detox diet

How to detox: planning and implementing a healthy detox

Are you looking to revamp your nutrition this year? You may have thought about throwing yourself into a detox, a juice cleanse or something similar as a way to “make up” for any Christmas over-indulgence.

In this article, we provide some practical advice on what detoxification is, how to detox, what foods to enjoy and avoid during a detox, along with a sample detox menu to give you some inspiration.

What is a detox?

Living in today’s world, exposure to toxins can often be unavoidable, from pollution to plastics, an overloaded detoxification system can play a role in poor health.  The word detox is a hot topic when January rolls around, but our bodies are naturally detoxing for us every single day via the liver, digestive system, skin and kidneys. The purpose of a detox diet is to support these processes in the body, and you might be surprised to find out how you can do this. Hint: You don’t need laxative teas!

Your current diet will affect how you might feel on a detox. Those on a standard western diet, low in fruits and vegetables and high in sugar and fat1 may find eliminating foods or generally cleaning up their diet comes with a few uncomfortable short-term symptoms such as headaches, digestive discomfort or disturbed sleep, whereas those with healthier diets may have an easier time adapting. These symptoms can be minimized by making changes gradually.

Liver detoxification Phases 1 and 2 (and 3) 

Phase 1 liver detoxification is the first line of defense against toxins and is the responsibility of CYP450 enzymes. This process involves enzymatic biotransformation of fat-soluble intermediates into more toxic metabolites ready to be neutralized by phase 2 detoxification2.

Phase 2 involves the enzymatic conjugation of phase 1 intermediates, making toxins water soluble for easier excretion via six detoxification pathways; glucuronidation, methylation, sulfonation, glutathione conjugation, acetylation and amino acid conjugation2.

Phase 3 detoxification involves the excretion of toxins from the body.  The neutralized toxins are pumped out of cells via protein transporters and eliminated in the urine and stool2.

An effective detox is therefore when all three detoxification pathways are working optimally, if not, toxins can be reabsorbed and recirculated. 

Benefits of a detox: short term or lasting change?

A healthy detox can be a great way to start the new year off fresh. It might help increase your energy levels, motivation and mental health, and can be a great thing to do to support your mood during the last few winter months. Short term strict interventions may give quick results but often these are short lived when you go back to your regular way of eating. If you want to make lasting change however, starting with a detox or a nutritional overhaul may just give you the motivation you need.

Skip to Key Takeaways

What to detox?

This will depend on your current diet. Do you need to cut down on sugar? Partial to a few glasses of wine at the weekends? Or do you want to swap processed foods for more nutritious wholefoods? Making a list of your specific goals will be important in the planning stage of a detox.

Some options could be:

  • Sugar detox
  • Trying a vegetarian or vegan whole food diet
  • Eliminating all processed food and cooking everything from scratch
  • Caffeine detox
  • Gluten and dairy elimination
  • Alcohol detox
  • Swapping to organic food

Planning a detox or diet change

A successful detox or any big change in dietary habits requires some planning. Writing a shopping list before you go to the supermarket, planning meals in advance and food preparation ahead of time will all help you stay on track.

If you have no particular detox program in mind but just want to feel overall healthier and improve your natural detoxification processes, then give these steps a try.

WEEK 1: Avoid sugar, increase vegetable intake by 3 portions or more a day, reduce caffeine.

WEEK 2: Previous changes plus reduce/remove processed and packaged foods and opt for healthier homemade snacks. Start cooking from scratch and experimenting with recipes.

WEEK 3: Previous changes, plus limit/cut out diary and gluten. Opt for gluten free wholegrains and swap from milk to a dairy free alternative (you could even make your own).

WEEK 4-6: Continue these changes for three weeks

WEEK 7-8: Evaluate the changes you have made. How do you feel physically and mentally?

The first few days may be tough, especially in higher sugar diets, but over time you will begin to feel the benefits. This could include better mental alertness, more energy and clearer skin. As you transition out of a detox, you may be clearer on what works for you and what doesn’t.

