With the days getting warmer and lighter, some people feel like they need a bit of a lifestyle reset to freshen up for spring. You will see more advertising of short-term diet programmes or detox packages available to help kickstart this.
A detox plan is generally designed to be anywhere from three days to four weeks in duration, will provide minimal calories (the shorter plans generally limit these more), will restrict most or all forms of animal protein and typically be dairy free.
It goes without saying that caffeine and alcohol are to be avoided, and some will incorporate supplements and shakes, with both supplying nutrients or herbs to promote liver health, one of our body’s major detoxification organs. Many are also based around raw food or juices to help provide enzymes required for detoxification.
Regardless of which plan is chosen, most people cycle through feeling terrible to feeling absolutely amazing, with the end result being that you’re at least a kilo lighter and feeling motivated to continue with aspects of the programme that are easy to instigate in everyday life.
However, is the end result of the detox worth the expense of following a programme to begin with? Perhaps not, and focusing on nutrients and lifestyle habits may be enough to put a spring back in your step for the new season.
The premise of a spring detox programme is a good one, as there are many “liver loaders” we consume or are exposed to on an everyday basis (such as alcohol, caffeine, some medications, ultra-processed food) that impact on the ability of the liver to do its job properly.
Focusing on the health of your liver and minimising or avoiding what you can from the above list for a period isn’t a bad idea, and people are generally more motivated as we look forward to the new season.
You may hear people say that we don’t require any fancy supplements or foods to help support the liver, however I tend to disagree. The liver can do its job properly but only when the environment in your body is set up to do so. A system that is inflamed or that has been exposed to “liver loaders” for an extended period would benefit from foods, and potentially supplements, that help the function of our detoxification pathways to run smoothly.
Our bodies have two phases of detoxification. in the first phase, we have enzymes that reside in the liver cells that help oxidation and hydrolyse substances that could be toxic for our body — effectively breaking down substances such as alcohol, caffeine, some medications, pesticides and food additives.
Phase one requires co-factors to help in the detoxification pathway process, such as the B vitamins, vitamins A and C and minerals such as magnesium and iron. Certain phytochemicals from cruciferous vegetables are also necessary.
Once broken down, these metabolites need to be packaged up (conjugated) to become less harmful, with the addition of a cysteine, glycine or a sulphur molecule and allow them to be removed. Foods and nutrients that support the pathways involved in phase two include eggs, cruciferous vegetables, raw onion, garlic and leeks, all of which are good sources of sulphur.
Glycine, an amino acid that forms the basis of our musculoskeletal system, is important for phase two detoxification also, therefore including bone broth in your diet or eating fish with soft bones (such as sardines or anchovies) can also help the liver.
The fatty fish has the added bonus of providing omega 3 fatty acids which are part of an overall anti-inflammatory diet. If you don’t enjoy either of these foods, using collagen peptides as a supplement is becoming a popular way to include glycine in the diet.
Lemon oil helps stimulate one of the main antioxidant enzymes in our liver (glutathione perioxidase) and research shows its usefulness at reducing the build-up of fat in the liver.
Some substances turn from harmless into somethingmore toxic in that first phase, and if phase two (the “removal” phase) isn’t working effectively, they can hang around in your body for longer, creating increased oxidative stress and increasing inflammation. Therefore, both phases of the detoxification pathway need to be functioning properly for our liver to do its job properly.
Genetic variation, the health of the liver, the presence of nutrients in the diet that support these processes and the exposure to many “liver loaders” are all factors that impact on your body’s own ability to detoxify effectively.
In addition, perceived stress and lack of sleep ramp up the production of stress hormones in our body and create more oxidative stress to our cells and organs, increasing inflammation.
I’d go as far as to say that even the best spring detoxification programme will not make up for the impact lifestyle has on the inflammatory pathways in our body and the subsequent effect this has on our liver.
The best approach
I would suggest it is best to focus on crowding out many of the foods that negatively impact on inflammation and our liver health with those that are more helpful.
FOR YOUR DETOX PERIOD
- Consume plenty of fresh vegetables (aim for 7-9 per day of in-season varieties) for vitamins and phytochemicals.
- Include quality fats such as olive oil, olives, avocados, coconut oil, nuts and seeds and slow-cooked animal protein for bioavailable forms of iron and zinc, and antioxidants.
- Twice a week include fatty fish such as salmon or sardines and 50-80g of liver or other organ meats for an additional micronutrient boost, including omega 3 fatty acids.
- Eat plenty of free range eggs.
- Drink fresh or sparkling water as your fluid of choice.
- Start your day with lemon zest or pulpy lemon in water.
CAFFEINE AND ALCOHOL
Reducing caffeine may be important for some people. Aim to have five alcohol-free nights per week and enjoy the health benefits gained from including a moderate amount of red wine as your drink of choice.
Dairy should be minimised for those who notice bloating, skin irritation or increased mucus production when it is consumed, as these are indicators of inflammation (which is what we are trying to avoid).
STRESS AND SLEEP
Finally, setting goals around getting a good night’s sleep and finding ways to reduce your overall stress load (which may include exercise, using a meditation app, attending a yoga class or doing a jigsaw puzzle) will complete your spring detox programme — all of which come at minimal additional cost.