Friday, March 11, 2011

Basic Cleanse Program

We’re entering springtime, which for a lot of people means time for a cleanse. What follows is partially a cleanse, and partially a prescription for healthy living that reduces toxic load over the long-term. This program is appropriate for practically everyone, as opposed to some of the more intense programs, which are appropriate only for certain people, under the observation of a trained professional. I generally take a middle-of-the-road course, recommending a whole foods diet and mild herbs as the core of the program. You won’t see strange drinks, algae or powders here, but you may see some unfamiliar veggies. Try to find recipes that appeal to you – you may find some new favorites!

Foods to emphasize while cleansing and why:
Cruciferous vegetables – This category includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, kale, collard greens, bok choi, and broccoli rabe. These vegetables are the core of a good cleanse, as they supply fiber that helps in eliminating toxins, and contain compounds that promote healthy liver function.
Beets – Much like the crucifers, beets provide fiber and compounds that promote healthy liver function.
Leafy vegetables – This list includes arugula, spinach, chard, frisee, lettuce, raddichio, etc. Try to focus on bitter-tasting greens, as they encourage your liver to secrete bile, which improves digestion and rids your body of waste.
Fruits – While fruits contain sugar, they also contains a lot of fiber, so consume moderate amounts of fruit while cleansing to help with clearing out toxins.
Nuts and seeds – Included in this category are almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds and others. These are important to eat throughout the day, but especially in the morning, when they will be most helpful in keeping your blood sugar steady. Additionally, these also provide your body with all-important fiber.
Beans and legumes - Beans and other legumes (such as lentils) provide more of the fiber that is so crucial during a cleanse, do so in a form that is tasty, and bring a lot of protein along to help maintain a steady blood sugar throughout the day. 
Whole grains – This list includes brown rice, whole wheat, quinoa, oats, and corn. Higher in fiber than their processed counterparts, these grains can help to round out meals while cleansing.
Water – Boring old water is crucial for a cleanse. What your body doesn’t eliminate in the stool, it eliminates in the urine. To help that along, try to get about 2-3 liters of water per day.
Green or white tea – Tea is a healthy drink whether you are cleansing or not. It provides antioxidants that are crucial to daily functioning and toxin metabolism, and contrary to popular opinion, tea can aid hydration when consumed in moderation.

As with any cleanse, there are going to be a few restrictions. The basic rule for food avoidance during a cleanse is not to be counterproductive – avoid foods that tax the liver.

Foods and substances to avoid and why:
Coffee – Coffee stresses your adrenal glands, throws off your blood sugar, and disrupts healthy elimination patterns. Coffee causes your body extra work when you want it to be busy detoxing.
Alcohol – Alcohol taxes the liver and disrupts healthy elimination patterns. Count this one out while cleansing.
Refined sugar – While there are sugars in nearly all foods, refined white sugar should be avoided while cleansing as it stresses your body without offering protective compounds.
Tobacco – A massive source of metabolic stress, tobacco generates toxic compounds in the body and interferes with the body’s ability to rid itself of them.
Dairy – While most of us consume dairy regularly, try to moderate dairy while cleansing. It’s hard to digest and forces the liver to contend with saturated fats.
Fried foods – Again, your liver does the bulk of the work when processing fats, and these are no exception. Pair that with a low nutrient value and it’s on the avoidance list.
Recreational drugs – No judgment here, just a recommendation for healthy living. Like coffee, alcohol, sugar, etc., recreational drugs increase your body’s burden when you are trying to detox, so avoid them as you would avoid everything else on this list.

Note that there are a number of commonly consumed foods that are not on either list, such as potatoes, tomatoes, yams or other vegetables. Enjoy these moderately, for though they are not detrimental to a cleanse, they don’t particularly augment a cleanse either.

What about meat, you ask? Many cleanses restrict meat if not forbid it entirely. I don’t forbid it, but encourage moderate consumption and smart choices. Meats provide protein, iron and vitamin B12, among other vital nutrients, but do not provide fiber or nutrients that promote optimal liver function. Likewise, look for lean cuts of meat that provide nutrients without as much saturated fat. Consider eating organic if possible, as conventionally-raised meats are often high in compounds that require a lot of work to eliminate. During a cleanse, take time to think about why you are eating meat; think about the nutrition and benefit you hope to gain from eating meat, and let that be a part of your decision-making process.

Herbs for cleansing:
Milk Thistle – Milk thistle is a well-studied, well-known liver-protective herb. While you are cleansing, Milk Thistle can protect your liver from all the baddies your body is clearing out.
Turmeric – Turmeric is becoming well-known for everything from cancer to joint pain. One of its main actions in the liver is as an antioxidant, where it too protects the liver from toxic substances.
Burdock – Burdock is traditionally used to clean the blood and to enhance liver function. It’s known in herbal medicine as an ‘alterative’ which means that it has a broad cleansing action in the body.
Yellow dock – Yellow dock is used for the same reasons as Burdock, but has the additional benefit of stronger action on the liver.
Flax seeds – If you do want to supplement with fiber while cleansing, my recommendation is to use flax seed meal, as it is milder than psyllium and supplies some nutrients as well.

The importance of exercise can't be over overstated. No matter if you're cleansing or not, exercise should be part of your routine. From it's benefits in cardiovascular disease, to weight loss, to stress and anxiety, and on down to cleansing, exercise is vital to a healthy lifestyle.
When cleansing, many people are too tired or too weak to exercise, but this is an unfortunate effect of low-calorie cleanses such as juice fasting or "The Master Cleanse". Sweat is an underutilized route of elimination, and one that will rid your body of toxins just as well as others. It's important, therefore, to make sure you are eating healthily and making smart food choices during cleanses.
During a cleanse, I recommend exercising to the point of sweating for 30 minutes at least once a day. Sweat can help carry out a variety of compounds, including heavy metals, so get that sweat flowing! Make sure that you're staying properly hydrated before, during, and after exercise; remember that water is a primary component of a cleanse, so don't fall behind in water intake.

While cleansing is important, it’s equally important to maintain healthy habits after a cleanse to continue to support your body’s natural detoxification mechanisms. Make note of recipes you liked while doing your cleanse and try to add them to your life. Likewise, observe moderation in consuming foods you avoided during the cleanse. You don’t have to get rid of them entirely, but keep them to a minimum. Think of it this way: A spring clean will clean out your house, but takes a lot of time and work. Regular sweeping keeps it clean, and makes your spring cleaning easier.