Foods to enjoy during a detox 

  • Phase 1 supportive foods – cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, garlic, berries, celery, quercetin and rosemary. Antioxidant rich foods are particularly important to help combat free radicals that are produced from phase 1 reactions3. 
  • Phase 2 foods – flavonoids such as berries, turmeric, cruciferous vegetables and sulfur rich foods such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, bok choy, onions and garlic all help support the second phase of liver detoxification3. 
  • Vegetables – Vegetables should play a big part in your diet. They are a highly nutritious, a great fiber source, beneficial for the friendly bacteria in the gut and can help you feel fuller for longer. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and kale in particular support phase 1 and phase 2 of liver detoxification. These sulfur rich foods, including garlic, can enhance the function of a major antioxidant – glutathione3. 
  • Fruit – fruit is rich in antioxidants, fibre and polyphenols. Aim to include 2-3 portions a day such blueberries, strawberries, apples and raspberries. 
  • Beans and Lentils – Beans and legumes are great sources of protein and fibre and can help bulk out meals to help with satiety. 
  • Protein – Many detox diets are minimal in animal protein, but it is still important to meet your protein needs and support phase 1 and 2 of liver detoxification. White fish such as cod and haddock, oily fish such as salmon and organic chicken can be included. Alternatively, if wanting to transition to more plant based, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, natural protein powders (such as pea protein) and organic tofu or tempeh are great options. 
  • Nuts and seeds – Unsalted nuts and seeds are great for healthy fats and offer some protein. Flaxseeds, hempseeds and chia seeds are also great additions for fibre, omega 3 and protein. 
  • Oils – avoid oils such as sunflower seed oil which has been found to be pro-inflammatory4. Instead switching the oils in your kitchen to extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil is a great long-lasting change that will have a huge benefit to your health. 
  • Flavours – When starting off cooking from scratch it can be easy to end up with foods that taste a little… bland. To spice up and add flavor to your dishes incorporate a range of different herbs and spices into your cooking such as garlic, ginger, turmeric, oregano, rosemary and coriander. 
  • Water – Filtered or mineral water are preferable. Aim for 2 litres a day as hydration is very important, especially during a detox. Water helps transport waste products, removing them through sweat, urination and the breath. Herbal teas are also a great way to get more water into your day. 
  • Smoothies – smoothies can be a great way to get in some extra portions of fruit and vegetables. You can also add additional healthy ingredients such as flaxseed or green powder blends. Don’t be afraid to add vegetables to your smoothies. 
  • Prebiotic and probiotic foods – Probiotic and prebiotic foods can help keep your digestive and immune system healthy. You could opt for a live bacteria supplement and include foods such kefir, kombucha, bananas, onions, garlic, sauerkraut and kimchi. 

Foods to avoid or reduce during a detox

  • Sugar – High sugar intake is recognized as a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome5. It is essential to remove sugar on a detox as this well help keep blood sugar balanced and reduce stress on the liver. 
  • Inflammatory oils – Oils such as sunflower, safflower, corn and soybean oils are all omega 6 heavy, which disrupts the omega 3 to omega 6 balance in the body4. Foods that commonly contain these oils are many packaged foods, margarine and baked goods. 
  • Red meat – Avoid all red and processed meats (bacon, ham etc.) during a detox6. 
  • Heavy metals – avoid high mercury fish such as tuna to reduce heavy metal exposure7. 
  • Alcohol – Can impair phase 1 detoxification. 
  • Wheat/gluten – More and more people are noticing they experience digestive upset when eating gluten. Gluten may be detrimental to the lining of the digestive tract 8,9 and can cause symptoms such as headaches, brain fog and fatigue in some 10. 
  • Processed and unhealthy packaged food – Foods such as pastries, packaged sandwiches, cereal bars and crisps are all highly processed and contain unhealthy inflammatory oils, added sugar and can disrupt blood sugar balance. 
  • Salt – Some salt is needed for necessary functions in the body. If you are eating a wholefood, minimally processed diet then including a small amount of Himalayan salt is healthy. 

