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Touring Through the Detox Food Plan

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The Detox Food Plan is an advanced dietary application of specific foods used to improve detoxification function, provided in a list divided into several categories representing macronutrient levels (protein, fats, and carbohydrates) and smaller categories to guide you toward balanced diversity. The Detox Food Plan lists preferred foods to incorporate within a balanced daily diet to improve detox function. Certain foods are highlighted because they are considered to be Therapeutic Foods (explained below). The healthcare provider may give alternate suggestions that are personalized to specific medical needs and may include a calorie target or guidance on the specific amount of food to consume.

Food Knolling

 The Detox Food Plan lists preferred foods to incorporate within a balanced daily diet to improve detox function.

Protein

A Protein is an essential nutritional cornerstone of detoxification. One cannot effectively detoxify without having the amino acids (building blocks of protein) to bind the transformed toxins in the liver so they can be carried out of the body. Additionally, regular protein helps stabilize blood sugar, which in turn minimizes hunger and cravings. When possible, it is ideal to include some protein in every meal for ongoing support of liver detox. There are different sources of animal and vegetable protein to choose from on this food plan. Vegetarians can choose miso, natto, tofu, tempeh, rice/hemp/pea protein powders, and plant-based burger alternatives, while omnivores may add animal proteins such as eggs, fish, meat, poultry, and a vast array of protein powders. Shellfish are omitted from the Detox Food Plan as they are often contaminated with high levels of toxic metals like mercury.

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Salmon Cuts

Fish eaters should select from sources with the lowest amounts of mercury according to the National Research Defense Council: anchovies, butterfish, catfish, croaker (Atlantic), flounder, haddock (Atlantic), hake, herring, mackerel (North Atlantic, chub), mullet, perch (ocean), pollock, salmon (fresh, wild), sardines, sole (Pacific), squid, tilapia, trout (freshwater), whitefish, and whiting. Fish associated with the highest mercury content include bluefish, grouper, mackerel (Spanish, Gulf, King), marlin, orange roughy, sea bass (Chilean), shark, swordfish, tilefish, and tuna (canned albacore, yellowfin, bigeye, ahi).

As with the other food categories, quality is of utmost importance. High-quality proteins of any kind are the best choice, including lean, grass-fed, organic, non-GMO sources. Remember to choose wild-caught fish, as farmed varieties may contain hormones and toxic chemicals called polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). All proteins are essential for detoxification; however some contain specific compounds that play an important role in the detoxification process.

Therapeutic foods: Fish and soy

Soy foods:
  • High methionine-containing food, making it important for methylation

  • Isoflavones from soy influence phase I and phase II liver detoxification

  • Isoflavones help to modify estrogen metabolites toward the more protective estrogen metabolites (2-hydroxyestrogens) and away from the reactive, carcinogenic forms of estrogen (16-alpha-hydroxyestrogens)

  • Choose non-GMO, organically-grown varieties of soy food products to prevent intake of contaminants

Legumes

Legumes are a perfect way to get quality dietary protein and fiber, both of which help with detox in the liver and elimination from the body through the gut. Eat at least one serving of legumes every day in the form of soup, cooked beans, dips, or hummus. Legumes make a wonderful complement to brown rice or quinoa, or to a non-starchy vegetable. Try black (soy) beans in soup, add garbanzo beans (also called chickpeas) or kidney beans to a salad, or make a salad of 2–3 different beans with chopped onion and pepper. While high-protein foods are especially therapeutic for detoxification, black soybeans and edamame are highlighted in this category for their protein, fiber, and isoflavone content.

Therapeutic foods: Black soybeans and edamame

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Dairy Alternatives

Dairy is not listed on this plan, because most commercially available dairy foods contain toxins and hormones. Additionally, dairy is a food trigger for many and a culprit in gastrointestinal symptoms related to leaky gut. There are several dairy alternatives on this food plan, mostly in the form of nut and grain milks. When buying dairy substitutes like coconut, almond, hemp, oat, or rice milk, read the label carefully to ensure they contain no added sweeteners. Note that coconut milk listed here refers to the boxed variety rather than to its canned form because of the bisphenol A (toxic) lining that is found in most cans. For soy, it is essential to select only organic soymilks to minimize toxin intake and avoid GMOs.

Soy products are highlighted as therapeutic foods for their high methionine and isoflavone content, as described above.

Therapeutic foods: Organic soy milk, soy yogurt, and soy kefir

Nuts & Seeds

The nuts and seeds category provides a variety of options for snack choices throughout the day. Nuts and seeds may also be sprinkled on top of salads, cereals, or vegetables. Compelling data support eating a handful of nuts each day to reduce chronic disease risk. While not required, it is recommended that at least 1 to 2 servings of nuts be eaten daily. Aim for a mixed blend of raw unsalted nuts (not peanuts) that aren’t heavily roasted in oil. Try adding hemp seeds or ground flaxseed meal to a salad or a smoothie, and don’t forget about the ease of using nut butters like tahini (sesame seed butter) drizzled over vegetables, almond butter on an apple slice, or cashew nut butter on a sliver of pear.

