Need a detox? With all the detox advice available today, you may be considering trying one of the many recommended regimens. Before you do, let’s talk about some of the actions you can take to reduce your exposure to toxins and to increase your elimination of toxins … starting with food choices and cooking practices.
You can support your body’s natural detoxification systems by obtaining adequate protein, fiber, and fluids. And be sure to choose plenty of fiber-rich plant foods, especially vegetables with “big color & strong flavor,” because these are rich in protective compounds that the body needs to eliminate toxins.
Some of the detox regimens currently being promoted, especially those focused primarily on juices, are likely to be inadequate in both protein and fiber. Protein deficiency lowers the activity of detoxifying enzymes required by the body to eliminate toxins. The average adult needs about 0.4 – 0.6 grams protein per pound of body weight, so a 150-pound adult needs about 60 – 90 grams of protein/day. It’s easy to obtain this amount of protein daily considering the average protein content of these foods:
- 7g in 1 oz cooked lean meat, fish, poultry (no skin)
- 7g in 1 egg (be sure to include the choline-rich yolk)
- 7g in 1/2 cup cooked dry beans, peas, lentils
- 7g in 1/4 cup nuts or seeds (but pumpkin 18g)
- 8g in 1 cup (8 fl. oz.) milk, 1 oz cheese, 6 oz yogurt
- 2-3g in 1 slice bread, 1/2 cup cooked grain
- 2g in 1/2 cup cut-up vegetables
You can reduce exposure to fat-soluble toxins by choosing mainly plant foods lower on the food chain, including vegetables, legumes (cooked dried beans, lentils), nuts, seeds, and avocadoes. Choose only lean animal protein and avoid marbled cuts. It’s also important to remove the skin and visible fat, preferably before cooking and definitely before eating. Choose smaller animals (like poultry) and fish (like sardines), because a shorter lifespan means less exposure to toxins.
Since milk and cheese come from longer-lived animals higher on the food chain, the fat in these foods are more likely to contain environmental contaminants. Many of these persistent organic pollutants (POPs) can cause endocrine (hormone) disruption increasing the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases. You can read more about xenoestrogens (hormone disruptors) here and also in this review article. To reduce exposure to these fat-soluble toxins, choose preferably organic (and “grass-finished”) meat and dairy products. “Grass-finished” indicates that the animal was on pasture (or eating grass) throughout its lifetime, while “grass fed” can mean that the animal was fed on grass/pasture until it went to the feedlot to be fattened up with corn/soy feed. Minimize intake of milk fat from butter, cream, and cheeses. Think of cheese as a condiment or a special treat, rather than a major ingredient or something you eat regularly.
An adequate intake of fiber-rich foods is one of the most helpful steps you can take to support your body’s detox systems. Fiber binds toxins for removal via the feces. Insoluble fiber lends bulk to stools and stimulates peristalsis (rhythmic contraction of the gut), which reduces the time toxins have contact with the tissues – reducing potential tissue damage and/or toxin reabsorption. Soluble fiber is a food source for the healthy gut bacteria, which help to reduce the proliferation of toxin-producing bacteria in the gut. Plant foods contain both types of fiber. Aim for at least 25 – 35 or more grams of fiber daily. It’s easy to obtain adequate fiber if you eat plenty of plant foods (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes) considering the average fiber content of these foods:
- 2g in ½ cup cut up fruit or vegetable (not counting lettuce)
- 6g in 1/2 cup cooked dry beans, peas, lentils
- 3g in 1 slice whole-grain bread or 1 corn tortilla
- 3 g in 1/2 cup cooked whole-grain cereal or ¼ cup raw oat bran
- 2g in 1 tbsp. ground flaxseeds
A recent review article concluded (not surprisingly) that organically grown food contained higher levels of protective antioxidant phytochemicals, less pesticide residue, and significantly lower levels of cadmium than conventionally grown produce. For a helpful list of produce most likely and least likely to contain pesticide residue, consult the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen & Clean 15” listing.
Food shopping, preparation, and storage practices also affect toxin exposure. Actions you can take to reduce toxin exposure include:
- Minimize canned foods or choose brands without BPA, BPS
- Limit barbecued meats (heterocyclic amines are carcinogens)
- Minimize heating fat to smoking temperature
- Avoid cookware with “non-stick” coatings (stainless steel preferred)
- Bake and microwave in ceramic or glass
- Store food in glass rather than plastic containers
It’s also helpful to obtain adequate fluids throughout the day to help your body flush out toxins through the kidneys. Water, herbal teas, and fluids in soups all count. Aim for at least 8 cups daily and more if you are sweating a lot. Avoid water and other beverages in plastic bottles, which often contain the endocrine disruptor BPA. And be aware that “BPA-free” on labels can be misleading. I like to carry my drinking water in recycled glass bottles. I found it encouraging to read that BPA levels dropped by 66% in only 3 days in research subjects who ingested only organic, fresh (no cans or plastic) food.
Both sweating and deep breathing also help your body to eliminate toxins. Sweating helps eliminate metals like cadmium, as well as BPA and other persistent organic pollutants (POPs). And deep breathing helps to clear toxins via the lungs. Breathing deep enough to expand your diaphragm is especially helpful.
While there is no doubt that our current environment presents many toxic challenges, before you consider embarking on any one of the detox regimens you read or hear about in the media, consider first all the actions you can take to reduce your exposure to toxins and to increase your elimination of toxins … starting with food choices and cooking practices.
And speaking of adding more health-promoting plant foods with BIG color and STRONG flavor, enjoy my recipe for Spinach Salad with Blueberries, Cauliflower, Walnuts, & Feta. The spinach, cauliflower, and blueberries are loaded with protective phytochemicals that support your detoxification system. The walnuts add healthy fat, along with a pleasant crunch. And feta cheese is somewhat lower in fat than other choices (6g fat/oz compared to 9g fat/oz for cheddar).