Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. -Hippocrates
If you live in the Bay Area it’s likely that you or someone you know has been on a cleanse or has been wanting to do one. As our bodies have become overburdened with chemical-laden processed foods, environmental pollution, and everyday stress, taking time to clear out physical and emotional toxicity is important. Cleanses and detoxing can help improve mental focus, physical energy, digestion, libido, sleep and skin issues, and also help you drop a few pounds and reduce food cravings.
With multiple services and stores on every corner promoting juice cleansing --where you drink nothing more than liquids for days – you are probably wondering if you too should jump on the bandwagon. Juice cleanses may sound appealing, but it’s important to understand what happens in the body during a detox cleanse and why choosing a medically sound, whole foods cleanse that could incorporate juicing as part of the process, may offer you safer, long term benefits and results.
Here’s the internal scoop on cleansing:
Your liver is your primary detox organ and its enzymes transform the multiple toxins your body takes in, including pesticides, medications, hormones and synthetic chemicals, into compounds that your body can eliminate. The liver detox process has two phases. In Phase 1 toxins are neutralized and free radicals are formed, and in Phase 2- the conjugation phase, toxins are transformed from being fat-soluble (as most are) to being water-soluble so they can be eliminated in the bile or urine. If antioxidant levels like Vitamin C or E are too low or if micro-nutrients like magnesium, iron, and B vitamins aren’t sufficient then Phase I is affected, so juicing is probably fine at this stage if the liquids contain high concentrates of nutrient rich fruits and vegetables.
It’s Phase 2 that is the tricky one. In order to effectively transform toxins to water soluble compounds that you can get rid of easily you need to add another molecule like sulfur, glycine or cysteine. This phase requires sulfur-containing foods like broccoli, kale and other cruciferous vegetables and also amino acids, our protein building blocks. The problem with juice cleansing is it typically lacks adequate amino acids, leaving the majority of toxins stuck at the end of Phase 1 with nowhere to go and they get re-circulated back into the body, often leaving you feeling sicker than before you started. Plus on a liquid diet your metabolism will take a dive with the reduced calorie intake and when you return to regular eating you often gain back any lost pounds fairly immediately. No bueno.
What to do instead:
Opt for a whole foods based cleanse that eliminates the most inflammation causing foods for a minimum of 3 weeks (the amount of time it takes for your immune system to realize those inflammatory triggers are absent). If you can’t commit to a 3 week program right away, try a 10-day program to reset your eating habits, balance blood sugar, and reduce inflammation.
The foods to avoid in your cleanse which most commonly contribute to inflammation are sugar, gluten, dairy, soy, corn and peanuts. Make sure to get plenty of healthy fats like olive oil, avocados and coconut oil and high quality pasture-raised proteins like grass-fed lamb, wild-caught fish and pasture-raised eggs. Include plenty of fibrous leafy greens, cruciferous veggies, and organic, antioxidant-rich berries.
The end goal is really to adopt this way of eating as a lifestyle and give your system a fresh start during times of the year when you need to reset. You will also become more clear on which foods in your diet make you feel great and those which could be causing a majority of your health problems.