Remember when the word “detox” was synonymous with an extreme diet—like a juice fast or the Master Cleanse—and you basically had to take a break from your entire life just to make it to the finish line? Thankfully, wellness leaders are now preaching a more gentle approach to clean eating, with benefits beyond just undoing a winter of not-so-healthy comfort foods. For instance, some detoxes are designed to help you transition into a new diet, while others make it easier to break up with a certain type of food (ahem, sugar).
That said, most of these protocols involve a full-on, multi-day commitment. If that’s not part of your Spring Refresh plan, don’t stress—you can still give your body a reboot by simply prioritizing foods that benefit the liver and gut, the body’s detoxification dream team. “When the liver is working optimally, it can take toxins stored throughout your body, convert them into their water soluble form, and efficiently excrete them from your body,” explains Charles Passler, DC, a New York-based nutritionist and founder of detox program Pure Change.
In other words, with the right food on your plate, you can more easily flush out foreign chemicals—like the ones you pick up from the environment, beauty products, or fast food. Here, Dr. Passler shares some of his go-to foods that help give the body a detoxifying boost. And no, you don’t have to choke down any maple syrup-and-cayenne pepper concoctions to reap the rewards.
Keep reading for 6 powerful foods that’ll help kick your body’s detox pathways into high gear.
“Eating garlic helps activate the liver detox enzymes,” explains Dr. Passler. (Basically, these enzymes assist in breaking down toxins and eliminating them from your system.) Garlic also contains 39 different antibacterial agents, making it a great food for keeping illnesses at bay.
To best make use of this flavor-packed food, opt for organic and fresh garlic whenever possible. “When eating garlic fresh, the allicin compound can help kill unfriendly organisms in your intestines that produce toxins in your gastrointestinal tract,” Dr. Passler says. Try sneaking an extra clove or two into your weeknight dinner veggies or Caesar salad.
If you’ve never jumped on the beet juice train, now is the perfect time to give it a try. (As if the veggie’s high antioxidant content and and ability to improve exercise performance weren’t reason enough.)
“Beets activate liver enzymes and [affect] bile, which helps break down and absorb healthy fats and fat-soluble nutrients like vitamin E,” says Passler. “When your liver transforms fat and soluble toxins into their water-soluble form for excretion, it binds many of those toxins to bile so they can be escorted out of your body in bowel movements.” Added bonus: Beet recipes are exceptionally photogenic, which means they’ll give your Instagram new life, too.
3. Organic apples
Adding sliced Granny Smiths to your snack rotation can be really beneficial for your gut. Apples, which contain lots of fiber, “can help with cleaning out your bowels and introducing friendly bacteria,” says Dr. Passler. (It’s important to go organic, however, since apples are a staple on the Dirty Dozen—the list of the most-pesticide-laden produce.)
To take your fiber game to the next level, make sure to leave the skin on your apples and try having them for breakfast with chia seed pudding—another key source of gut-friendly fiber.
4. Broccoli sprouts
Broccoli sprouts are a “detox superstar,” according to Dr. Passler. “They’re rich in antioxidants and boost up glutathione even better than straight broccoli, which means they support both phases of liver detoxification,” explains Passler. “Broccoli sprouts also contain indole-3-carbinol, [a compound] that helps the liver detox excessive levels of hormones.”
And broccoli sprouts’ benefits go beyond just the liver. “They contain the precursors of a highly studied substance known as sulforaphane, which has been shown to help prevent certain cancers,” Dr. Passler points out. Sorry, Brussels sprouts—you’ve officially been one-upped.
5. Fermented foods
According to Dr. Passler, if you’ve been feeling bloated or constipated for more than three days, it’s a sign that you could use some more fermented foods in your life. Kefir, sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi—all of these tangy treats introduce gut-friendly bacteria to colonize the intestines and promote healthy elimination.
Plus, it’s really easy to prepare your own ferments at home. If you’ve got 24 hours to spare you can make this coconut rose kefir, and if you’re a little more patient, why not brew your own kombucha (and save a lot of money in the process)?
You may have already heard of the brain-boosting power of the mighty walnut. But did you know it’s also a whiz in the detox department?
“First off, walnuts help increase circulation and blood flow so toxins are more efficiently transported from different points in your body to your liver,” says Dr. Passler. (Cue the breakdown-and-elimination process.) “They’re rich in arginine, which helps the body to neutralize and flush out toxic byproducts of alcohol and ammonia from your brain and central nervous system.” So next time you head out for happy hour, make sure you’ve got this walnut crumble on hand for breakfast the morning after—your brain, liver, and taste buds will thank you.
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