How to Detox Your Body—In a Safe, Healthy Way
If you associate a "detox" with a 7-day juice fast, it's time to make over your notion of a cleanse. While detox programs and plans have become hugely popular, detoxing doesn't require you to make extreme diet choices, since your body is made to flush out toxins on its own.
"The body has various ways of detoxing itself," Rudolph Bedford, MD, a gastroenterologist at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Health. "That includes the liver, which works to break down various toxins and elements that you consume, allowing you to eliminate them; and the kidneys, which metabolize and excrete many things." Even your skin and lungs work to help your body get rid of toxins, Dr. Bedford points out.
Also, many detox plans require some pretty drastic lifestyle changes that aren't exactly great for your body or overall health. "They often involve restrictive eating patterns and usually minimize calories," Jessica Cording, RD, CDN, a dietitian and health coach, and author of The Little Book of Game-Changers: 50 Healthy Habits For Managing Stress & Anxiety, tells Health. "But the problem with these detoxes is, at best, they're not very effective and, at worst, they're dangerous." The detoxes often focus on "'short term detoxing,' but not much about how to reintroduce healthy foods or to develop an eating pattern that helps you support overall health and well-being all the time," Cording says.
Of course, you're probably interested in detoxing for a reason. Maybe you're not thrilled at your eating habits lately or just kind of feel like you're in need of a reboot to get on a healthier path. Technically, then, it is possible to detox when you think of it as more of a long-term approach to a healthier lifestyle vs. a quick fix—and that can be as easy as eating foods that help filter gunk out of your gut and drinking enough H2O to keep digestion in check so it releases unwanted leftovers from your system. These healthy habits will help you feel better naturally, no deprivation or fad diets required.
Whole foods packed with nutrients are your best bet when it comes to keeping your insides clean. Fiber-rich fare like fruit, veggies, and beans, as well as nuts, seeds, whole grains, lean protein, and probiotics can aid gut and liver function so any unwanted buildup gets out of your system stat. Try to cut out processed, fried, and sugary foods along with red meat for even better flat-belly results.
Take it easy with alcohol
When you drink alcohol, it "jumps to the front of the metabolic pathway" so that your body can process it quickly and get it out of your body, Cording says. "By the time your body gets to the other things you've eaten, it's already been working hard and isn't functioning at its peak performance."
Your body processes and expels alcohol through your liver and even your lungs. "That's why you can spell alcohol on a person's breath—it's the ethanol leaving their lungs," Dr. Bedford says. Because your body has to work so hard to process alcohol in your body and because it directly impacts the organs that naturally detoxify your body, Dr. Bedford recommends keeping your drinking to a minimum.
Limit how much sugar and processed foods you eat
Processed foods, which are often loaded with sugar, also take some extra effort for your body to break down, Cording says. "These foods tend to not be very high in nutrients that you need as well, making it a double whammy," she says. Sugar, meanwhile, can mess with your glycemic control, that is, your body's ability to stabilize your blood sugar. "That makes it hard for your body to metabolize things and detoxify," Cording says.
It doesn't stop there: Excess sugar and processed foods can lead to weight gain over time, and that has been linked to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, Dr. Bedford says. "That makes it hard for your body to metabolize things and detoxify," Cording points out.
Eat foods rich in antioxidants
Antioxidants, those man-made or natural substances that may prevent or delay some types of cell damage, can do your whole body and overall health a favor. "They're beneficial for so many reasons," Cording says. One of the biggest things that antioxidants do is to offset free radical damage, i.e. highly unstable molecules that are naturally formed when your body does a range of things. Free radicals can cause what's known as "oxidative stress," a process that can trigger cell damage, per the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Oxidative stress linked to a range of diseases including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and eye diseases. That's why Cording recommends loading up on antioxidant foods, which include fruits and vegetables.
Consider taking prebiotics
Prebiotics are naturally occurring, non-digestible food components that help promote the growth of helpful bacteria in your gut, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Good gut health is crucial to overall health," Bedford says. To keep things moving—and detoxing—in your gut, Cording recommends eating enough fiber, drinking plenty of fluids, keeping yourself moving, and loading up on prebiotics. You can get them naturally by having more foods like bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, beans, and whole-grain foods.
Drink more of the right stuff
Sip on water—hydrating will help your kidneys flush out toxins, Dr. Bedford says. Feel free to add lemon to your H2O for a hit of electrolytes. The citrus signals the liver produce more enzymes, which keep digestion moving smoothly. Sick of plain water? Switch things up with tea. Green tea has been shown to protect against heart disease and cancer, while milk thistle may boost liver function. Drink up!
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Eat smaller portions—and slowly
Big meals bring on bloating, which forces the digestive system to work overtime. Opt for smaller, more frequent meals and eat slowly to stop yourself from gulping air while you wolf down food. All that oxygen can make you feel more full.
Treat your skin right
Practice smart skincare by dry-brushing skin with a soft brush before your bath or shower. The gentle exfoliation boosts circulation and promotes new cell growth too. Adding Epsom salt to your bath can also help you cleanse inside and out, since your skin will absorb its minerals like magnesium, which can get things moving in the colon. Ah...
Get good sleep
Logging adequate snooze time is key for keeping your health on track. Create a sleep haven by keeping your bedroom cool, dark, quiet, and free of screens. Stick to a standard bedtime that allows you to get at least seven hours of sleep nightly. Sufficient rest will help reduce stress and inflammation so your body can function its best. Yes, please.
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