All nuts, seeds, and their respective butters or pastes are considered to be therapeutic foods for detoxification as they provide anti-inflammatory oils, quality protein, and phytonutrient compounds like lignans, which support ongoing detoxification. Lignans in flaxseeds and sesame seeds are especially important in hormone metabolism.

Therapeutic foods: All of the nuts and seeds and their respective butters or pastes, especially sesame seeds and flaxseeds

Nuts in Mason Jars
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Image by Natalia Fogarty
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Fats & Oils

A vast selection of fats and liquid oils can be used for salad dressings (cold preparation) and cooking. Preferred choices are minimally refined, cold-pressed, organic, non-GMO fats and liquid oils whenever possible, as these are of the best quality and least toxic. Fats and liquid oils break down in heat, light, and oxygen, so the quality of these oils is important to consider. Rancid oils are toxic and may generate oxidative stress when ingested. Keep oils in dark glass (not plastic) containers and throw them out if they smell rancid. Use a variety of oils in order to benefit from the individual phytonutrients in each. There are no specific recommended servings of these oils during a detoxification plan. A recommended amount may be set by the Functional Medicine practitioner. The important thing is to get consistent, good quality fats on a daily basis to help keep inflammatory processes in balance.

Fats and oils from avocados, coconut, flaxseed, olives, rice bran, and sesame seeds are therapeutic for detoxification for different reasons. Avocados are full of healthy dietary fiber, monounsaturated fat, and phytosterols that help with healthy function of the intestines and immune system. Additionally, an avocado has more potassium than a banana! Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides that can provide energy sources to the gut and liver, particularly when undergoing a metabolic detoxification. Rice bran and sesame oils are particularly medicinal for liver function as they assist in the healthy processing of fats and reduce inflammation.

Therapeutic Foods: Avocado (fruit and oil), clarified butter (ghee), coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, flaxseed oil, hempseed oil, pumpkin seed oil, rice bran oil, and sesame oil

Non-Starchy Vegetables

The greatest variety of foods for detoxification is found in the non-starchy vegetables category. Vegetables are an important complement to protein as they provide necessary phytonutrients for detoxification. The goal is to consume at least 8 to 10 servings every day to aid in liver detoxification and the elimination of toxins from the gut. To optimize dietary fiber intake, 10 or more servings per day would be best.

 

The non-starchy vegetables are divided into five categories on the Detox Food Plan: Brassicales (the cruciferous vegetables), Detoxifying Leafy Greens, Thiols, Liver & Kidney Support, and Other Non-Starchy Vegetables. Of the five categories, the first four are essential. These four categories are composed of therapeutic foods. It is advised to eat foods from each of these categories daily to get as much variety as possible.

 

Brassicales (commonly known as cruciferous vegetables) provide healthy compounds to metabolize hormones in a balanced way. Detoxifying Leafy Greens include a number of anti-inflammatory, bitter, therapeutic greens that can be used in stir-fries, salads, or smoothies. Thiols are vegetables in the Allium family that provide nutrients like sulfur that help the liver detoxify better. The Liver & Kidney Support category includes vegetables that help the liver make healthy bile and the kidneys excrete toxins more efficiently through the urine. Finally, Other Non-Starchy Vegetables provide fiber and foundational nutrition, but are not necessarily therapeutic for detoxification.

 

In addition to the vegetables that aid detoxification, eating more phytonutrientdense and diverse food aids the detoxification process. The bottom line is that while green non-starchy vegetables are essential for detoxification, it is important to eat a rainbow of colors every day. In addition to healthy greens, red beets, peppers, and radishes; orange carrots, yams, sweet potatoes, peppers and winter squash; yellow summer squash and peppers; and white onions and garlic should be consumed regularly The best way to eat lots of vegetables daily is to include them every meal. For example, have some leftover broccoli or stir-fried vegetables with a morning meal, then a hearty vegetable soup or a salad for lunch that contains several servings of both raw and cooked vegetables. Include fruit and be sure to add olive oil, avocado, or nuts to salads. Routinely integrating a small dinner salad plus including more cooked vegetables with dinner can help you include enough servings each day. Choose seasonal ingredients. For example, try a cabbage salad in the winter, when highly nutritious cabbage is abundant. Those who prefer to make a juice from these vegetables should use a blender or extractor that keeps the fiber and particulates in rather than just squeezing out the sugary juice. Ensure that store-bought tomato juice doesn’t contain added sugar and is low-sodium by reading the ingredient label. Do not store fresh juices too long as they will oxidize and turn color, a sign that their nutrient levels are less than when originally extracted. Canned vegetables are not advised on a Detox Food Plan; however, both fresh and frozen vegetables are recommended.