Supportive herbs 

Milk Thistle (silybum marianum) – has been found to hold antioxidant, anti-fibrotic, antioxidant, immune modulating and liver regenerating properties11. Research has found that milk thistle may act to block toxins by reducing their binding to hepatocyte cell membrane receptors12.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) – has been shown to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties. Dandelion is considered a bitter food and can support digestion13, 14.

Turmeric (curcuma longa) – can support liver health due to it’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, as well as it’s ability to decrease lipid peroxidation15.

Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis) – studies have found that schisandra may attenuate liver steatosis and inflammation16.

Burdock (Arctium lappa) – is a herb that can support the lymphatic system, stimulate the kidneys and support digestive health. Burdock contains many antioxidant compounds such as luteolin, quercetin and phenolic acids17.

Artichoke Cynara (Cynara scolymus) is also considered as a bitter, aiding in healthy bile production and digestion. Artichoke is hepatoprotective, liver regenerating and can support healthy cholesterol levels18. 

Food intolerances

It is estimated that non allergenic food intolerances may affect up to 20% of the population19, the most commonly reported being gluten, dairy and eggs. However, often people find that the number of foods they cannot tolerate just keeps growing and this may be where instead of a detox, a more targeted digestive health support or programme is needed. An elimination diet can be a good way to find out what foods are causing issues.

Digestive issues

Digestive issues are common, with a worldwide prevalence of IBS being at 4%20.

A healthy gut is essential for optimal health as it is not only involved in nutrient absorption, but is also a vital detoxification pathway.

You should be having at least one bowel movement a day, if not then simply addressing this with the tips below will make you your body more effective at detoxification.

For constipation:

  • Drink enough water – aim for 2 litres a day.
  • Eat wholefoods that are high in fibre – vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, beans and pulses.
  • Try adding in 1-2 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds a day into your diet.
  • Psyllium husk is a gentle soluble fibre that expands to form a gel like substance to help improve constipation. Ensure to take with a full glass of water21.
  • Leaving 3-4 hours between food intake can support the migrating motor complex which helps move food and bacteria along the digestive tract to support elimination. Fresh ginger can also stimulate gastric emptying22.
  • Light exercise and movement can support gut motility. 

Loose bowel movements:

  • Psyllium husk can also be beneficial to diarrhoea and has a balancing effect on stool formation.
  • Live bacteria supplements such as Saccharomyces Boulardii can be beneficial for loose stools.
  • Ensure adequate water intake.
  • Look at your stress levels – stress can have a profound impact on digestive health.

Sample detox meal plan

Breakfast: Antioxidant rich smoothie

  • 2 Handfuls of berries (blueberries, blackberries) and/or green apple
  • 1 small piece of ginger
  • 1 handful of spinach or other greens
  • 2 pieces of frozen cauliflower
  • Pea or hemp protein
  • One tablespoon of greens powder

Lunch: Buddha Bowl

Quinoa topped chickpeas and vegetables including broccoli, red onion and carrots roasted in extra virgin olive oil. Dressing: Tahini mixed with apple cider vinegar, paprika and cayenne pepper to taste.

Dinner: Courgette and carrot noodles with coriander pesto

In a food processor add:

  • 1 bunch coriander
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Squeeze of half a lemon
  • 100g walnuts
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2-3 cloves garlic diced

Take 2 large courgettes and 2 large carrots and use a spiralizer or julienne to make the noodles, add to pan of heated olive oil and cook for 4-5 minutes. Mix the pesto into the noodles and top with protein of choice: white fish, beans, legumes or organic firm tofu. 

