Cleaning up for spring? Don’t forget to give your liver some love.
Much hoopla and whole books are devoted to “cleansing” the body and detox diets. Supporting your body’s detoxification system is critical for good health, and a cleanse — which can range anywhere from 1 day to a full month, depending on personal preference and how limited the diet is — can get your body’s primary detoxification organs running more smoothly.
A detox generally involves eating a simple diet with ample amounts of detox-friendly foods and herbs, along with plenty of water, herbal teas, vegetables, low-sugar fruits, and plant foods in general. Raw, juiced, steamed, soup, and broth forms are preferable. Avoid processed food, sugar, alcohol, caffeine, common food allergens, dairy, and red meat, at least for a limited period of time. Don’t skimp on protein, though — it’s important for adequate liver function. Get it from beans, nuts, seeds, wild-caught salmon/seafood, chicken (preferably free-range or organic), or a high-quality protein powder.
Spring is a great time to detox because we often feel sluggish from the storage (and holiday) foods of winter, and many of our detox-friendly foods and herbs naturally emerge in spring. Bitter greens, bright spring vegetables, earthy roots, and vibrant broths and teas form the backbone of a good spring cleanse.
Although a plant-based diet rich in vegetables and fiber supports healthy detoxification in general, certain foods play detox superstar by encouraging bile production, containing glutathione (which is good for the liver), or acting as diuretics. Aim to eat lots of the following foods during a detox, and extend the benefits by enjoying them regularly in your daily diet.
- Bitter veggies (artichoke, lettuce, escarole, radicchio, arugula, bitter greens, bitter melon)
- Diuretic veggies (dandelion, parsley, burdock, celery)
- Cruciferous veggies (broccoli, kale, watercress, cabbage, bok choy, Brussels sprouts)
- Sour citrus
- Garlic and onions
- Mushrooms (cooked or in broth)
- Green tea
- Flax and chia seeds
- Culinary herbs and spices, especially turmeric
You can also bolster your detox efforts with herbs that support liver and whole body detoxification. Alteratives, or “blood purifiers,” are herbs that “clean” the blood via the liver and lymphatic system, improving overall body function and vitality.
Alterative herbs that support detoxification via the liver and lymph include:
- Dandelion root and leaf
- Burdock root
- Chicory root
- Citrus peels or fresh wedges with the rind
- Schizandra berries
- Turmeric root
- Artichoke leaf
- Red clover blossoms
- Calendula blossoms
- Violet leaves and blossoms
While you certainly aren’t expected to consume all of the herbs listed here, you may want to integrate some of them into your meals and tea blends. For example, you might make a coffee-like tea by simmering dandelion, burdock, and roasted chicory roots. Or steep nettle, red clover, violet, calendula flowers, and some mint for a tasty nutritive and detoxifying tea. You can make pesto with a base of dandelion leaves, lemon, and garlic (perhaps also chickweed and violet greens if available), and toss parsley, violet, and chickweed into your green juice. Knowing which herbs do what also helps you sleuth out good detox teas and blends in the supplement aisle at the natural food store — there are many good (and bad) products out there!
Of course, eating a clean diet, reducing toxin exposure, and having regular bowel movements are all important element of a good detox. You’re likely to feel terrible for the first few days of a cleanse as you adjust to caffeine withdrawal, sugar withdrawal, less food, and the release of toxins from storage — but after that, you should feel fabulous!
It’s worth noting that detoxification is generally not appropriate if you’re pregnant or nursing, and you should seek a practitioner’s guidance before cleansing, especially if you have diabetes, heart disease, kidney or liver disease, or you take pharmaceutical medications. Acute liver and kidney issues require medical attention, not a cleanse.