 

All non-starchy vegetables in the Brassicales, Detoxifying Leafy Greens, Thiols, and Liver & Kidney Support categories are important additions to an ongoing metabolic detoxification program because they fortify the function of the gut (through dietary fiber and bitter properties), liver (by supplying important compounds that favorably direct metabolism), and kidneys (through enhanced urine flow and alkalinization).

Therapeutic foods: Most non-starchy vegetables in the Brassicales, Detoxifying Leafy Greens, Thiols, and Liver & Kidney Support categories

Starchy Vegetables

Starchy vegetables are also included on the Detox Food Plan. It is best to eat these vegetables with a protein- and/or fat-containing meal to prevent blood sugar spikes that can occur from eating a starchy vegetable alone. While starchy vegetables are a valuable source of phytonutrients, none are highlighted as therapeutic foods for detoxification.

 

Fruits

Phytonutrient-dense fruits can be helpful for detoxification because of the antioxidant protection they offer. Some specific fruits provide targeted nutrients for liver detoxification. In general, fruits can be helpful when the need for something sweet arises. It’s typically better to eat fruit with a little bit of protein to offset any potential blood sugar spikes.

 

Apple, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, grapes (purple), grapefruit, mandarins, oranges, pineapple, pomegranate seeds, raspberries, rhubarb, strawberries, and tangerines are highlighted as therapeutic foods due to their role in supporting the enzymatic detoxification process. Mandarins, oranges, and pomegranate seeds are specially recommended because of their well-known roles in detoxification. Some fruits, like grapefruit, may be contraindicated while taking certain drugs as they contain compounds that may either inhibit or accelerate enzymes that metabolize these drugs.

Therapeutic foods: Apples, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, grapes (purple), grapefruit, mandarins, oranges, pineapple, pomegranate seeds, raspberries, rhubarb, strawberries, and tangerines

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Grains

As with dairy, gluten is not included on this food plan. Certified gluten-free (GF) whole grains, or those with an intact bran outer coat, provide an excellent source of dietary fiber to assist with detoxification. When purchasing oats, look for “certified gluten-free.” Buckwheat, millet, certified gluten-free oats, and quinoa are highlighted as foods that add dietary fiber (and in the case of quinoa, a bit of extra protein) for enhanced gut elimination and detoxification. Gluten-containing grains should be avoided unless the healthcare provider determines that a person is able to include gluten in the diet.

Therapeutic foods: Buckwheat, millet, certified gluten-free oats, and quinoa

Beverages

Hydration helps rid the body of toxins, builds resilience to stress, enhances metabolism, and promotes satiety. It is important to drink plenty of clean, filtered water throughout the day. Individual recommendations for fluid intake will depend upon a number of factors, including body weight.

 

To determine an individual’s hydration needs, measure body weight in pounds and divide in half. The resulting figure is the number of ounces of water to consume each day. For example, an individual who weighs 128 pounds should consume at least 64 ounces (or eight 8-ounce cups) of water each day (128 ÷ 2 = 64).

 

In addition to filtered water, broths (bone, vegetable), meat stocks, and other decaffeinated beverages like fresh, raw, cold-pressed vegetable juices are also good choices. Teas (Black, green, herbal, etc.) are also recommended on the Detox Food Plan. The nutrients present in dandelion tea, in particular, have been shown to aid in the detoxification process. Kombucha, a fermented tea, offers a variety of health benefits and can be made at home. However, if purchasing store-bought brands, take care to read labels, as some brands contain added sweeteners and artificial flavors.

Therapeutic foods: Dandelion tea

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Condiments

Most condiments available on store shelves are not permitted on the Detox Food Plan, as they contain added sweeteners and preservatives. However, homemade versions of many condiments—including mayonnaise, ketchup, and barbeque sauce—can be easily made with only a few approved ingredients.

Store-bought mustards (Dijon, stone-ground, etc.) made without added sugars are permitted, as are vinegars (raw apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, white, etc.). Also permitted are coconut aminos, fresh lemon and lime juice, miso, and tamari.

Herbs and Spices

All herbs and spices are included in the Detox Food Plan, but some offer targeted health benefits related to detoxification. The compounds found in curry leaves are powerful antioxidants shown to reduce the toxicity of known carcinogens. The active components of dill promote drug detoxification and increase detoxification enzyme activity in the liver, stomach, and intestinal mucosa. Ginger stimulates digestion, circulation, and sweating— processes that help cleanse the colon, liver, and other organs. Rosemary enhances bile flow, which helps with fat metabolism and detoxification, and promotes proper peristaltic activity. This increases nutrient absorption and helps reduce the body’s toxic load. Rosemary also contains carnosol, an antioxidant with anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric is known for its liver-detoxifying properties, as well as its anti-inflammatory and cancer-fighting characteristics. Absorption of curcumin (the powerful phytonutrient that gives turmeric its bright yellow color) is increased by piperine, the active compound in black pepper, so turmeric and black pepper should be consumed together.

Therapeutic foods: Curry leaves, dill, ginger, rosemary, and turmeric

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