Other things to consider to support a detox

  • Exercise – Exercise encourages circulation and the elimination of toxins through sweat23. It is also beneficial for stress, mood and weight loss.
  • Sleep – Not only does poor sleep effect blood sugar balance, getting 8 hours of sleep a night is vital for repair and rejuvenation, as well as removing toxic byproducts. Inadequate sleep can result in a build-up of toxins and add to overall toxic load24. Melatonin is also a potent antioxidant, making a healthy sleep-wake cycle a vital part of detoxification25.

A warning on detoxification diets

The above are all suggested as part of a detoxification programme. We would not consider it appropriate for this kind of approach to be used during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

If you have any pre-existing medical conditions or are taking medication, please consult your doctor first before embarking on a detoxification diet. You should not undertake a detoxification diet if you are unwell.

Key takeaways

  • Our bodies are designed to naturally detoxify through the digestive system, liver, skin and kidneys The purpose of a detox diet is to support the body’s natural detoxification processes.
  • Detox programmes can be a short-term intervention but by adapting dietary change gradually you can make long lasting healthy changes
  • After the first few days of your detox, you may begin to experience the benefits of increased mental and physical alertness and energy, and this will encourage you to make long-term improvements to your diet.
  • Some of the foods you can enjoy during a detox include vegetables, fruits, beans and pulses, nuts and seeds and extra virgin olive oil.
  • Some of the foods to avoid during a detox include sugar, caffeine, gluten, red meat and alcohol.
  • Healthy gut function is vitally important in helping the body eliminate waste products, including toxins. You should be producing stool every day.
  • If you have any pre-existing medical conditions or are taking medication, please consult your doctor first before embarking on a detoxification diet. You should not undertake a detoxification diet if you are unwell, pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • If you would like some more tailored advice, you might like to consider our free health questionnaire service to help you. 

