Cleansing 101: What to Eat on a Cleanse
Detox and cleanse are buzz words these days, but most people don’t know what they mean. Detoxification and cleanse are used synonymously to refer to the process of removing toxic substances from the body. This is something our body is doing every minute of every day.
What are we detoxing from? Our regular everyday biochemical processes such as making energy and hormones naturally result in byproducts that our body must eliminate, which it does through detoxification pathways. In addition to these normal processes, we are exposed to environmental toxins and toxins in our modern day food. Environmental and food toxins are the real reasons we need to cleanse. When given proper nutrients and living in a toxin-free environment, our body can keep up with the demands of natural detoxification. But if you take that body and feed it food lacking in nutrients and laden with chemicals and put it in a toxic environment (i.e. the modern woman/man) it can become overburdened and unable to keep up with the job.
Imagine your detoxification process as a sink: how high the faucet is turned on represents the amount of toxins coming in, how open the drain is represents the toxins being removed. If the drain is clogged (this could be from years of toxic exposure, sluggish liver, bowel or kidney function, etc.) and the water is turned on high (from eating non-organic food, over consuming sugar, using toxic beauty and cleaning products, living in an urban area, etc.), what is the sink going to do? It will overflow. The overflow is the symptoms. Common symptoms I see improve with a cleanse include: headaches, joint pain, skin rashes, acne, infertility, fatigue, brain fog, digestive problems, difficulty losing weight, and the list goes on.
Even if you don’t have any of the above symptom, I recommend doing a cleanse 1-2 x per year for 2-4 weeks. Trust me. You’ll feel amazing!
Let’s get started.
Cleansing is a two-step process.
1. Turning the faucet down: Minimize toxic exposure from
a. Your food
b. Your environment
2. Unclogging the drain: Optimize and enhance the detoxification functions of your body to eliminate toxins already present or stored. The main organs of elimination are the liver, kidneys, bowels and skin.
This article outlines step 1a minimizing toxic exposure from our foods. Steps 1b and 2 will be covered in future posts. I’d like to point out that step 2 is mostly based on individual needs. When I assist my patients with a cleanse I individualize their plan based on their history, symptoms, goals, and lab results.
I’d also like to mention that although I think fasting is beneficial, I don’t recommend it for cleansing. This is for two reasons. One is that you need the amino acids from protein for the liver to carry out detoxification. The second is that many people will get constipated from cleansing and you need to have bowel movements to excrete toxins. This is why if you’ve ever tried a juice cleanse or water fast you might have gotten a terrible headache or felt awful. I only recommend doing a water fast, or juice cleanse if you are medically supervised by someone like myself.
Foods to avoid
Alcohol, caffeine, and sugar: These are the obvious ones. They stress the liver and are pro-inflammatory. Sugar suppresses the immune system for hours after consuming it and alcohol decreases metabolism. An overwhelming number of foods and beverages contain sugar so read labels carefully. Other ways that sugar might appear on a label are high fructose corn syrup, glucose, fructose, corn syrup solids. If you love coffee, have organic decaf coffee that is decaffeinated through Swiss water processing. Other types of decaf are decaffeinated using chemicals. If you can’t live without caffeine, have organic green tea and start working on your adrenal glands!
Artificial sweeteners: Splenda, equal, sweet-n-low, aspartame. All of these are synthetic chemicals that create more work for the organs of detoxification. Not to mention they are neurotoxic! Please give these up forever.
Food additives/Processed foods: Preservatives, colors, additives, and flavors. Generally speaking, these are found in packaged and processed food and should be avoided.
Poor quality meat: Meat that is raised conventionally, which means non-organic and grain fed, contains antibiotics and pesticides that your body has to process. Conventional meat also increases inflammation and is less nutritious than good quality meats (see below).
Soy and soy products: Tofu, soymilk, soy sauce, tempeh, soy “meat”. Soy is one of the top GMO foods and a common food allergen/sensitivity. Soy “meat" is highly processed.
Gluten containing grains/foods: Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt and some oats (except gluten free oats). This includes most bread, pastries, pasta, and other products containing flour. Gluten is commonly irritating to the digestive tract, and many people have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Gluten free alternatives are okay however read the label to ensure they don’t contain other foods on the don’t eat list.
Diary: Cheese, yogurt, milk, butter, cottage cheese, etc. Pasture raised, and grass fed dairy isn’t innately bad for everyone. However, I recommend cutting it out for the cleanse because it’s a common food allergy/sensitivity. Dairy can increases inflammation and causes digestive issues for a lot of people.
High-glycemic/high sugar fruits: Dried fruits such as dates, raisins, etc. and fruit juice. These cause insulin and blood sugar spikes.
Poor quality oils: margarine, shortening, hydrogenated oils, trans fats, canola, vegetable, sunflower and cottonseed oil. These are inflammatory.
Optional foods to avoid:
Eggs: Egg yokes and whites. This includes mayo, sauces with an egg base and baked goods. This one is under optional because pasture raised eggs can be a great source of nutrients. With that being said if you have a skin condition or autoimmune disease you may notice the benefit from cutting eggs out. If you’re not sure, try avoiding them for the first two weeks of the cleanse then adding them back in.
Grains: Everyone should do a trial of gluten avoidance (see above). If you have joint pain, pre-diabetes, an autoimmune disease, sugar cravings or desiring weight loss try avoiding grains altogether. Non-gluten grains including quinoa, wild rice, brown rice, buckwheat, and other ancient grains. Eliminating grains doesn’t mean you can’t eat carbs. Have plantain, squash and sweet potatoes for starch. Check out my article on grain free alternatives for more ideas.
Foods to consume: Eat organic whenever possible
Wild fish: Wild salmon (king, sockeye, coho), wild shrimp, halibut, etc. These are a great source of omega-3 fats, and wild fish aren’t raised with antibiotics.
Protein: Turkey, chicken, lamb, wild game, grass fed beef. All animal proteins should be either labeled free range (chicken), grass fed (beef and lamb). These are free of antibiotics and provide more nutrients. Beans, lentils, nuts and seeds are vegan protein.
Vegetables: Buy organic whenever possible. Eat vegetables freely with a goal of at least 5 cups per day. Vegetables that promote liver detoxification include artichokes, bitter greens (arugula, dandelion greens, radicchio, endive, etc.), cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts), onion and garlic.
Fruits: Buy organic whenever possible. Lemon is great for digestion and bile release from the liver, start the morning with warm lemon water. If you have intense sugar cravings or blood sugar issues, limit fruit to no more than two to three pieces per day.
Grains: non-gluten grains including quinoa, wild rice, brown rice, buckwheat, and other ancient grains.
Nuts and seeds: Chia, pumpkin, hemp, flax, sesame, walnuts, pecans, almonds, etc. can all be eaten freely.
Beans: Beans and lentils are good sources of protein and fiber. However, avoid soybean (see above). Beans are problematic for some people and can cause digestive upset. Listen to your body. If you think they might be a problem for you, then try cutting them out.
Sweetener: In small quantities, 100% pure maple syrup, raw honey and stevia can be consumed.
Oils and healthy fats: Olives, avocados, coconuts and their oils. MCT oil. Nuts and seeds, fatty fish and meat are also great sources of healthy fats.
Beverages: Drink at least half of our body weight in ounces daily. Herbal tea is great and if you need caffeine have green tea.
Happy Spring Cleansing!