As we approach the festive season, you may be becoming increasingly aware of the fact that this celebratory time of year often involves consuming rather a lot of food and drink! After Christmas, many of us are left feeling lethargic, having eaten a little too much, or neglected our nutritional health. Going into the New Year with a fresh outlook, maintaining a balanced diet is a priority for becoming the healthiest and happiest version of yourself possible. But in order to achieve a healthy lifestyle, you may need to undergo a detox first.
Flushing the body of unhealthy substances is the perfect starting point for crafting a healthy, natural diet. If you are weighed down by toxins such as alcohol and caffeine, or have over-indulged in substances such as sugar or simple carbohydrates, it is important to rid these from your system, or your efforts to consume healthier ingredients won’t be as effective.
Of course, as Priya Tew from Dietitian UK explains: “the body has a built in, natural detox system. Toxins are constantly being filtered and removed from our body on a daily basis, the skin, gut, liver and kidneys are all involved in this process.” Although, as Jenné from Sweet Potato Soul says, the body naturally detoxifies itself whether you're eating a healthy diet or not, it is clear that a healthy diet makes this process much more effective by limiting the toxins that need to be cleansed. Some nutritionists and wellness experts believe that specific ingredients can promote the body’s natural detox processes due to bioactive properties of the chemicals they contain.
Priya emphasises that the main way diet can contribute to the body’s detoxification is in maintaining a balanced diet with foods that are nutritious and easy for the body to process:
“Focus on eating a range of fruit and vegetables, plenty of colourful ones, up to 10 portions a day. Choose small portions of wholegrain carbohydrates at mealtimes, along with lean proteins and healthy fats. For example, salmon with bulghar wheat and a large colourful salad. Reducing caffeine, alcohol, smoking and eating less processed foods will make you feel better as the body suddenly has less toxins to process. Add in some fresh air and exercise and your body will be loving you for it.”
Jenné from Sweet Potato Soul agrees, saying, “Eat foods that have fewer toxins so that you don't overtax your system. Whole-food and plant-based foods are best. Choose dark leafy vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fresh fruit, nuts, and seeds every day. When you're eating well your body will have a better time eliminating toxins from your body, and you'll feel great.” Detoxing your body is essential not only for your physical health, but also your mental health. To find out more about which foods to eat to maintain a good mood throughout winter, read our recent blog post on beating the winter blues with food.
Predominantly organic, natural foods should be consumed when undergoing a diet detox, and all refined sugars, alcohol and coffee should be eliminated. In her new book, Radical Beauty, Kimberly Snyder suggests that in order to maintain a diet that promotes detoxification during the winter, we should aim to eat more freshly made hot meals. She explains, “Your body will naturally crave hot soups and stews, baked vegetable dishes and the like. Be in tune with those needs and supply your body with hot, comforting foods. You may of course keep some raw foods in your diet, but be sure to balance them with warming foods.”
However, as we explained in a recent blog post, diet alone is not enough to keep the body healthy and its detoxification processes working at optimum efficiency. Mind Body Green state that the three main principles individuals should follow in order to lighten the burden on the body’s detox system are to:
•Stay well hydrated by drinking 8 to 10 large glasses of water daily
•Keep your bowels moving
They continue to recommend that “during the detox, it is optimal to get at least one massage and do a sauna [session] at least twice.” A nutritional spa day is the perfect time to learn from experts about the best diet programmes, exercises and lifestyle habits to lead a healthy life. You can also get rejuvenating treatments to help boost blood circulation and relax the muscles to help keep the lymphatic system – which is responsible for much of the body’s natural detox – working efficiently. As How to Detox point out, massage is therefore “a fantastic way of freeing your mind from stress and worry, both of which have physical effects on your body’s capacity to handle waste” when used alongside a healthy diet.
But, to get the systems in motion to make your detoxifying process as healthy as possible, here are five key winter ingredients to eat in order to help your body detox.
Winter is the season of the root vegetable, and these delicious foods are not only satisfying, they’re incredibly nutritious, too. In Radical Beauty, Kimberly suggests, “If your skin is looking dull and lacklustre, especially in the middle of winter, eat some brightly coloured foods, which will impart some of their radiance to you.” She explains, “Sweet potato is an excellent starchy vegetable to include in your diet, as it contains the magical skin-brightening combination of Vitamin A and Vitamin C. Together these antioxidant vitamins work to neutralize cell tissue-damaging free radicals.
Kimberly claims that sweet potatoes are also rich in biotin and Vitamin B2, B6 and E, as well as being a healthy source of iron, potassium (which helps maintain fluid balance in the body’s cells) copper, manganese and folate. Whilst scientists and nutritionists in different camps dispute the extent to which foods can help with detoxification, it is generally agreed that foods such as sweet potatoes can boost the immune system, making the body’s detoxification process stronger and more efficient. To incorporate more sweet potatoes into your diet, why not try enjoying a dish of roasted veg, seasoned with a little chilli and smoked paprika, or some sweet potato mash with a healthy home-made pie or quiche?
