By Ayah Murad, Clinical Dietician

It seems everyone is talking about “detox” and considering a “cleanse”. Detox diets are often misunderstood, especially since your body already comes equipped with a detoxification system.

We are exposed daily to toxins, whether they are molecules made by the body, or those that come from outside the body and are introduced to our system.

Toxins are potentially dangerous to our health and put our liver and kidneys under a lot of pressure. This is where cleansing comes in to transform and flush toxins from the body through urine, faeces, respiration and even sweat. Some people require more detoxification support than others depending on the frequency of exposure to these toxins, genetic factors and lifestyle choices.

Our body gets rid of unhealthy elements, but if you keep your exposure higher than your body’s ability to detoxify then your body will store these toxins in your organs, negatively affecting your overall health. Your body usually alerts you to signs of toxin overload, such as bloating, pain or discomfort over the liver or under your rib cage, excessive abdominal fat in comparison to other body parts, trouble in digesting fatty food; some people suffer from heartburn and skin hyperpigmentation or acne along with unexpected weight gain and the inability to lose weight even when following a diet.

Because detoxification can vary widely and may be risky to some, especially for lactating or pregnant women, or even those who suffer from multiple illnesses and take multiple medications, it is important to understand your own health status and goals and follow a detoxification protocol with an expert who can evaluate for safety and the effectiveness of the detox diet.

Supporting your body’s natural detoxifying systems

Drinking water

  • Water is key for the detoxification of your body, especially your liver, mainly because water keeps our body organs moist and functioning well by:
  • Carrying nutrients to our cells
  • Aiding digestion by forming stomach secretions
  • Regulating our body temperature
  • Flushing out our body waste

If you don’t drink enough water, your kidney will not have enough fluid to function properly. Instead of flushing metabolic waste out through the bladder, your body holds on to toxins, accumulates them and retains water in the cells. The best way to get rid of water retention is by drinking enough water. The body retains water as a response to not getting enough water in the first place. In this case, cells start to retain water, causing swelling in your hands, feet and legs. When you drink enough water, your cells can relax and do their job without holding on to water and waste.

How much water is enough?

There is no clear answer as we vary in our needs based on our gender, size and health. But people who are overweight or obese in general need more water than those who are slim because a large person has a large metabolic load and to support this, more water is needed. The body of dieters generates toxins so consuming more water helps eliminate waste more efficiently. Therefore, I recommend eight to 10 cups a day for most of us.

What kind of water should we be drinking? 

Regular water is good enough to do the job if it is not hard water (consuming hard water exposes you to high levels of calcium and magnesium and can cause health problems, such as heart disease and high blood pressure).

To transform your hard water all you have to do is to infuse it with any combination of fruits, vegetables or herbs. Doing so will reduce the chlorine and calcium levels and enhance the absorption of water. The added flavour also encourages you to drink more water!

Some mixes I recommend:

  • Lemon zest and mint leaves as a cleanser. Lemon contains ascorbic acid, assisting in the cleansing process
  • Mixing fruit slice and cinnamon sticks controls blood sugar level and enhances fat burning
  • Ginger slices with lemon zest help in digestion and enhance gastric motility
  • Turmeric in water helps reduce water retention and increases urination

Tips for supporting your body

  • Maintain adequate hydration with water mixed with fruit
  • Eat five to nine servings of fruit and vegetables per day
  • Consume enough fibre each day from vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains
  • Eat cruciferous vegetables, berries, artichokes, garlic, onion, leak, turmeric and milk-thistle as a supplement, and drink tea no matter if it’s red, white or green. These foods and drinks support detoxification pathways
  • Consume adequate protein, and vary its sources (mix different types of legumes or even add some lentils, seeds or legumes to your daily salad). Protein is critical to maintaining optimum levels of glutathione, the body’s master detoxification enzyme
  • Consider annual laboratory check-ups before taking a multivitamin. If you are deficient, consider supplementing with a healthy diet since certain vitamins and minerals enable the body’s detoxification processes to function
  • Eat naturally fermented foods, such as plain near-expiry yoghurt or take a high-quality probiotic to help the body manage toxins from microbes that live in the gut
  • Eat leafy vegetables like lettuce to avoid constipation. Your bowel movements offer important clues to your health