Learn to love bitter greens
"Certain times of the year are more suitable for cleansing, specifically to support your liver," says Josh Axe, DNM, CNS, DC, founder of Ancient Nutrition and DrAxe.com. "Early spring is the best time, in March and April, when in traditional Chinese medicine, the liver is considered its strongest." To properly help cleanse the liver, says Axe, you should look for a balance of flavors in your diet—salty, sweet, sour, and bitter. "Most people get enough sweet and salt in their diets but not near enough bitter and sour," says Axe. Sharper tasting bitter greens like arugula, kale, watercress, mustard, and dandelion greens, are bitter leafy greens that pack a nutritional bang along with their detoxifying effects. Check out this tasty sauté of bitter greens in extra virgin olive oil with chopped garlic and lemon. Here are some things you should know about using dandelion root for detox.
Drink your lemons
Start your day by filling a pitcher with a few squeezed lemons, ice, and water—just like at the spa! Drinking lemon water gives you extra vitamin C—plus potassium, magnesium, and copper—and helps you absorb more nutrients like iron and calcium from the other foods you eat. According to Dr. Axe, better nutrient absorption often means less bloating. Lemon water stimulates the liver and the flushing out of toxins because it acts as a mild diuretic, which can also help you shed excess water weight. Don't miss these detox foods that nutritionists recommend.
There are herbs and supplements that help detox the liver, such as milk thistle, the ancient herb bupleurum (a revered natural remedy in Chinese medicine), and dandelion root. Says Dr. Axe: "Bupleurum has been shown to improve general liver function and detoxification, as well as prevent certain cancers in women, and treat depression related to PMS and menopause." Make a tea with the herbs, adding a slice of sour lemon and fresh lemon balm or mint for a balance of flavors extra feel-good phytochemicals.
Bone broth redux
Our grandmothers and great-grandmothers knew the wisdom of using up chicken and meat bones to make a strong broth for occasional ills and as a basis for hearty soups. Bone broths are good for your immune system and your soul, says Dr. Axe. It's his first line of treatment for leaky gut syndrome, improving joint health, and boosting the immune system. "It's one of my favorites when I'm doing a detox because it's really high in amino acids like glycine, which actually supports liver detox," he says. "I add lots of vegetables and even green apples." Find out more about the only cleanse diet that nutritionists approve.
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Fun ways to drink more water
Lemon water is fine, but if you're serious about spring cleaning from the inside-out you'll need more water of any and every type. How much should you drink? Dr. Axe advises his clients divide their body weight by half and drink that much in ounces. So, if you weigh 130 pounds your water intake should be 65 ounces a day. If that seems overwhelming, make your water more interesting with flavorful additions like berries and crushed mint, cubed melon, and sliced jalapeno, or cooling slices of cucumber with lemongrass.
Among its many benefits, matcha green tea is known as a powerful anti-carcinogen and it also helps you lose fat. Epigallocatechin (EGCG) is a component found in the leaves used to make matcha that can transform fat into fuel in the bloodstream through a process called thermogenesis. The process helps you shed pounds—especially when you add the caffeine in matcha—it has three times more than regular green tea. High-quality matcha—it's worth spending a bit more—is a brilliant green color with a slightly grassy, mildly bitter aftertaste. It makes a refreshing iced tea as well as a hot tea. Dr. Axe points out that matcha's detox ability is due to its naturally high amount of chlorophyll, which helps cleanse your body and remove toxins from the liver.
Known as a blood cleanser, beets produce nitric acid, which helps increase blood flow throughout your body. According to Dr. Axe, eating beets or drinking the juice provides a boost of vitamin E, carotenes, phenolic acids, and betalains, a type of antioxidant that helps repair and regenerate cells in the liver. Make a cleansing beet, grapefruit, baby greens, and feta salad or combine beets, apples, celery, lemon juice, and a few sprigs of cilantro for a power refresher. Try these cleansing juices to power through your day.
Crazy big salads
A really big salad with the freshest power greens (think baby kale, spinach, watercress, beet greens, and arugula) is an unbeatable spring tonic for your body. Top it with spring radishes, shaved fennel, and crunchy hemp and chia seeds. Instead of goopy bottled dressing, keep things clean by gently tossing the salad with a tablespoon or two of extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice. "I think from salad standpoint, keeping things really fresh with lots of greens, combined with nuts and seeds tossed with a more sour, tahini-lemon dressing with garlic or just sprinkled with apple cider vinegar is a great detoxifier," says Dr. Axe. You'll also ensure you're getting two to five servings of powerhouse vegetables a day, most of your fiber, and a healthy dose of monounsaturated fat from the oil; you'll also fill fuller longer. Find out more about what you really need to know before starting a detox.
