Want to lighten up and slide effortlessly into summer fun? Eating these nine foods is a great way to boost your health and detoxify your body — so you can sail through spring with ease.
Springtime is the natural time of year to lighten up — trade in your coat for a jacket, open up your windows for fresh air and favor seasonal fruits and veggies over meat and starches. Another way to eliminate the sluggishness of winter is conducting a spring detox. Incorporating these nine foods into your diet will help you purge and flush the detritus of winter, in preparation for lighter, brighter days ahead.
Cleanse Your Body and Mind
Detoxifying the body has been practiced throughout recorded history. Roman baths, sweat lodges and mineral springs have long attracted people wishing to rid their bodies of toxins, both mental and physical.
Cleanses are meant to be engaged whole cloth, by the body and the mind, through stillness and attention. A proper cleanse includes ceasing productive life for a time, to direct one’s focus toward processing and releasing that which no longer serves. Spring is a traditional time for cleansing, which serves as a reboot for the system.
Mother Nature is awakening and new life is shooting up all over. “Spring clean” by ridding closets of worn and unused items and donating excesses to charitable causes. Don’t forget to purge your pantry, too, to make room for a bounty of fresh garden produce, especially greens, asparagus and cruciferous vegetables that mark the early harvest.
When it comes to cleansing methods, most people can’t afford to take a week off from their routines to detox. So, how can a busy person safely and efficiently remove toxins and reboot their system while living an actual life? The key is to eat more, not less — of these nine detoxifying foods.
1. Broccoli Sprouts
Sprouted broccoli seeds, along with the seeds of other cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts and cabbage, produce a sulfur-based nutrient called sulforaphane. Studies on sulforaphane have linked it to such effects as reducing inflammation, slowing tumor growth, blocking cancerous DNA mutations and detoxifying the body by neutralizing toxic free radicals.[i]
One of the most notable effects of sulforaphane is how fast it clears toxins from the body. And while eating whole broccoli has significant health benefits, broccoli sprouts may be even more powerful. At just three days old, the sprouts contain nearly 100 times more sulforaphane per gram than the mature plant.[ii]
Whey protein, a byproduct of the cheese-making process, is an amino acid-rich supplement long favored by body builders and the health-conscious. Associated with improving body weight and reducing fat composition,[iv] whey can be an effective aid in the treatment of certain metabolic conditions like high blood pressure, insulin resistance and lipid metabolism.[v]
In a 2008 study on whey supplementation for weight loss, subjects consuming whey protein drinks twice daily lost significantly more body fat than control subjects consuming a calorically equivalent placebo. While both groups lost weight, the whey protein group lost significantly more fat while preserving more lean muscle than controls.[vi]
Chlorella is a versatile nutritional supplement derived from freshwater algae. Used to support health and wellness, chlorella is a good source of vitamins and minerals, but this supplement’s superpower may be its detoxifying properties.
Numerous studies demonstrate chlorella’s ability to purify different chemical contaminants. In a study published in the journal Experimental and Toxicologic Pathology, researchers explored chlorella’s detoxifying effects on carbon tetrachloride, a chemical known to cause acute liver failure at high exposures. Dosing with chlorella extract produced a protective action through antioxidant effects, markedly reversing disease phenotypes in test mice.[vii]
Another study was performed to estimate effects of chlorella on certain carcinogenic chemicals commonly found in the Western diet. Dosing human female subjects with chlorella resulted in significantly lower amounts of heterocyclic amines (HCAs) in the urine than control subjects.[viii] HCAs are a class of carcinogenic chemicals formed by cooking muscle meats at high temperatures.
Chlorella is only available in supplement form and can be added to a fruit smoothie to aid palatability. Green algae are a rich source of iodine that may also help remove fluoride from the body.
4. Apple Pectin
Apples are not only delicious and convenient — nature’s fast food — they are a rich source of pectin, a beneficial plant fiber associated with gut health. Pectin not only causes homemade jams and jellies to thicken and gel, it chemically binds to toxins in your body, allowing your gastrointestinal (GI) tract to flush them out.
In 1990, research was published on children of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster in Russia. Considered at high risk for contamination, these children were closely monitored for long-term development of radiation poisoning. As part of a strategic intervention, apple pectin was administered to test subjects for a two-week period under supervision.
Compared to placebo subjects, children receiving pectin experienced a reduction in body burden of Cesium-137, a deadly radioactive isotope.[ix] Consuming whole organic apples is a great way to get more pectin in your diet, but it’s also available as a supplement. In powder form, apple pectin makes a pleasant addition to smoothies, but consume immediately after mixing lest it thicken too much.
If you’re not already a coffee drinker, you may want to reconsider during a detox. Coffee is a superfood that not only provides a sharper focus, it can support a detox by ridding your body of xenobiotics, substances that are foreign to your body.
