What exactly is a detox and does it really benefit the body in any useful way? More importantly, is there an easy way to do it? Healthista’s Food Fixer blogger Robert Hobson has what you need
The proper definition of detoxification is as follows; a process or period of time in which one abstains from or rids the body of toxic or unhealthy substances. This process is performed in cases where someone’s alcohol or drug addiction poses a real threat to life. Unfortunately this legitimate medical term has been adopted by some companies to market a whole raft of dubious products and treatments that are backed by very little, if any scientific evidence.
Detoxing usually involves a period of fasting, which is followed by a very low calorie diet made up of raw vegetables, juices and water. But I believe what you should be focusing on is actually nourishing the body with a wide variety of foods that will help to support its many functions whilst eliminating those that may cause harm.
I believe what you should be focusing on is actually nourishing the body with a wide variety of foods that will help to support its many functions whilst eliminating those that may cause harm.
There is no reliable evidence to suggest that detox diets and regimes do us any good whatsoever and in certain cases they can lead to micronutrient deficiencies, poor digestion, dehydration, muscle wastage (as protein reserves are used for energy), fatigue and in severe cases, if continuous fasting occurs, put you at risk of metabolic acidosis as the body’s acid-base balance is disrupted.
Some advocate supplements, herbs and laxatives that supposedly encourage ‘colon cleansing’ which usually involves a bad case of diarrhoea that often accounts for any weight loss experienced. Other weird practices include things like coffee enemas – personally I prefer to drink my coffee than have it squeezed up my rectum!
Other weird ‘detox’ practices include things like coffee enemas – personally I prefer to drink my coffee than have it squeezed up my rectum!
The overall goal for most is to somehow ‘flush’ or ‘cleanse’ the body of supposed toxins that strangely no diet or product is usually able name. The flushing thing is also a bit odd as this is not how the body works and there is no evidence to suggest organs such as the liver, kidneys or colon need to be ‘cleaned out’ or ‘rinsed’ in any way.
Our amazing body has its own built in ‘detox’ system that very effectively removes toxic substances from the body which involves your skin, lymphatic system, digestive tract, kidneys and liver. The latter of these breaks substances down using a series of chemical reactions that convert them into something that can be eliminated in bile and the kidneys excrete waste products in urine (mostly urea which is produced from the breakdown of protein in the body).
So, the whole ‘detox’ idea (outside of its medical use) is hugely flawed, but this doesn’t mean you can’t take a few weeks in the New Year to kickstart your health with a less extreme diet regime. It feels good to stock up the cupboards with healthy foods and knock the booze on the head for January. Simply taking time out to do something good for your body will inevitably make you feel great both physically and mentally.
Just adopting one or two of your newly acquired dietary changes going forward beyond January will also benefit you in the long term (this could be as simple as eating more fruits and vegetables or cooking from scratch most evening instead of relying of processed or convenience foods).
Although my peers will probably be horrified to hear me say this, I actually think the term ‘detox’ is still an OK way to sum up in one word what you’re trying to achieve and the term doesn’t appear to be going away. To try and redefine this word into something more modern, more in keeping with Healthista’s body-confident, positive health values and more relevant to your annual health kick, these are my simple steps for a modern detox.
5 STEPS TO A SIMPLE, MODERN DETOX
- Always cook from fresh Completely avoid any processed, refined or manufactured food, even (and especially) those marketed at weight loss – just count the number of unpronounceable ingredients on a tub of virtually fat free ‘fruit’ yoghurt.
2. Go for nutritional value Include plenty of foods with the most nutritional goodness to maximise nutrient intake (nuts, green veggies, oily fish, wholegrains and brightly coloured fruits). These are foods with high nutritional value which means they help you glean the greatest nutritional ‘bang for your buck’ – this is especially useful if you’re looking to lose weight as reducing calories can mean limiting your nutrient intake.
- Fat is your friend include oils and natural products that contain fat (nuts, avocados, oily fish, eggs and olive oil) as they are often rich in other key nutrients and antioxidants that can benefit health – they also help to fill you up when eaten in sensible portion sizes.
4. Avoid refined sugar, coffee and black and alcohol Get your sweetness from a little fruit and honey, replace coffee and Builder’s Tea with green or herbal teas and try joining Dry January for motivation and support
5. Mind your wheat and dairy Consider avoiding or cutting down on foods that are traditionally associated with intolerance and may affect digestion if eaten excessively. These include wheat and dairy – opt for fibre-rich whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, lentils, starchy vegetables (butternut squash and sweet potato) and calcium-rich foods including green veg, fortified plant milks (such as rice, oat, help, coconut or almond) and almonds.
5. Drink Detox Broth Low in calories, it makes a great light lunch or nourishing snack if you’re trying to shift a few pounds and its high water and fibre content create a feeling of fullness when you’re feeling hungry.
FOOD FIXER’S DELICIOUSLY NOURISHING DETOX BROTH
Rich in potassium, zinc, selenium, B vitamins and fibre, you can make it a little more substantial by adding brown rice, quinoa or drizzling with a flavoured oil such as chilli or chive. Have it between meals when you’re feeling hungry or if you’re feeling under the weather as zinc and selenium support a healthy immune system whilst chilli acts as a powerful decongestant.
240 calories per serving
800ml fresh chicken stock
3 fresh kaffir lime leaves, edges torn
1 lemongrass, bashed
1 inch piece of ginger, finely sliced into sticks
1 chilli, sliced
1 tbsp fish sauce
½ lime juiced
1 large chicken breast, thinly sliced
2 handfuls of Chinese leaf, finely shredded
400g can of aduki beans, drained and rinsed
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
Handful of coriander, chopped
- Add the stock to a saucepan and heat with the lime leaves, lemongrass, ginger and chilli simmering on low heat for 15 minutes
- Add the fish sauce to the pan and cook for another minute
- Add the sliced chicken and cook for 5 minutes in the broth (don’t overcook).
- Take off the heat and stir through the lime juice
- To serve, place a handful of Chinese lettuce into a bowl with half the Aduki beans. Pour in the broth and add spring onions, coriander, sliced chillies and a little drizzle of sesame oil
You will find more great recipes and nutrition advice in my new book The Detox Kitchen Bible which I have written with Lily Simpson from The Detox Kitchen. It’s published on 7 May (Bloomsbury, £25.00 Hardback)
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