Finally it feels like winter has left! After a long, dark winter in which we’ve been eating heavier meals to keep warm, and generally doing less exercise than is perhaps good for us, it’s no surprise that we might be feeling a little run down. Now, as the days are longer and milder, and fresh fruit and veg is more available, is the time to think about preparing for a detox; not the depths of January when all we want to do is snuggle
under a duvet.
Many writers believe that a yearly detox isn’t an optional extra only undertaken by health zealots, but should be done to some degree by everyone. They suggest that stress, modern living and convenience meals can lead to poor assimilation of food and the inefficient elimination of waste products and unwanted materials from the body. This accumulation of waste products (often termed “toxins”) is then implicated in many conditions, from arthritis and allergies to diabetes and depression. If you have prolonged problems with cellulite, smelly feet, sour breath, frequent colds, urinary infections, catarrhal congestion, bloating or fatigue, it’s possible your system needs a flush out. By detoxing, the body will be more able to remove these toxins, and to keep itself in healthy balance again.
The aim of detox programmes or techniques is to expel toxins that may have built up in the main organs responsible for cleansing the body – the intestines, liver, kidneys and skin. In a sense, you can think of it like descaling the washing machine or the shower head – there comes a point when the cleaning equipment itself needs cleaned!
A programme intended to help cleanse organs typically involves some element of fasting, but fasting doesn’t necessarily mean going hungry for days. Fasting has a long historical tradition, with Lent and Ramadan two of the best known, and even now new fasting techniques such as the 5:2 diet are being investigated for their beneficial effects on the body. Fasting can mean eating small amounts of simple foods rather than not eating at all, allowing the body to concentrate on elimination rather than assimilation.
If undertaken sensibly, short-term fasting can effectively help the body concentrate on cleansing and detoxing. A popular way to fast is the fruit fast where one fruit is chosen, eg grapes, to replace meals. Instead of breakfast, lunch and dinner, a filling portion of the fruit is eaten, and water is drunk through the day. Any fasting days should only be undertaken when you have minimal demands on you and you have ample opportunity to rest, relax and do simple, gentle activities such as stretching and taking a bath. For best results, precede and follow your short fast with a one to two day cleansing diet where you cut out stimulants, starches, meats, alcohol, sugar, wheat and dairy and try to eat as much fresh, raw or lightly cooked vegetables, fruits, seeds and pulses as you can. During your detox, don’t be surprised to feel a bit worse before you feel better, due to the release of toxins. You can minimise this by starting your detox gently over a longer period and drinking plenty of water and cleansing herbal teas.
Easy detox: simple, drama-free techniques for a spring-fresh you
Although fasting can form part of a detox program you could just make some changes for a simple detox. How rigorously you detox is for you to decide, taking into account your state of physical and mental health, other demands on your time and energy, and what your diet and lifestyle is like at the moment. Broadly the more stressful your life, the more stimulants you use and the more processed food you eat, the slower and gentler your detox should be. Try incorporating a couple of the tips below into your life and take it from there.
- Drink 1 1/2 litres of water a day, but not with meals as it dilutes the digestive juices. Often hot water can satiate the urge for a coffee or traditional tea.
- Plan your meals so there are three times as much vegetables as protein or carbohydrates
on your plate.
- If you do need to buy the odd ready meal, look for the ones with the most ‘real’ ingredients and the least amount of additives.Better still, make your own ready meals by batch cooking and freezing.
- Liven up your food with herbs and spices rather than lashings of salt and rich sauces.
- Don’t eat while you’re working, in a rush or are upset. Sit down at a table, switch off all devices and focus on eating. Chew your food well to stimulate saliva production and so help digestion. You’ll enjoy your food more, feel fuller and are less likely to experience bloating.
- The water and the fibre in the plant foods you’re eating should help your bowels move
daily, encouraging the expulsion of waste instead of hanging around inside your guts. If this isn’t happening, try a gentle laxative or take a couple of teaspoons of Psyllium Husk in plenty of water before bed. – Aid digestion further and help cleanse the liver and kidneys by beginning and ending the day with a drink of hot water and fresh lemon juice. Try adding grated fresh ginger, which is especially helpful if you’re suffering from a cold, flatulence, indigestion or nausea. Try eating more lemons and ginger in your food in general: both are helpful and considered “cleansing” foods.
- If possible, try to support local greengrocers rather than the supermarket giants. A shopkeeper worth her or his salt will know their suppliers and may have some influence in terms of the use of pesticides etc. If you can’t afford to buy organic, consider peeling/scrubbing and rinsing food to help reduce residue. A dedicated nail brush is ideal for this!.
- The majority of toxins are metabolised in the liver, one of the body’s most important organs. It functions rather like the sewage plant of our bodies, neutralising pollutants and waste products. Milk Thistle (Carduus mariannus) supports liver health by reducing the depletion of glutathione, an amino acid-like compound essential for the detoxification process.
Milk Thistle has a powerful antioxidant effect and also promotes the regeneration of liver cells. Milk Thistle is available in capsule form from Solgar, in tincture form with Artichoke and Dandelion in Vogel’s Milk Thistle Complex and in the actual seeds of the plant. Rather than making a tea, the seeds are best ground up or chewed as some of the beneficial components aren’t very water soluble.
Cautions and Contraindications: Fasting should only be undertaken under professional guidance if you are currently dealing with a lot of stress, are pregnant, breast-feeding, frail, unwell or under the age of 12. If you have any long term condition, check with your herbalist or GP first as they may advise that you need a specifically nourishing fast.