A study published in the journal Cancer Research found that green coffee beans fed to mice produced glutathione (GSH) S-transferase, a major detoxification enzyme.[x] Consumption of green coffee beans promoted GSH S-transferase activity in the small intestine and liver of mice, lending support to research that has uncovered coffee’s anti-tumorigenic effect on the liver.
Garlic is another plant-based detoxifier that is probably already in your kitchen. Garlic contains the organosulfur compound allicin, which boosts the number of detoxifying enzymes that are present in your body. A 2010 study identified that these compounds, found in high concentrations in onions and garlic, may induce phase II detoxifying enzymes that bind to reactive metabolites in the bloodstream, thus facilitating their elimination.[xi]
Other studies on garlic have demonstrated its effectiveness at reducing lead concentrations in the blood and tissue, including a 2012 study published in Basic Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology that determined garlic may be clinically safer and just as effective as d-penicillamine at removing lead from the body.[xii]
Curcumin, one of the active polyphenols in the spice turmeric, is a super-supplement with an array of health-promoting properties, including its ability to detoxify your body through antioxidation.
Curcumin’s detoxification and antioxidant effects were observed in an animal study on rats exposed to mercury. Oral curcumin treatment, at a dose of 80 milligrams per kilogram of body weight daily for three days, was found to have a protective effect on mercury-induced oxidative stress parameters, namely lipid peroxidation and catalase activities in the liver, kidney and brain.[xiii] Catalase is an important enzyme that protects cells from oxidative damage by free radicals.
Curcumin treatment was also effective for reversing mercury-induced serum biochemical changes, which are the markers of liver and kidney injury. Mercury concentration in the tissues was also decreased by the pre- and post-exposure treatment with curcumin.[xiv]
If you plan to incorporate smoothies into your spring detox, consider adding ginger and turmeric for additional detoxifying effects. A 2016 study found that turmeric and ginger were effective at eliminating arsenic, a highly toxic metal, from the body.[xv]
Results showed that the combination was not only useful in increasing the amount of arsenic eliminated via feces and urine, it also provided a protective effect against damage caused by arsenic exposure.[xvi]
9. Green Tea
A cool glass of fresh green tea may sound purely indulgent as temperatures climb, but did you know that you may also be providing a boost to your detox efforts? Consumption of green tea has been clinically shown to reduce the adverse effects of lead and may even help to increase fertility.
An experimental study of 70 rats exposed to lead showed that rats given green tea extract retained more body weight than other test subjects and showed reduced effects of lead poisoning.[xviii] Male rats in the green tea group also had the highest sperm counts and lowest rate of sperm abnormalities, helping to reduce lead’s damaging effects on fertility.[xix]
[i] Houghton CA. Sulforaphane: Its “Coming of Age” as a Clinically Relevant Nutraceutical in the Prevention and Treatment of Chronic Disease. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2019;2019:2716870. Published 2019 Oct 14. doi: 10.1155/2019/2716870
[ii] Broccoli sprouts: An exceptionally rich source of inducers of enzymes that protect against chemical carcinogens
Jed W. Fahey, Yuesheng Zhang, Paul Talalay. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Sep 1997, 94 (19) 10367-10372; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.94.19.10367
[iii] Patricia A Egner, Jian Guo Chen, Adam T Zarth, Derek Ng, Jinbing Wang, Kevin H Kensler, Lisa P Jacobson, Alvaro Munoz, Jamie L Johnson, John D Groopman, Jed W Fahey, Paul Talalay, Jian Zhu, Tao-Yang Chen, Geng-Sun Qian, Steven G Carmella, Stephen S Hecht, Thomas W Kensler. Rapid and Sustainable Detoxication of Airborne Pollutants by Broccoli Sprout Beverage: Results of a Randomized Clinical Trial in China. Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2014 Jun 9. Epub 2014 Jun 9. PMID: 24913818
