Ten Foods to Support Detoxification
We are exposed to numerous toxins on a daily basis – pesticides, environmental chemicals, heavy metals, processed foods, and medications, among others, all can have an effect on our health. Some people can be especially vulnerable to toxins because of unique genetic makeup and biochemistry. Children and women who are pregnant or nursing are also vulnerable and should be mindful of limiting toxin exposure. While you may not be able to avoid toxin exposure altogether, you can minimize it, and use food to reduce its effects.
The Basics of Detoxification
Detoxification refers to the process of getting rid of waste, and your body’s ability to do so. If the body becomes unable to detoxify effectively, and too many toxins are allowed to accumulate, you get sick.
The liver is an organ that is central to metabolic detoxification. Through a series of enzymes, via pathways referred to as Phase I and Phase II detoxification, the liver works to transform chemicals, hormones, and toxins into water-soluble metabolites that can then be excreted. The system depends on adequate nutrients, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and protein for the waste to properly be excreted through the intestines, kidneys, and skin. A healthy gut and regular bowel movements are essential for helping excrete toxins, so a healthy digestive system should be cultivated. The kidneys also play a big role in detoxification, which is why sufficient hydration is important. Sweating is another part of detoxification, but it’s important that the body is first supported by good nutrition and adequate hydration.
Maximize Detox by Limiting Exposures
Organic foods free of pesticides and GMOs and avoiding processed and packaged foods can limit toxin exposure. Balancing the Phase I and II pathways in the liver and providing good fiber helps the body to improve its ability to detoxify. This can be done using key foods, which can also help with weight loss. It’s recommended that you aim for 8-10 servings a week of organic, colorful, non-starchy vegetables. Specifically, cruciferous vegetables and alliums (like onions and garlic) should be eaten daily. You don’t necessarily have to eat kale every day; rather, the goal is to aim for variety with a phytonutrient-dense diet and a diversity of foods and colors. Here are ten foods that, if eaten regularly, will help support your body’s ability to detoxify.
Ten Foods to Support Detoxification
- Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables
This group of vegetables includes arugula, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, radish, and turnips. They are rich in phytochemicals which help metabolize and balance hormones such as estrogen. They are researched in cancer prevention, especially in relation to hormone-sensitive or estrogen-related cancers. Cruciferous vegetables are great for metabolic detoxification, liver support, and get an added boost in their detox capacity from the chlorophyll that they contain.
- Garlic and other alliums
Also called thiols, this group includes chives, daikon, garlic, leeks, onions, scallions, and shallots. Sulfur compounds are responsible for the group’s strong smell and flavor, but also their potential health benefits. They are thought to be effective at preventing cardiovascular disease and cancer of the stomach and colon thanks to important anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that they possess. Specifically, alliums help promote the elimination of toxins, including potential carcinogens by speeding up Phase II detoxification in the liver. They also contain sulfides that increase antioxidants and promote genes that contain antioxidant response elements.
- Parsley and other leafy greens
This group includes beet greens, bok choy, chard, cilantro, collard greens, endive, escarole, kale, mustard greens, parsley, and radicchio. The green color comes from chlorophyll, which, along with chlorophyllin, are able to bind to certain carcinogens, potentially decreasing their absorption in the gastrointestinal tract. This decreases the amount of carcinogen that can reach susceptible tissues in your body. You may have heard that salads are good for diets because they’re low-calorie, but they have this added health bonus as well.
The bright yellow color of turmeric comes from the phytochemical curcumin, which inhibits Phase I while stimulating Phase II detoxification in the liver and increases glutathione. It is also researched in its effectiveness in the treatment of diseases, including colorectal cancers and Alzheimer’s.
Anthocyanins give berries such as blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries their deep, dark color. These are antioxidants that help fight free radical damage. They are also thought to be anti-inflammatory and vasoprotective (medication which acts to alleviate certain conditions of the blood vessels). Berries may slow the growth of cancer cells and help the liver neutralize carcinogens.
The peel of citrus fruit contains a potent antioxidant that promotes both Phases I and II liver detoxification. Lemons also contain an anti-cancer nutrient, which is especially effective for breast cancer prevention and treatment. Vitamin C, an antioxidant in lemons, also helps to convert toxins into a water-soluble form so that they can be eliminated.
- Green tea
Green tea is rich in flavonoids, which are strong antioxidants that help balance liver detoxification pathways. The detoxification of carcinogens may be enhanced by green tea polyphenols, which also have been associated with a decreased risk of certain types of cancers.
Beets support methylation (which has a significant positive impact on many biochemical reactions in the body) and Phase II detoxification. Of any plants, they provide the highest source of betaine, which is anti-inflammatory. They also contain a high amount of fiber, which improves digestion and elimination.
- Flax seeds
Flax seeds are the richest dietary source of lignans, fiber-like compounds that help detoxify harmful forms of estrogen. They are being studied for their role in the prevention of hormone-associated cancers as well as osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. They provide anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids and support good digestion with their high fiber content.
Artichokes are beneficial for the liver as they are rich in agents that protect it, including cynarin, a compound that stimulates the liver and gallbladder. They also have an effect on the kidneys, ensuring proper removal of toxins after a breakdown through the liver. The high fiber content is also helpful for elimination.
While a plant-heavy diet is beneficial for detoxification, it’s important not to forget to take in a sufficient amount of protein as well. High-quality lean proteins prevent protein deficiency and subsequent detox pathway impairment. Be sure to consult your doctor before making any major changes to your diet.