Eating Smart

Written by Jenni Hepburn for Agricultural Connections

Fresh Food for a New You: Foods for a Healthy Detox

Your average detox diet typically involves a week or more eating very little and feeling terrible, but does it have to be that way? Really, there’s no reason why a supposedly healthy detox should involve starving yourself; instead, load your plate with fabulous fresh produce, and make it an enjoyable experience instead of a miserable one.

The Problem with Detox Diets

The word “detox” used to be linked mostly with alcohol or drug withdrawal, and while that definition of the word is still in use, many people also associate the word with restrictive diets that supposedly rid the body of harmful toxins. However, there’s no scientific evidence that the body benefits from detox diets, and in reality, many of the popular detox menus are unhealthy, and some are downright dangerous. For example, the “Master Cleanse” involves ingesting nothing but a drink made from lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper—for ten days. Many people who try cleanses like this one experience nausea, dizziness, fatigue, headaches, muscle aches, and vomiting, because cleanse menus tend to be dangerously low in calories, essential vitamins and minerals, and fat and protein. There’s nothing healthy at all about restrictive cleanses like these; they’re really just crash diets in disguise.

The Healthy Way to Detox

So, is there any benefit to a detox? Sure—as long as you approach it in the right frame of mind. A detox shouldn’t be about getting rid of toxins; in fact, your liver, kidneys, and immune system do the job of eliminating waste and toxins just fine. A restrictive cleanse might result in weight loss, but at best it’s only water weight, and at worst, may be lost muscle mass due to protein restriction.

Instead, think of detox as a way to make a significant and long-lasting change in the way you eat, by eliminating processed and nutrient-poor foods from your diet. A healthy detox diet should include plenty of fresh, unprocessed food, rich in nutrients, with protein and fat along with complex carbohydrates, and lots of water. Many cleanse menus eliminate things like dairy and wheat products, and this can actually be beneficial, since many of these foods are processed, and add extra fat and sugar to the diet. In short, consider a detox diet as a way to remove unhealthy processed foods from your diet for good, and make a permanent transition into clean and healthy eating.

Try a berrylicious smoothie at breakfast: Add a banana and some almond milk, and load up your blender with a variety of different berries to pack vitamins, minerals, and fiber into a smoothie. It makes a delicious and nutritious start to the day, with added chia, flax, or hemp seeds for healthy fat and protein.

Enjoy a green lunch: Leafy greens of all kinds are the ideal detox staple, with high levels of essential vitamins and minerals like potassium and calcium, and vitamins A, C, and K, along with fiber and a little protein. The perfect detox salad should include plenty of greens, along with a serving of garbanzo or other beans for protein. Choose an oil-based dressing, like a simple lemon juice or balsamic vinaigrette—many vitamins can only be absorbed in the presence of dietary fat.

Have an evening fish feast: Many cleanse and detox diets reduce protein intake to dangerous levels, which can lead to loss of muscle mass. Buck this unhealthy trend by including lots of fresh fish in your detox menu, especially wild-caught salmon, which is high in omega-3 fats and low in mercury. Other good options include fresh tilapia, trout, and black sea bass.

Helpful herbs: Herbs like basil, chervil, chives, and cilantro are great way to add fresh flavor to salad greens, and dill, ginger, and fennel are perfect for infusing steamed fish. Try lining a steamer with leaves of kale or spinach, top with fresh dill and lemon zest, then rest fresh salmon filets on top. Turn the fish once during the cooking time, and the herbs will impart some amazing flavor to the fish. Many herbs, with their pungent aromas and strong flavors, are high in phytochemicals, the plant compounds that give vegetables and fruits their vibrant colors, and are believed to help protect against cancer development.



American Cancer Society. “Phytochemicals.” Accessed June 3, 2014. Description and overview of phytochemicals.

CBS News. “Do Detox Diets Work? Are they Safe?” Accessed June 3, 2014. How to detox safely.

Detox. “Guide to Medically-Assisted Detox.” Accessed June 3, 2014. How long does the process take?

Gourmet Sleuth. “Salad Herbs.” Accessed June 3, 2014. Fresh herbs for salads.

The Herb Information Site. “Herbs with Seafood Dishes.” Accessed June 3, 2014. Matching herbs and fish.

The Master Cleanse. “The Lemonade Diet.” Accessed June 3, 2014. About The Master Cleanse.

Washington State Department of Health. “Healthy Fish Guide.” Accessed June 3, 2014. A guide to the healthiest fish.