Ginger is a particularly famous detoxifying ingredient, often used to help cure colds and nausea due to its anti-inflammatory properties caused by its high concentration of gingerol and shoga. Ginger is brilliant for stimulating the digestion, circulation and sweat glands, which all get the body’s natural processes, including detoxification, moving. This spice can also protect digestive enzymes and neutralise acids, supporting the whole digestive system. According to The Alternative Daily, ginger’s “digestive actions may serve to cleanse the build-up of waste and toxins in the colon, liver, and other organs.”
This is also another ingredient that Kimberly recommends. She says, “Add in warming spices such as ginger, cloves, and cinnamon to your teas and recipes.” If you’re looking to wake yourself up on a slow winter morning, whilst getting a detox boost, add a little grated fresh ginger into a smoothie with apples, carrots and a little lemon juice. Alternatively, you could bake a healthy ginger loaf with softened chunks, substituting sugar from agave syrup and using wholemeal flour. This is the perfect wholesome treat to go with a hot cup of tea.
Garlic is an ingredient that many of us love to use in our cooking all year round. One fantastic way to incorporate this brilliant ingredient into winter dishes is in warming soups. Tracey Walton from Weight Loss Resources says, “Soup is brilliant for weight loss. Research has shown it increases satiety which means people stay fuller for longer and ultimately consume fewer calories. It's a great way of ramping up the vegetable content of your diet. Plus it's a great way to include detox ingredients like ginger and garlic.”
According to Authority Nutrition, garlic is proven to be an effective booster of the immune system, with a study showing that a daily supplement reduced the number of colds in participants by 63%. They continue to explain that garlic has been proven to increase antioxidant enzymes and, due to its sulphur compounds, can protect against organ damage from metal toxicity for those working in the industrial sector. Why not try cooking up a delicious pumpkin, chilli and garlic soup, or adding a little garlic to the classic French onion broth?
Kale is very much in vogue with wellness bloggers at the moment, and for good reason. Global Healing Center claim that greens such as kale and spinach work to “give a chlorophyll-boost to your digestive tract.” They explain, “Chlorophyll rids the body of harmful environmental toxins from toxic metals, herbicides, cleaning products and pesticides. They also aid the liver in detoxification.”
Bembu explains that kale not only contains valuable nutrients, but also “acts as a way to help flush out the kidneys, a set of organs that must be cleansed on any good detox effort.” They continue, “It’s packed with so many antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties as well, not to mention all of the vitamins and minerals it contains.” All of these properties make it clear why kale is so highly sought-after for those looking to detox.
Milly from Honestly Healthy Food is one wellness blogger who is a huge lover of kale, saying: “My favourite way to aid the process of detoxing is by starting the morning with a green smoothie from my Green & Lean plan. Particularly good for this time of year are smoothies containing apples, celery and kale. These seasonal ingredients are packed full of vitamins and minerals, which get absorbed easily on an empty stomach. A green smoothie is never complete without a teaspoon of my Alkaline Superboost Powder Blend; containing chlorella, which helps to remove chemicals such as pesticides from the liver, and other immune boosting superfoods, it’s a winter must have!”
Cabbage is another ingredient that many people cook with more often in the winter than during the rest of the year. From red braised cabbage with a roast dinner to sides for pork dishes, potato hashes and warm salads, this ingredient is perfect paired with apple or spices to really get that warming sensation. Like blueberries, goji berries and acai berries, red cabbage possesses many antioxidants in its own minerals and vitamins, making it an affordable and seasonal alternative to these fruits.
According to Shape magazine, “Cabbage, made up of approximately 92 percent water, is a natural diuretic that can help expel excess fluids from the body, so you can’t go wrong by filling up on this water-based food. It’s packed with glucosinolates, organic compounds that contain nitrogen and sulphur which help flush out unwanted toxins. Plus, cabbage delivers a good dose of many essential vitamins, including C, K, E, and A, minerals, dietary fibre, and folic acid.”
Some people such as Priya believe that “there are no individual foods that will help you detox”, however, others suggest that foods such as those listed above can help to promote certain detoxification processes. Whatever your opinion on food’s role in bodily detoxification, one thing that all experts agree on is that, as Priya suggests, “You can help your body’s natural detoxification systems by eating a healthy, balanced diet and staying well hydrated.” These five ingredients are the perfect place to start in understanding the nutritional benefits of different winter foods to help you resist comfort eating and begin detox-eating!