References

  1. Rakhra, V., Galappaththy, S.L., Bulchandani, S. and Cabandugama, P.K. (2020). Obesity and the Western Diet: How We Got Here. Missouri Medicine, 117(6), pp.536–538.
  2. Bland J et al. Textbook of Functional Medicine.; 2008.
  3. Hodges, R.E. and Minich, D.M. (2015). Modulation of Metabolic Detoxification Pathways Using Foods and Food-Derived Components: a Scientific Review with Clinical Application. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, 2015(760689), pp.1–23.
  4. DiNicolantonio, J.J. and O’Keefe, J. (2021). The Importance of Maintaining a Low Omega-6/Omega-3 Ratio for Reducing the Risk of Autoimmune Diseases, Asthma, and Allergies. Missouri Medicine, [online] 118(5), pp.453–459. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8504498/.
  5. Ma, X., Nan, F., Liang, H., Shu, P., Fan, X., Song, X., Hou, Y. and Zhang, D. (2022). Excessive intake of sugar: An accomplice of inflammation. Frontiers in Immunology, [online] 13(13). doi:https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2022.988481.
  6. Wolk, A. (2016). Potential health hazards of eating red meat. Journal of Internal Medicine, [online] 281(2), pp.106–122. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/joim.12543.
  7. Ahmad, N.I., Noh, M.F.M., Mahiyuddin, W.R.W., Jaafar, H., Ishak, I., Azmi, W.N.F.W., Veloo, Y. and Hairi, M.H. (2014). Mercury levels of marine fish commonly consumed in Peninsular Malaysia. Environmental Science and Pollution Research, 22(5), pp.3672–3686. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-014-3538-8.
  8. Hollon J, Puppa EL, Greenwald B, Goldberg E, Guerrerio A, Fasano A. Effect of gliadin on permeability of intestinal biopsy explants from celiac disease patients and patients with non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Nutrients. 2015;7(3):1565-1576. doi:3390/nu7031565
  9. Jossen, J. and Lebwohl, B. (2023). Non-celiac Gluten Intolerance: A Call to Clarify. Digestive Diseases and Sciences. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s10620-022-07802-3.
  10. Losurdo, G., Principi, M., Iannone, A., Amoruso, A., Ierardi, E., Leo, A.D. and Barone, M. (2018). Extra-intestinal manifestations of non-celiac gluten sensitivity: An expanding paradigm. World Journal of Gastroenterology, 24(14), pp.1521–1530. doi:https://doi.org/10.3748/wjg.v24.i14.1521.
  11. Abenavoli, L., Izzo, A.A., Milić, N., Cicala, C., Santini, A. and Capasso, R. (2018). Milk thistle (Silybum marianum): A concise overview on its chemistry, pharmacological, and nutraceutical uses in liver diseases. Phytotherapy Research, 32(11), pp.2202–2213. doi:https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.6171.
  12. Abenavoli, L., Capasso, R., Milic, N. and Capasso, F. (2010). Milk thistle in liver diseases: past, present, future. Phytotherapy Research, 24(10), pp.1423–1432. doi:https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.3207.
  13. Yang, Y. and Li, S. (2015). Dandelion Extracts Protect Human Skin Fibroblasts from UVB Damage and Cellular Senescence. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2015, pp.1–10. doi:https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/619560.
  14. Pfingstgraf, I.O., Taulescu, M., Pop, R.M., Orăsan, R., Vlase, L., Uifalean, A., Todea, D., Alexescu, T., Toma, C. and Pârvu, A.E. (2021). Protective Effects of Taraxacum officinale L. (Dandelion) Root Extract in Experimental Acute on Chronic Liver Failure. Antioxidants (Basel, Switzerland), [online] 10(4). doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/antiox10040504.
  15. Farzaei, M.H., Zobeiri, M., Parvizi, F., El-Senduny, F.F., Marmouzi, I., Coy-Barrera, E., Naseri, R., Nabavi, S.M., Rahimi, R. and Abdollahi, M. (2018). Curcumin in Liver Diseases: A Systematic Review of the Cellular Mechanisms of Oxidative Stress and Clinical Perspective. Nutrients, [online] 10(7). doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10070855.
  16. Li Z, He X, Liu F, Wang J, Feng J. A review of polysaccharides from Schisandra chinensis and Schisandra sphenanthera: Properties, functions and applications. Carbohydr Polym. 2018;184:178-190. doi:10.1016/J.CARBPOL.2017.12.058
  17. Metabolic profile of the bioactive compounds of burdock (Arctium lappa) seeds, roots and leaves. (2010). Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis, [online] 51(2), pp.399–404. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpba.2009.03.018.
  18. Elsayed Elgarawany, G., Abdou, A.G., Maher Taie, D. and Motawea, S.M. (2020). Hepatoprotective effect of artichoke leaf extracts in comparison with silymarin on acetaminophen-induced hepatotoxicity in mice. Journal of Immunoassay & Immunochemistry, [online] 41(1), pp.84–96. doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/15321819.2019.1692029.
  19. Tuck, C.J., Biesiekierski, J.R., Schmid-Grendelmeier, P. and Pohl, D. (2019). Food Intolerances. Nutrients, 11(7), p.1684. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11071684.
  20. Di Rosa, C., Altomare, A., Terrigno, V., Carbone, F., Tack, J., Cicala, M. and Guarino, M.P.L. (2023). Constipation-Predominant Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS-C): Effects of Different Nutritional Patterns on Intestinal Dysbiosis and Symptoms. Nutrients, [online] 15(7), p.1647. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/nu15071647.
  21. Jalanka, J., Major, G., Murray, K., Singh, G., Nowak, A., Kurtz, C., Silos-Santiago, I., Johnston, J., de Vos, W. and Spiller, R. (2019). The Effect of Psyllium Husk on Intestinal Microbiota in Constipated Patients and Healthy Controls. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 20(2), p.433. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms20020433.
  22. Hu, M.-L., Rayner, C.K., Wu, K.-L., Chuah, S.-K., Tai, W.-C., Chou, Y.-P., Chiu, Y.-C., Chiu, K.-W. and Hu, T.-H. (2011). Effect of ginger on gastric motility and symptoms of functional dyspepsia. World Journal of Gastroenterology, [online] 17(1), pp.105–110. doi:https://doi.org/10.3748/wjg.v17.i1.105.
  23. Kuan, W.-H., Chen, Y.-L. and Liu, C.-L. (2022). Excretion of Ni, Pb, Cu, As, and Hg in Sweat under Two Sweating Conditions. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, [online] 19(7), p.4323. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19074323.
  24. Reddy, O.C. and van der Werf, Y.D. (2020). The Sleeping Brain: Harnessing the Power of the Glymphatic System through Lifestyle Choices. Brain Sciences, 10(11), p.868. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci10110868.
  25. Reiter, R.J., Tan, D.-X., Mayo, J.C., Sainz, R.M., Leon, J. and Czarnocki, Z. (2003). Melatonin as an antioxidant: biochemical mechanisms and pathophysiological implications in humans. Acta Biochimica Polonica, 50(4), pp.1129–1146. doi:https://doi.org/10.18388/abp.2003_3637.

