Kristy Coleman, registered nutrition and gut health enthusiast challenges the detox diet.
Around this time of year, you may see an increasing amount of ‘detox’ products, juice diets (or any fad diet for that matter) or exercises claiming to be a quick fix to cleanse your body, promote weight loss and rid your body from toxins (sounds like a dream, right?!). Do our bodies even need to detox from toxins and do these quick fixes work? Unfortunately, we have lost sight over what detox actually means and what you can do to support it.
A toxin is a really broad term covering a whole host of substances you are exposed to in day to day life, such as:
- By-products of bodily processes and bacteria
- Food, e.g. man-made chemicals (pesticides, herbicides), food processing agents and additives, barbequed foods
- Plastics, including those found in water bottles, food tins and packaging
- Infection, including bacteria, parasites
- Caffeine and alcohol
- Cosmetics / body products
- Household products
- Cigarette smoke
- Medication / recreational drugs
Research is still ongoing into many of these toxins and their effect on human health. This isn’t to say you should avoid all of these things as your body has evolved to deal with these toxins and does so 24/7 (not just in January) – you don’t need to follow a special detox diet or buy detox products!
What is detoxification?
Detoxification is a complex process of enzymatic and chemical processes to transform (the technical term is ‘biotransformation’) toxins into less harmful substances for excretion. It involves key organs such as your skin (yes, it is an organ!), gut (and beneficial gut bacteria), gallbladder and liver. There is no special potion that can mimic your body’s detoxification process. A whopping 1.5-2 litres of blood containing toxins (by-products of bodily processes and exogenous toxins) pass through your liver every minute for detoxification! A healthy liver will process 99% of toxins in one pass, whereas a damaged liver can take many more passes.
Many toxins are eliminated through bile, a fluid produced in the liver to emulsify fats, which itself is eliminated in faeces. However, if you have pathogenic bacteria in your gut, they can alter bile toxins and cause re-circulation of them. Looking after your gut is crucial for optimal detoxification.
What can you do to support detoxification
The sad reality is that we are probably exposed to far too many toxins in our day to day life, but you can reduce your overall toxic exposure and how well your body detoxifies.
To understand how to support detoxification, you need to understand your toxic load, which is your exposure to toxins and your body’s ability to process and eliminate them. Your body’s ability to detoxify is determined by many different things, such as diet, presence of disease, gender and genetics (e.g. genetics can predispose you to being a fast or slow detoxifier).
We live in a world where toxins are everywhere, and they are not to be feared. Aside from the obvious, such as cutting down on alcohol where possible (not all the time, just where you can), try some of these simple swaps to reduce your overall toxic exposure:
|Barbequed / charred meats/fish||Steamed, roasted|
|Plastic food containers, bottles and cans||Glass jars, stainless steel or glass water bottles and food storage|
|Household chemicals||Natural oils instead of air freshener, alternative cleaning products without phthalates, 2-Butoxyethanol, triclosan, ammonia, chlorine, sulphates|
|Cosmetics / body products||Look for those without parabens, phthalates, petrochemicals, synthetic fragrances, sulphates|
|Non-organic food (specifically the ‘Dirty Dozen’)||Organic|
|Processed foods (cakes, biscuits, fried foods)||Whole foods in their natural state|
|Caffeinated drinks||Herbal teas|
|Tap water||Filtered water|
|Smoking||Give it up!|
Adding plants to your home may also help support the quality of air in your home.
What you can do to support detoxification
Alongside reducing your toxic exposure, your body needs energy from food and certain nutrients and fibre to support this complex process. How you can support detoxification:
- Protein (nuts, seeds, pulses, eggs, organic poultry): your body needs protein to make the enzymes needed to detoxify. Most juice diets don’t contain protein (or enough) to support this.
- Iron rich foods (lean red meat, oily fish, eggs, pulses/legumes, dark leafy greens, dried fruit): iron is needed to make some of the enzymes involved in the detoxification process. Maximise absorption with vitamin C (e.g. squeeze of lemon over some wilted spinach)
- Fibre: fibre, especially soluble fibre (found in oats, legumes and legumes), is needed to support your beneficial gut bacteria and keep your bowels moving so you can excrete detoxification by-products effectively. Aim to increase your plant based foods in your diet. You won’t find much fibre in a juice detox!
- Eat a RAINBOW of different coloured plant based foods: to provide important fibres and nutrients to supports beneficial bacteria diversity
- Brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussel sprouts): contain compounds crucial for detoxification.
- Healthy fats (olive oil, nuts, avocado, olives): support bile production and olive oil contains polyphenols to support gut health.
- Chew your food: chewing stimulates your digestive enzymes and the production of bile, which is crucial for ushering toxins out.
- Get moving: exercise increases bile production, blood circulation and bowel movement, sweating can also assist excretion of fat soluble toxins.
So do detoxes work?
You really don’t need to spend lots of money on products, diets or regimes that claim to ‘detox’, your body does this all the time on its own. Don’t stress about living amongst toxins. There is plenty you can do to support your body’s own detoxification system. You can reduce your toxic exposure, make sure you are getting the right nutrients, look after your gut, chew your food and move more. All of these simple changes don’t need ‘detox’ products or diets.
Your genetic make-up, lifestyle and symptoms are unique to you, always seek the advice of a qualified professional to support you through any major changes in diet and support with detoxification.