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Daily life produces toxins — there’s no way around that. “We’re exposed to extreme amounts of toxins from air pollution, household chemicals, over-the-counter and prescription drugs, processed foods and other things,” says Isabel Clark, R.H.N. The body has mechanisms for eliminating toxins, such as breathing, sweating, urinating and bowel movements, but sometimes it needs a little bit of help.
That help can come in the form of a detox diet or whole body cleanse. “A detox or cleanse will make you feel cleaner, clearer and lighter,” Clark says. It can also jump-start a weight-loss program, help you transition between seasons, regulate digestion and help you identify food allergies or trigger foods. In fact, a detox serves a powerful purpose, says Elson Haas, M.D., author of The New Detox Diet: The Complete Guide for Lifelong Vitality with Recipes, Menus and Detox Plans. “Detoxification is a process to help people heal,” he says.
Here are five detox diets to try. Remember that a detox diet is not long-term healthy diets. And always check with your physician before beginning any diet, especially if you have any health conditions.
1. Simple Fruit and Veggie Detox
Best used for: A quick cleanse of your system; a good beginning detox.
Length: 2-3 days
Clark likes this option because it’s relatively easy to do. “The idea is to give your body a break from processed foods, dairy and animal products,” she says. Processed foods — so prevalent in the American diet — can be full of toxins and chemicals, and it’s a good experiment to see how it feels to avoid them for a few days. Animal products have protein and fat. Although both are essential nutrients, they create more work for your digestive tract, so it makes sense to avoid them while trying to cleanse. You can eat your fruits and veggies raw or cooked, but avoid additives like butter or sugar.
2. Smoothie Cleanse
Best used for: Smoothies provide nourishment during a detox, feeding the cells and tissues well while the body rests the digestive process.
Length: 1 week
This diet consists of fresh fruit and vegetable smoothies made in a blender. It’s actually a very versatile diet, says Haas, because you can make any number of combinations, and even add protein powder, which is especially important if you have higher caloric needs (such as if you’re an athlete). Haas’ basic smoothie formula is 1 cup of fruit juice or milk (preferably nondairy, such as rice milk, soymilk or almond milk) and 1 cup of fruit, either fresh or frozen. In addition to protein powder, you could add things like ground flaxseed, wheat germ, vitamin C or other supplements.
3. Juice Cleanse
Best used for: A deep cleanse that speeds up the rate of toxin clearing; not recommended for people with high caloric needs.
Length: 3-5 days
A deeper cleanse, the juice detox is ideal for people who want to jump-start a weight-loss program. Drinking only nutrient-rich fruit and vegetable juices and vegetable broths can feel surprisingly energizing. An added bonus to this program is that if you’re sick, the nutrients from juice are quickly absorbed and help speed the body’s natural healing process, Haas says. You can use bottled juices, but Haas likes to use a juicer to make fresh juices and create various concoctions (like carrot, celery and lemon). You can also supplement with vegetable soup, or even add a few solid fruits and vegetables to help deal with your hunger. Note: This diet isn’t for meant for active people, so be sure to take it easy while doing it so that your caloric needs aren’t as high.
4. Sugar Detox
Best used for: Abstaining from sugar for a while can help break your sugar addiction. As a result, you’ll consume much less of the sweet stuff and have more energy throughout the day. You’ll also lose weight more easily.
“Cutting out sugar can be very hard emotionally,” Haas says. But it can be an excellent experiment, especially if you feel you have grown too dependent on sugar, which can compromise your body’s ability to fight illness, fill you up with empty calories and leave you feeling sluggish. Haas recommends giving yourself a set amount of time to avoid white sugar, candy and baked goods. Watch for hidden sugars in things like ketchup, salad dressings, lunchmeat and soups, too. Opt instead for fruits (fresh, frozen or unsweetened dried), nuts, beans, whole grains, vegetables and lean proteins. Try it for a few days or a few months, and notice if you feel different.
5. The Hypoallergenic Detox
Best used for: Targeting food allergies and sensitivities.
Length: 1 week to start
Most people aren’t aware that some physical symptoms, such as gastrointestinal problems, hives, swelling, itching and yeast infections, to name a few, may be tied to what they eat, Haas says. The idea behind this detox program is to take a break from certain foods and see what happens. Haas calls wheat, dairy, soy, sugar, peanuts, corn and eggs the “sensitive seven.” He recommends cutting them out for a week, and then slowly reintroducing each to determine your reaction to them.
More detox tips:
- Detox in the spring, summer and fall, when more fresh produce is available. “Winter is not generally a good time for detoxing because your body is working on rebuilding, rather than cleansing,” Isabel Clark says.
- Take time to engage in activities that feel cleansing and purifying. “Detoxing is a great time to stay home and do things like clean your closet,” Clark says.
- Get ample rest when you detox. Keep up with gentle exercise like yoga, but be careful of strenuous exercise because you want your body to focus on cleansing. We love Seane Corn's Detox Flow yoga workout, available on DVD or on GaiamTV.com.
- Expect that you might not feel very well while on your detox diet, because the toxins are making their way out of the body. But you will feel better after.
- Keep yourself well hydrated while detoxing, because water naturally flushes toxins.
- Beware of any detox diet that requires you to invest in pricey supplements. “Cleansing is a natural body function. It doesn’t require a lot of expensive supplements to work,” Clark says.
- After your detox diet is over, gradually ease back into your normal (or healthier-than-normal) diet.
- Never do any kind of fast without first talking to your doctor.
Shop here for detox products that can help with your cleanse.