Detoxification diets are popular, but a Mass General dietitian suggests some foods that cleanse the body naturally and more efficiently, an ideal way to start off the New Year.

The detoxification process in our bodies happens naturally. Each day, our system works hard to transform toxins into compounds that the body can dispose of.

There is little evidence to support taking “cleansing” supplements or severely restricting your intake to “detox.” Such practices can even be harmful. However, there are certain things you can do to help your body do its job of naturally cleansing your system more efficiently.

Detox with Diet

“Smelly” foods: The sulfur in foods like garlic, onions and eggs helps your system produce a natural chemical detoxifier that is involved in regulating your body’s cleansing process.

Think vegetables require a lot of prep? Think again. Broccoli, brussel sprouts and cauliflower take very kindly to roasting.

Though cruciferous vegetables—like cabbage, broccoli, Romanesco (a cross between cauliflower and broccoli), brussel sprouts, kale and kohlrabi—may smell when cooked, they also contain powerful compounds called glucosinolates. Glucosinolates help the liver eliminate toxic compounds from your body. Other sources of glucosinolates are radishes, watercress, mustard greens, turnips, rutabaga and horseradish.

Water: Being well hydrated aids urine and stool removal, which helps your system eliminate toxins. While very small amounts of toxins may be removed though sweat, sweating out harmful chemicals is more likely to be dehydrating than therapeutic.  So be sure to replenish fluid lost during exercise or in steamy conditions to keep detoxifying organs, like your kidneys, working efficiently.

Fiber-rich foods: Fiber binds to toxins and carries harmful compounds out of the body through your stool. Having regular bowel movements lessens the time that harmful compounds hang out in your intestinal tract.

Good sources of fiber include beans, whole wheat and other whole grains (e.g., oats), vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. In addition, these foods contain plant chemicals that help rev up your body’s detoxification system.

Probiotics: Probiotics are beneficial bacteria found in fermented foods. They may reduce the presence of harmful bacteria that can generate toxic byproducts in your intestines.

You can also increase your intake of probiotics naturally by consuming more yogurt, tangy frozen yogurt, kefir, cultured cottage cheese, low fat or nonfat buttermilk, miso, tempeh (soybean cake) and kimchi (Korean vegetables).

Ways to Cook with Them

Cruciferous vegetables: Think vegetables require a lot of prep? Think again. Broccoli, brussel sprouts and cauliflower take very kindly to roasting. Simply toss them with olive oil, salt, and pepper and bake them at 425 degrees until they caramelize. Cabbage and kale can be cooked down, so toss them in soups and stews. You can also substitute kale in many recipes that call for spinach.

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Think beyond the onion ring.

Onions: Think beyond the onion ring. Roasted onions—prepared like you would the vegetables above—can be served as a savory side dish with roast beef or chicken. You can also sauté onions and use them as a base for pizza or as a bruschetta topping.

“Hot” plants: Radishes, watercress and horseradish add a little heat to foods without the spice burn. Slice radishes or toss some watercress into a salad for a little “bite.” Horseradish can be added to yogurt-based sauces or creamy dressings (like buttermilk ranch). Use the jarred, prepared variety or look for the horseradish root itself. To use the root, simply peel it like you would a carrot and grate it with a microplane or cheese grater.

Miso: Miso, or fermented soybean paste, is often found in red and white varieties. (White miso is milder.) Miso can be mixed with a fat—like olive oil or butter—and tossed with vegetables to be roasted: think potatoes or squash. Miso can also be mixed with an acid (like orange juice or cider vinegar) and a fat (like sesame oil or olive oil) to make a dressing for cold noodles or salad greens. Miso not your thing? Try making a dressing using buttermilk or yogurt as the base instead.

Emily Gelsomin, RD, LDN
Emily Gelsomin, RD, LDN

Emily Gelsomin, MLA, RD, LDN, is a senior clinical nutrition specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital. As a registered dietitian, she counsels on medical nutrition therapy on an outpatient basis and works extensively with Be Fit, the hospital’s employee wellness program.

Jointly sponsored by The Clubs at Charles River Park and MGH Nutrition and Food Services, the 10-week program focuses on helping participants “Be Fit and Eat Right.” Every ten weeks, employees from different departments within the hospital compete with each other as they make a commitment to Be Fit. Through the creation of a social environment at the workplace, participants are supported to make progress in personal lifestyle changes with the help of a unique support system that includes a dedicated nutritionist and personal trainer.

Be Fit strives to create a milieu of wellness that extends beyond the 10-week curriculum by offering features to those who are not part of the intensive program. This includes the creation of Choose Well, Eat Well, a rating system designed to help both employees and patients increase awareness of healthy choices at retail eateries within the hospital. It also includes a monthly e-mail with a timely nutrition tip.