Learn how to detox your body and boost its natural defenses through food with these tips from a Mass General nutritionist.

This time of year is often flooded with detox diets touting the benefits of nutritional drinks, supplements and fasts. They may sound glamorous, but unless the changes are sustainable, you are unlikely to produce lasting benefits. These touted quick fixes can also be costly and sometimes dangerous.

Your body does a great job of detoxifying all on its own. That said, there are foods you can include in your diet to support this cleansing process and help keep you healthy all year round.

Laboratory studies also suggest protective plant chemicals in pulses may boost your body’s disease defenses by helping decrease chronic inflammation.

One thing to focus on is your intake of cruciferous vegetables. (Think cabbage, radishes, kale, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.) These edibles contain a compound that enhances the activity of your liver in its role in the detoxification process.

Detox Through Food

Carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables are another group of note — the often sunburst-hued plants may help decrease inflammation and are thought to play a role in how certain genes are expressed in the body. (Diets high in these plant-based pigments are associated with reduced risk of heart disease and cancer and may slow the development of age-related diseases like macular degeneration.) Foods containing carotenoids include carrots, red peppers, sweet potato, pumpkin and tomatoes.

Preparation techniques can enhance benefits too. Chopping and heating may help your body utilize carotenoids, as can including a small amount of fat with your meal. (As a general rule, steaming rather than boiling vegetables better preserves nutrients.) Conversely, eating some cruciferous vegetables raw can help protect certain beneficial compounds.

Laboratory studies also suggest protective plant chemicals in pulses may boost your body’s disease defenses by helping decrease chronic inflammation. This group — which includes beans, lentils and dried peas — is also a potent source of fiber, a natural detoxifier.

While fiber is not the most glamorous of diet subjects, it is one of the most important.

While fiber is not the most glamorous of diet subjects, it is one of the most important. Not only does it help regulate weight, it adds bulk during digestion and dilutes the potency of harmful substances by reducing the time they linger in your gut. All of the strategies discussed here will increase the amount of fiber in your diet.

Boost Your Body’s Natural Defenses

Here are nine specific suggestions for cleaning up your diet this year.

1. Add beans to pasta and rice dishes — There is no need to avoid carbs, just better balance them. Chickpeas, white beans, black beans and soybeans are all good ways to add fiber, protein and protective plant compounds to your dinner.

Cruciferous vegetables, like radishes, contain a compound that enhances the activity of your liver in its role in the detoxification process.

2. Include sliced radishes on sandwiches and salads — Their spicy taste means they are a good source of glucosinolates, which may help reduce cancer risk. Look for radishes with fresh, healthy looking greens.

3. Don’t toss those radish tops. Wash the greens well and add them to a salad — They are packed with nutrients and research indicates could even help lower blood pressure.

4. Purée steamed or roasted cauliflower to add as a thickener to cream soup recipes — Whether making your own soup or adding it to canned varieties, you’ll increase your body’s disease-fighting potential.

5. Add a shredded carrot to tuna or chicken salad — It won’t alter the flavor much, but it will increase your carotenoid intake and add an extra two grams of fiber.

6. Sauté some greens — Spinach and kale are both good sources of carotenoids (despite their green color) and a teaspoon of oil is enough fat to enhance your body’s absorption of the compound.

7. Use shredded raw cabbage instead of lettuce on tacos — This cruciferous vegetable has double the fiber content compared to iceberg lettuce.

8. Replace half the cheese in recipes with an equal amount of puréed white beans — Try this with lasagna or mac and cheese. You’ll increase your fiber intake, decrease your ingestion of unhealthy fat, and boost your consumption of legumes, a plant-based protein most Americans don’t get enough of.

9. Swap a bean burger for a hamburger and top with your favorite condiments — Research shows the reduction in red meat helps decrease inflammation in the body. Need a recipe? Look no further.

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.