If you have questions regarding the topics that have been raised, or any other health matters, please do contact our team of Nutritional Therapists.

nutrition@cytoplan.co.uk
01684 310099

Last updated on 4th January 2024 by Kieran Doble


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11 thoughts on “How to detox: planning and implementing a healthy detox

    1. Hi Jo

      Thanks for your comment. My suggestions for a basic programme are:

      CoQ10 Multi (this is an all-round multivitamin and mineral)
      Fos-A-Dophilus (live bacteria)
      Omega 3 Vegan – 2 per day, but please see contraindications. E.g. if taking blood thinners – 1 per day

      We do offer a free health questionnaire service that may be of interest to you. If you complete and return a health questionnaire we will send you some diet and supplement recommendations. This is a free service. You can download a questionnaire here.

      Best wishes,
      Clare

        1. Hi There – IBS symptoms can often be attributed to an imbalance in the gut bacteria, so a multi-strain probiotic such as our Vegan Biotic could be a great place to start. To support optimal health and wellbeing, our foundations of health would include a probiotic, a multivitamin and an omega 3 supplement – which is especially important to provide nutrients that may be lower in a vegan diet. For you, I would recommend our Vegan Biotic, CoQ10 Multi and Vegan Omega 3. If you would like any more support please email our team of nutritional therapists at nutrition@cytoplan.co.uk

  1. Hi, thanks for this guidance it is a great gift. I am trying to clean up my diet and want to know how to calculate the amount of caffeine I have daily. Usually one or two cups of very weak tea and a cup of coffee. Apart from this I drink water and herbal teas. My weakness is grabbing a chocolate bar when I have to work late and haven’t brought anything to snack on.

    1. Hi Linda

      Thanks for your comment. As a rough guide – a cup of tea contains about 42mg of caffeine, a cup of instant coffee around 57mg. Fresh barista coffee contains a lot more. Instant decaf coffee is around 2.5mg per cup. If drinking coffee choose organic (or organic decaf) but as we have said in the blog, it is best avoided during a detox. Regarding the chocolate bar – choose 70% or 85% cocoa and then it will be lower in sugar and high in antioxidants.

      Best wishes,
      Clare

  2. Hils
    Thank you for the great advice! I can refer to this at anytime and intend sharing it with friends and family, as I already encourage them to use your Website and products. X

  3. This is so useful. Looking at caffeine, I have decaf coffee and drink herbal teas such as dandelion, tumeric and green tea. How would these work with eliminating caffeine?

    1. Proper hydration is key to detoxification, and herbal teas will count towards the recommended water intake of 2L daily. Teas such as turmeric and dandelion can also support liver health and the detoxification process.

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