[iv] Kamonkiat Wirunsawanya, Sikarin Upala, Veeravich Jaruvongvanich, Anawin Sanguankeo. Whey Protein Supplementation Improves Body Composition and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Overweight and Obese Patients: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Am Coll Nutr. 2018 01 ;37(1):60-70. Epub 2017 Oct 31. PMID: 29087242
[v] J Beaulieu, E Millette, E Trottier, L-P Précourt, C Dupont, P Lemieux. Regulatory function of a malleable protein matrix as a novel fermented whey product on features defining the metabolic syndrome. J Med Food. 2010 Jun;13(3):509-19. PMID: 20406141
[vi] Frestedt JL, Zenk JL, Kuskowski MA, Ward LS, Bastian ED. A whey-protein supplement increases fat loss and spares lean muscle in obese subjects: a randomized human clinical study. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2008;5:8. Published 2008 Mar 27. doi: 10.1186/1743-7075-5-8
[vii] Li Li, Wei Li, Yong-Ho Kim, Yong Woo Lee. Chlorella vulgaris extract ameliorates carbon tetrachloride-induced acute hepatic injury in mice. Exp Toxicol Pathol. 2011 Jul 7. Epub 2011 Jul 7. PMID: 21741806
[viii] Inyeong Lee, Minhphuong Tran, Theresa Evans-Nguyen, Dawn Stickle, Soyeon Kim, Jaegab Han, Jong Y Park, Mihi Yang. Detoxification of chlorella supplement on heterocyclic amines in Korean young adults. Environ Toxicol Pharmacol. 2015 Jan ;39(1):441-6. Epub 2014 Dec 3. PMID: 25590673
[ix] P Hill, M Schläger, V Vogel, R Hille, A V Nesterenko, V B Nesterenko. Studies on the current 137Cs body burden of children in Belarus–can the dose be further reduced? Mol Cell Biochem. 1990 Jun 1;95(1):21-30. PMID: 17314090
[x] L K Lam, V L Sparnins, L W Wattenberg. Isolation and identification of kahweol palmitate and cafestol palmitate as active constituents of green coffee beans that enhance glutathione S-transferase activity in the mouse. Cancer Res. 1982 Apr ;42(4):1193-8. PMID: 7059995
[xi] Hye-Sook Chang, Miyan Ko, Mayumi Ishizuka, Shoichi Fujita, Akira Yabuki, Mohammad Alamgir Hossain, Osamu Yamato. Sodium 2-propenyl thiosulfate derived from garlic induces phase II detoxification enzymes in rat hepatoma H4IIE cells. Nutr Res. 2010 Jun;30(6):435-40. PMID: 20650352
[xii] Sina Kianoush, Mahdi Balali-Mood, Seyed Reza Mousavi, Valiollah Moradi, Mahmoud Sadeghi, Bita Dadpour, Omid Rajabi, Mohammad Taghi Shakeri. Comparison of therapeutic effects of garlic and d-Penicillamine in patients with chronic occupational lead poisoning. Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol. 2012 May ;110(5):476-81. Epub 2011 Dec 29. PMID: 22151785
[xiii] Rakhi Agarwal, Sudhir K Goel, Jai Raj Behari. Detoxification and antioxidant effects of curcumin in rats experimentally exposed to mercury. Cont Lens Anterior Eye. 2009 Dec 21. Epub 2009 Dec 21. PMID: 20229497
[xiv] Rakhi Agarwal, Sudhir K Goel, Jai Raj Behari. Detoxification and antioxidant effects of curcumin in rats experimentally exposed to mercury. Cont Lens Anterior Eye. 2009 Dec 21. Epub 2009 Dec 21. PMID: 20229497
[xv] Suman Biswas, Chinmoy Maji, Prasanta Kumar Sarkar, Samar Sarkar, Abichal Chattopadhyay, Tapan Kumar Mandal. Ameliorative effect of two Ayurvedic herbs on experimentally induced arsenic toxicity in calves. J Ethnopharmacol. 2016 Aug 2. Epub 2016 Aug 2. PMID: 27496583
[xvi] Suman Biswas, Chinmoy Maji, Prasanta Kumar Sarkar, Samar Sarkar, Abichal Chattopadhyay, Tapan Kumar Mandal. Ameliorative effect of two Ayurvedic herbs on experimentally induced arsenic toxicity in calves. J Ethnopharmacol. 2016 Aug 2. Epub 2016 Aug 2. PMID: 27496583
[xvii] Yoshimasa Nakamura, Chiho Yoshida, Akira Murakami, Hajime Ohigashi, Toshihiko Osawa, Koji Uchida. Zerumbone, a tropical ginger sesquiterpene, activates phase II drug metabolizing enzymes. FEBS Lett. 2004 Aug 13;572(1-3):245-50. PMID: 15304356
[xviii] Najmeh Sha’bani, Sepideh Miraj, Mahmoud Rafieian-Kohpayei, Abdul Rasool Namjoo. Survey of the detoxification effect of green tea extract on the reproductive system in rats exposed to lead acetate. Adv Biomed Res. 2015 ;4:155. Epub 2015 Jul 27. PMID: 26380240
[xix] Najmeh Sha’bani, Sepideh Miraj, Mahmoud Rafieian-Kohpayei, Abdul Rasool Namjoo. Survey of the detoxification effect of green tea extract on the reproductive system in rats exposed to lead acetate. Adv Biomed Res. 2015 ;4:155. Epub 2015 Jul 27. PMID: 26380240
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