Natural detoxification isn't just a one-time cleanse—our long-term health is deeply affected by our daily food choices. These body-cleansing tips promote good health by showing you how to incorporate whole foods into your diet, and how to support the detoxification process with helpful supplements.
While springtime may inspire some of us to undertake a short-term cleanse or detox, the daily food choices we make affect our long-term health. Choosing refined, processed, and chemically laden foods gives our bodies that much more work to do while putting us at risk of many chronic illnesses.
We may take it for granted, but our bodies are detoxifying powerhouses. Each day the products of metabolism are broken down and excreted through our skin, lungs, bowels, and kidneys, key players in the body’s detoxification system.
The liver is a hub in this elegant system, transforming toxic compounds into substances that we can safely release. Unfortunately, common conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and inflammation can impair our liver function, putting the brakes on our ability to eliminate unwanted substances. A constipated digestive tract only makes matters worse.
The best way to rev up our natural detoxification process is simply to eat nutritious whole foods to support and balance our bodies. We can achieve this through gentle, sustainable changes in our daily approach to eating.
Skip the spoonful of sugar
In 2014, high worldwide rates of obesity, diabetes, and poor dental health prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) to propose that each person consume no more than 12 tsp (60 g) of sugar per day. Reducing sugar consumption to 6 tsp (30 g) would have an even more substantial impact on health, according to the WHO.
Sugar-sweetened beverages account for 13 percent of Canadians’ daily sugar intake, weighing in at 5 tsp (26 g) of sugar in a 10 oz (222 mL) can. The high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) used to sweeten many soft drinks has links to metabolic syndrome, fatty liver disease, and diabetes. Even pure apple or orange juice may contain 5 tsp (25 g) of sugar per cup, potentially raising diabetes risk with only three servings per week.
Choose whole fruits
Increase your consumption of whole fruits, particularly blueberries, grapes, and apples. They’ve been significantly associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Drinking more fruit juice is associated with a higher risk.
Aspartame, sucralose, and other calorie-free artificial sweeteners have been marketed as ideal alternatives to real sugar. Recent studies tell a different tale, associating weight gain and glucose intolerance with sweetener use, a bitter but ironic fact for the dieters and diabetics who have embraced them.
Sugar alcohols such as sorbitol and mannitol are slightly more palatable. These compounds contain few calories and have little effect on blood sugar levels, while potentially benefitting dental health. Be aware that sugar alcohols can cause digestive upset when used in large quantities (more than 10 g a day) and may also have a noticeable laxative effect.
Tip: Read nutrition labels carefully: 4 g sugar equals 1 tsp sugar.
The glycemic index of sugar (see sidebar, page 22) can cause yo-yoing blood sugar levels and energy crashes.
- Stevia is far sweeter than sugar yet has a glycemic index of 0. Try this powdered alternative in your beverages, but expect a slight aftertaste.
- Bake with bananas, applesauce, or fresh fruit purées of your own invention. Replace 1 cup (250 mL) sugar with 1/2 to 1 cup (125 to 250 mL) fruit purée. If using fresh fruit, reduce other wet ingredients by 1/4 cup (60 mL).
- Maple syrup and honey have a moderate glycemic index but are still up to 85 percent sugar. Use sparingly in beverages and baking.
- Yacon syrup, sourced from a South American tuber, is gaining popularity; it has a low glycemic index and half the calories of sugar.
- Agave syrup has a low glycemic index and is made from the Mexican aguamiel plant. Use in moderation due to its caloric and fructose content.
Body Boost #1
Kick the sugar habit
Swap sweet drinks for these tasty thirst quenchers:
- Infuse plain water with fruit (berries, pomegranates, pears); herbs (mint, lemon balm, cilantro); spices (ginger, cinnamon, cardamom); or vegetables (cucumber, celery, fennel).
- Have water within easy reach all day.
- Try tea on ice, choosing naturally sweet flavours such as rosehip, hibiscus, or licorice.
- Dilute sweet drinks with plain or carbonated water; gradually increase the water content until you can eliminate the sweetened drink completely.
What makes your favourite sweet drinks so appealing? Flavour? Energy? Entertainment value? Understand your associations and triggers to help reduce your cravings.
The glycemic index
The glycemic index (GI) of a food ranks its ability to raise blood glucose. Foods with a high GI (70 or higher) are rapidly metabolized, spiking blood sugar levels, while low GI foods (55 or lower) cause a more gradual rise, if any. Low GI diets can improve blood glucose control in diabetics and support weight loss, while high GI diets increase the risk of heart disease and some types of cancer.
Eliminate processed foods
Although convenient, processed foods burden our bodies with an abundance of extra fats, sugars, salt, and calories.
