From celebrity ambassadors to magazine diet plans, it's hard to avoid the 'd' word. So what exactly is a detox and who can benefit from doing one?
What is a detox?
Our bodies have a natural in-built detox system (made up of the digestive tract, the urinary system and the liver) that helps to process all the chemicals modern life throws at it. These chemicals are called 'toxins' - they are basically poisons that have harmful effects on your body. It's not just alcohol and tobacco that are loaded with toxins; pesticides and food additives, caffeine and pollution all play their part, too. Think about all the toxins we are constantly pumping into our bodies and it's pretty obvious that the detox system could do with a helping hand. Symptoms that it is functioning badly include: tiredness, dark circles under the eyes, dull skin and bad digestion.
There's no golden rule about what diet to follow or for how long, but the general theory is to temporarily (no more than one month) alter your diet in order to strengthen the organs and release stored toxins. This will involve cutting out alcohol and caffeine, two of the biggest culprits, as well as preparing your meals from natural foods free of additives, preservatives, saturated fats and sugar. If you can't go without meat, at least avoid red meat, and consider steering clear of dairy and wheat for maximum benefits.
Detoxification or deprivation?
Eliminating lots of different foods all at once is a pretty drastic change, so it has to be done carefully in order to be safe. Your body still needs food groups such as protein, fat and calcium to function properly, so snack on lots of nuts and seeds, and include protein-rich foods like tofu, lentils and pulses and calcium-rich foods like green leafy vegetables in your daily meals.
There are endless detox plans you can follow, so chose carefully. Some will advocate complete fasting or juice-only days, but beware of the health implications and never start such an extreme plan without consulting your doctor or a qualified nutritionist. Remember that your organs will benefit from any kind of rest, so you can always go for an in-between option where you replace your biggest vices with healthier alternatives.
- Reduce caffeine and alcohol intake a few days before you start;
- Buy a detox book or pick out some tasty recipes to cook so you don't get stuck for ideas;
- Go shopping in advance - with the right foods at hand you shouldn't go hungry;
- Tell all your friends and family what you are doing in advance. If they know how serious you are they are less likely to try and force feed you a pint/bar of chocolate/Sunday roast when you next see them;
- Clear the detox period in your diary of any pubs, clubs, restaurants and parties. See it as an opportunity to do all those things you never get round to, such as visiting museums and galleries - then you can feel doubly smug at the end when you're not only healthier, but more cultured, too;
- Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration;
- Take milk thistle to optimise these benefits; it contains silymarin, which protects the liver from damage;
- If you are a heavy smoker or take drugs regularly, it will be a huge shock to the system to give up at the same time as detoxing. Take one step at a time - giving up your particular vice will be a detox in itself.
- Boosts energy levels and reduces cravings by cutting out the foods that are hard to digest and metabolise and normally cause your blood sugar levels to rise and fall dramatically, resulting in hunger pangs and tiredness;
- Healthier skin;
- Improves symptoms of heartburn, constipation and gas and treats digestive disorders;
- Boosts the immune system.
- Many people experience headaches at the beginning of a detox as their body is coming to terms with the dramatic reduction of its daily poisons. That is why it's worth cutting down your main vices slowly before you start;
- Your energy may dip before it rises, so it's worth starting the programme on a weekend to let your body adjust.
Who shouldn't detox?
If you have any history of cancer, kidney, liver, heart disease or any other disease, are pregnant or under 16, do not contemplate detoxing without talking to your doctor.
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