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Dial back protein
"Of the four seasons, spring is the time when your body does well with a lower amount of protein," says Dr. Axe. He advises cutting back on fatty cuts of meat and focusing instead on meals that are three-parts vegetables to one-part meat, poultry, or seafood. Go for traditional Chinese dishes like veggie-heavy stir-fries and Mediterranean grain and vegetable dishes—they're good, lighter choices to aid in your spring cleanse, he says.
Seaweed, the new kale
One of the most nutrient-dense vegetables you can eat, seaweed is high in antioxidants and boasts an array of phytochemicals like polyphenols and fucoxanthin. Seaweeds like dulse, wakame, nori, and kombu are an ancient food source for sea-dwelling communities; they also happen to be popular in traditional Chinese medicine for treating everything from urinary tract infections to tumors. Recently, studies on Asian women found low breast cancer incidence in women who ate lots of seaweed. "When you look at Asia and Japan, they have the longest life expectancy in the world and they have a diet rich in seaweed," says Dr. Axe. (He suggests you avoid hijiki, common in Japanese cuisine, as it can contain arsenic and higher levels of mercury depending on its source). Seaweed's potent nutrients can help detox your blood and kidneys and have diuretic properties to help you shed excess water while boosting your immunity. Don't miss these other powerhouse benefits of seaweed.
If there was such a thing as a magic plant, it would be turmeric. Used in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years to treat an array of diseases—including liver and digestive disorders—turmeric helps detoxify the liver by increasing bile production in the gallbladder; the liver then uses the bile to eliminate toxins and digest fats, says Dr. Axe. A substance in turmeric called curcumin happens to be a polyphenol, a potent anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial agent. A recent study that surveyed clinical trials dating back 50 years affirmed the potential therapeutic effects of ingesting curcumin to treat a wide variety of conditions: irritable bowl disease, cancers, Alzheimer's, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, heavy metal poisoning, and liver diseases—among many others. You can get a daily dose by adding a half teaspoon (or to taste) of turmeric to a morning smoothie, or try tossing cauliflower in olive oil and a little turmeric before roasting and serve it with Greek yogurt. For more inspiration, check out these 25 turmeric-centric recipes from Epicurious.
Yet another reason to buy them by the bag, avocados were shown to dial back liver damage caused by liver toxins, according to a study published in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry. A key ingredient is glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that helps the liver detoxify fat before bile is emitted, helping to rid your body of unwanted toxins. So say yes to your avocado toast! Check out these 16 recipes using the ever versatile and tasty avocado.
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Okey dokey artichokey
Like turmeric, artichokes naturally increase bile production and are loaded with vitamins C and K, antioxidants, and provide nearly 10 grams of fiber in just one choke. It's also great for shedding fat. "The thing about artichokes is it takes a while to eat it as there is a lot of fiber in the leaves," says Caroline M. Apovian, MD, director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at Boston Medical Center. "It's also low in calories and fat and has a lot of antioxidants to offer." A super-easy detox recipe is to steam whole artichokes until just tender and then dip the base of leaves in a mixture of butter, extra virgin olive oil, and lemon juice. Here are more powerful spring superfoods to add to your detox diet.
Pineapples not only have more vitamin C than oranges, they also contain the digestive enzyme bromelain, which helps cleanse your colon and assists with digestion. Researchers have also tested bromelain to treat muscle strains, decrease joint pain, and manage digestive disorders—the enzyme seems to have anti-inflammatory abilities, says Dr. Axe. Pineapple flavor intensifies with a gentle searing on the grill (great for a summer dessert!).
In ancient times, fennel was famed for its medicinal uses—primarily as a digestive aid. Researchers have been studying this crunchy, anise-flavored vegetable that is used like celery in recipes; they've found it has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, and it helps dispell gas and decrease bloating. High in vitamin C and flavonoids, phenolic compounds, fatty acids, fiber, and amino acids, fennel is also low in calories, which makes it an ideal detox food. Use fennel in a juice with apples and carrots or try this simple genius recipe from Giada De Laurentiis for Roasted Fennel with Parmesan. Next, don't miss what happens to your body when you do a juice cleanse.