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The Only Real “Cleanse” You Should Be Following

Happy 2015! Now that the holiday happenings have wound down, you’re probably starting to remember that whole “New Year, New You” mantra you swore you’d stick to come January.

In order to kickstart a new regimen, it’s tempting to crave a quick fix for better dietary habits (looking at you, five-day juice cleanse). But the truth is, those super-fast reboots rarely work. If anything, you’re just depriving yourself of basic dietary needs that help you function at your peak, causing your body to push back hard after you exit starvation mode. In the end, you often gain back more than the water weight you lose. (And yet, they're still popular—check out Top 10 Detox Diets of 2014.)

There’s only one real “cleanse” you should be on, and that’s a sustainable diet of whole foods with the ability to flush your system of toxins, promote better organ function and clear your GI tract the healthy way. Here are the cleanse keys: cut all the processed junk from your diet while adding fiber, probiotics, and cleanse-supporting antioxidants that help with the detoxification process. (Oh, also: hunger is not invited to this party!) Here, we've rounded up the foods you should add to your life this January for the ultimate good-for-you detox. (Still want more? Try one of these 4 Non-Juice Cleanses and Detoxes.)

Kefir
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In addition to an ample shot of B vitamins to promote cell metabolism, this fermented dairy product is also a killer source of various probiotics, the healthful bacteria that colonize your colon. “These probiotics protect your system, as your gut wall is an important barrier to keep pathogens out,” says Melina Jampolis, MD, a nutrition-physician specialist and author of The Calendar Diet. “The probiotics keep that wall healthy, which helps with detoxification.”

Leeks
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These oft-neglected cousins of garlic and onion are awesome source of prebiotics, which means they help nourish those beneficial probiotics that protect and flush your system. “They are also a good source of thiols, polyphenol and antioxidants, which help protect your system from free radicals formed during the detoxification process or from environmental exposure,” Jampolis says. “Plus, they contain nutrients that support healthy detox, including manganese.” They're also a super-low-cal additive for tasty soups, or you can sauté them in a little olive oil to spice up other dishes.

Sweet Potatoes
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Even though their prime serving season (fall through the holidays) has passed, these sweet staples are loaded with beta carotene, an important detox-supporting antioxidant. “They’re also filled with fiber, a healthy dose of vitamin C and B vitamins, all of which help support healthful detox.” Coat with butter and sugar, however, and you’ll negate the cleansing benefits. Purée them and eat plain, add them to salads, or sprinkle with cinnamon for a sweet side.

Strawberries
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Strawberries are nutritional powerhouses jam-packed with vitamin C (to neutralize free radicals in organs like the liver) and anthocyanins (which are cancer-fighting, inflammation, reducing plant-based nutrients,). “Both of these play a role in healthy detoxification,” says Jampolis. “Plus, the berries are rich in fiber, low in calories, and taste great.” When they aren't in season, you can opt for frozen strawberries to derive the same benefit. Jampolis suggests popping them in smoothies with non-fat yogurt for a tasty and healthy breakfast or snack.

Wheat Germ
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A lot of times, detoxing is about small additions and changes. “When we say ‘naturally detox,’ it’s really about changing your diet to make it even healthier,” says Keri Gans, MS, RD, author of The Small Change Diet. Wheat germ is one such addition. Just a quarter cup packs essential vitamin E (which hunts down free radicals in the body), as well as folate and a solid 4 grams of fiber to stools healthy and regular. You can add it to virtually anything—smoothies, muffins, yogurt, pancakes, casseroles, the list goes on. “Try a little bit of wheat germ in oatmeal with almond butter for breakfast to start your day out right,” says Gans.

Green Vegetables
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“The greener the veggies, the better,” says Gans. “This includes broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, asparagus, string beans, green beans, spinach and collard greens.” Gans says every dinner should contain half a plate of antioxidant-packed, free-radical-fighting veggies to help flush your system of toxins. Cruciferous veggies in particular, are proven to help fight DNA damage, deactivate carcinogens and even reduce inflammation in the body—the principle source of aging and disease. Bonus points if you get your veggies into a morning omelet or smoothie, or as a side at lunch, too. (Pssst... the hearty dose of insoluble fiber here is also essential for clearing your gut through healthy bowel movements, so you feel slim and trim instead of, eh, a little too full.)

Nuts
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Gans says she’s a big fan of seeds, nuts and nut butters, and there’s no better time to plug more of them into your diet than during a detox. “The nuts will help add fiber to your diet, and the mix of protein, fiber, omega-3s will curb hunger and free radicals,” says Gans. Almonds, in particular, are a best-bet option. The dose of vitamin E will work against damaging inflammation, promote healthy digestion, and may support a healthier lipid profile and a lower risk of heart disease in the long-run. They’re the perfect snack to keep you powered up during the day.

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