making dramatic dietary changes, I recommend that you add certain foods to help your body effectively detoxify. Paired with an intelligent detoxification plan, these five flavorful, versatile foods provide a serious nutrient boost to ditch toxins and maybe a few pounds along with them:
1. Lemons. I love my dark roast as much as the next gal, but the first thing I drink in the morning is half a lemon squeezed into a glass of warm filtered water. Lemon helps your body remove toxins and gives you a vitamin C immune boost. Lemon can also rev up your metabolism. One study found supplementing with lemon polyphenols and body fat.
2. Asparagus. A diuretic that helps cleanse your liver, specialists have utilized asparagus's anti-inflammatory properties for centuries to benefit numerous conditions including arthritis, cancer, and heart disease. One study showed asparagus extract protected liver cells against toxicity. (Researchers also found it might relieve hangover symptoms. Good to know!) Most asparagus is green, but also look for purple and white varieties. Don't discard the leaves. That study I mentioned showed they also have therapeutic value.
3. Cabbage. Like asparagus, this cruciferous veggie comes in several colors. Cabbage does double detox duty. Its diuretic properties help rid your body of excess liquid, carrying toxins along with it. Like other cruciferous veggies, cabbage is also sulfur-rich, helping your liver break down toxins so they can be more easily expelled. Researchers found among its numerous roles, sulfur -- the third most abundant mineral in your body -- helps "detoxify toxic compounds, free radicals and reactive oxygen species."
4. Avocado. You're constantly bombarded with synthetic toxins in water and food, including metals, pesticides, preservatives, and additives. Besides providing major flavor to salads, avocado offers glutathione, your master antioxidant that helps break down and expel those toxins. That same study I mentioned above showed decreased amounts of glutathione impairs your antioxidant defenses. Rich in high-quality monounsaturated fat, one cup of avocado also contains a whopping 10 grams of fiber. Among its roles, fiber binds and helps your body more readily excrete toxins.
5. Broccoli. Another cruciferous veggie, broccoli hooks up with liver enzymes to more readily expel toxins. Studies show sulforaphane in broccoli works as an indirect antioxidant because it activates several enzymes in phase 2 detoxification. Among its other benefits, broccoli can also help fight cancer. Broccoli makes a great snack dunked in hummus, and you can convert pretty much any veggie-phobic person by sautéing it with a little freshly pressed garlic and coconut oil.
One more cool bonus: Cabbage, asparagus, and avocado all land on the Environmental Working Group's "Clean 15," or the least contaminated produce choices. Nice to know, since the last thing you want to do while dispelling toxins is to get them in your food.
Your turn: What's one must-incorporate nutrient-rich food you always include in your detoxification plan?