What are the consequences of an ultra-processed diet, aside from bursting global waistlines? Fat-laden, fiber-free foods leave you hungry form essential vitamins, antioxidants, fibre, and other nutrients. Even worse, their arsenal of mostly unpronounceable additives, preservatives, and stabilizers only heighten the need for detoxification in the body.
Body Boost #2
Return to whole foods
Resisting the panacea of processed foods may be easier with these strategies.
Start with snacks
Trade the unhealthy fat-laden granola bar or muffin for some nuts and an apple. Stash snacks in your car, office, or stroller for on-the-go options any time.
Increase your kitchen efficiency
Take half an hour to plan your week’s meals and shop once. Simple protein/vegetable combos will nourish and satisfy. Make double batches to freeze for a rainy day; try cooking with friends and family members for fun and inspiration.
Check out healthy food delivery
Local chefs may offer health-conscious, prepared meal services. If cooking simply isn’t an option, make this investment in your health.
Read the labels
Expose the sugar hiding in your kitchen condiments, breads, and even salt. Switch to low-additive, high-fibre foods.
Think outside the cereal box with this two-minute wake-up smoothie.
Blend water, plain yogurt or a quarter of an avocado, banana, mixed frozen berries, flax, and protein powder.
Pour and go.
Give whole grains the thumbs up
Modern flours are processed and stripped of their essential nutrients and fibre, making them more shelf-stable and appealing to some palates. Selected nutrients are added back into the mix but not in the same quantity as in the original flour.
While manufacturers defend fortification, the proof really is in the (bread) pudding. Studies consistently show that whole grains, rather than fortified, refined grains, reduce cholesterol levels, promote weight loss, and protect against cancers and diabetes.
Tip: The glycemic index of one slice of white bread (70) is higher than 1/4 cup (50 g) of white sugar (60), thanks to white bread’s lack of soluble fibre.
Aside from spiking blood glucose, low-fibre foods are a well-known risk factor for constipation, compromising one of the simplest ways to detoxify the body.
Body Boost #3
Go with the grain
Get a nutritious fibre fix with whole grains.
- Scour product ingredient listings and select only those that specify “whole” before the name of the grain.
- Beware of multigrain imposters: the multiple grains in a product may all be refined.
- Consider easy-to-digest sprouted grain products that use unrefined, mashed whole wheat rather than flour.
- Avoiding wheat? Choose healthy alternatives by reading labels carefully. Wheat- and gluten-free products may contain less fibre and more fat and sugar than their wheat- filled counterparts.
- When increasing dietary fibre, drink 8 cups (2 L) of water each day to keep your bowels moving.
Perk me up, Scotty, without caffeine
Many of us reach for a caffeinated pick-me-up when our energy is flagging. Some perks of your daily cup of joy are improved memory, higher antioxidant capacity, and in a recent study of almost a million people, a decreased risk of death from all causes.
Unfortunately, coffee does have its downside as well. Studies suggest that it modestly increases fracture risk in women, while anxiety, palpitations, and irritability are consequences of overindulgence. Coffee can be a significant cause of insomnia, and its stimulating effects on the digestive system impair nutrient absorption if too much is consumed. Finally, the high calorie and sugar content of many specialty coffees can sap your appetite for healthier foods.
Body Boost #4
Curb the caffeine
- Feeling wired and tired? Spare your brain and bones by reducing your coffee consumption.
- Try herbal teas with natural energy-boosting properties such as licorice or herbal “coffees” made from chicory, barley, and dandelion.
- Choose white, black, or green teas, which contain less caffeine than coffee. The cancer-fighting catechins in green tea make it an especially healthy choice.
- Wean yourself off your coffee habit by drinking smaller amounts less frequently, or diluting it with increasing amounts of decaffeinated coffee.
- Breathe in essential oils such as lemon and rosemary for a zing of mental clarity.
- Get help for sleep issues if they’re your reason for a caffeine crutch. Boost your fibre and water intake if you rely upon the laxative properties of coffee.
Nothing can beat the natural detoxifying power of the body. Use simple strategies to eat clean, healthful foods, then stand back and let Mother Nature do the rest.
Eating a healthy diet is the first step in an effective detoxification plan, but if you need some additional support, consider these options with the help of your health care practitioner.
Curcumin, an active component of this traditional Indian spice, helps to reduce inflammation in the intestinal tract.
Add chia, flax, or psyllium to your diet and increase water intake to help ensure regular bowel function.
Dandelion has a long history of use in traditional medicine as a cleansing agent and is a natural diuretic.
This plant provides natural protection for liver cells and aids in their regeneration.
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA)
This anti-inflammatory and antioxidant reduces damage that may be caused within our bodies during normal metabolic activity.