Since we can finally open the windows and get outside without being totally miserable, spring is the time for cleaning. And in this case, cleansing. The jury is out on whether or not a detox or cleanse is necessary, beneficial, dangerous, etc., but I’ve often been curious about them nonetheless. And while I eat fairly healthy, I’m not without my bad habits, so I figured why not give my liver and digestive system a break for a week.
There’s tons of ‘advice’ for cleanses all over the internet. I settled on a 5-day detox plan that starts out with a 3-day cleanse similar to one I've seen promoted on TV, then finishes with eating "raw and clean" meals for the final two days of the detox program.
You’ll notice a couple common themes to the recommended foods: boosting glutathione and flushing toxins. Glutathione contains sulfur compounds which act as a sponge, absorbing free radicals, toxins and other junk. Boost the glutathione levels in your diet to absorb more toxins, and support kidney, liver and gut health to aid elimination of those toxins. To do its cleansing job, glutathione needs antioxidants, enzymes and proteins1. You’ll see those in many of the supporting ingredients here.
Starting the 5-Day Detox Plan
It’s often recommended to ease into a cleanse, so for a few days leading up to it, I started adding detoxifying teas to my day; I cut out processed foods, sugar, and caffeine and had a chia kombucha drink in the morning. I’d never had kombucha before, and fermented foods scare me. Kombucha is another one of those things with conflicting reports on its usefulness and/or harm, but since I wasn’t going to drink gallons of it in hopes of a miracle cure, why not try it?
The tea drink (fermented with yeast and bacteria) is valued for its beneficial probiotics, amino acids and other helpful enzymes. I tried a grape flavored one from the grocery store. It was tasty, didn’t kill me, and I didn’t miss my morning coffee.
Pre-Cleanse: Kombucha, Dandelion Tea & Turmeric Tea
Kombucha – Refreshing and hydrating, it provides detoxifying enzymes and bacterial acids (specifically, glucaric acid2), and probiotics for healthy digestion.
Dandelion – One of the best greens for flushing toxins and supporting liver health. I made the dandelion tea as a strong sun tea so I could have it as an iced tea later.
Turmeric – Encourages essential detoxification enzymes (specifically, UDP glucuronyl transferase and glutathione-S-transferase3); free radical scavenger. The turmeric tea is startlingly yellow (because turmeric), and has a very mild flavor.
After easing in for a few days with the above teas, the first three days of the actual 5-Day Detox consisted of a Blueberry Detox Smoothie for breakfast, a Carrot-Ginger Drink for lunch, and a Green Detox Smoothie for dinner (minus the sweetener, plus coconut water). I did change things up a bit starting on day 3 (there's only so much kale a girl can drink!). More on that later. First, let's cover this delicious Blueberry Detox Smoothie...
Breakfast: Blueberry Detox Smoothie
Spinach – Features an impressive 166 milligrams of glutathione per serving when eaten raw4, along with other important nutrients.
Blueberries – Packed with fiber, vitamin C, and anthocyanins that fight free radicals and boost glutathione; they also support urinary tract health.
Coconut Water – For hydration and essential nutrients; also supports healthy elimination.
Lunch: Citrusy Carrot-Ginger Drink
Ginger – Stimulates digestion, circulation and sweating (another way your body releases toxins); soothes the GI system.
Grapefruit – Kick-starts detox with fiber, hydration, glutathione and pectin; helps the liver burn fat.
Carrots – Deliver glutathione for liver support, potassium, and vitamins A, B6, C and K.
Supper: Ultimate Green Detox Smoothie
Kale – Provides isothiocyanates, flavonoids, vitamins K, A, and C, minerals and fiber; helps to flush the kidneys; leafy greens also boost levels of cleansing chlorophyll.
Spinach – As noted earlier, spinach delivers 166 milligrams of glutathione per serving when eaten raw (like in this detox smoothie!)
Celery – Delivers both fiber and water, helping move food through the digestive system.
Green Apple and Unripe Banana – Provide fiber (pectin), water and electrolytes to improve elimination, and support healthy kidneys, but with a lower sugar content than other apples and ripe bananas. Unripe bananas also offer short chain fatty acids which nourish the intestines so the body absorbs nutrients more efficiently.5
This was supposed to last three days. The drinks were palatable, and while I wasn’t “hungry” I did crave everything. Texture is such an important facet of a good meal and it’s tough to go without any texture whatsoever. I did cave eventually. I had some Go Raw Spicy Flax Snax. The salty crunchiness was just what I’d been missing.
After two days of drinking carrots and kale, I changed up the smoothie recipes and added raw foods. I’d never looked forward to a salad so much in my life. I added Vegan Protein with Probiotics to my smoothies—18 grams of protein per serving plus probiotics for healthy digestion!—with avocado, banana and grapefruit. It wasn’t pretty, but it was delicious.
Detox Part Two: Days 4 and 5 (Raw Foods)
Kale Salad is full of detoxing powerhouses: kale, radishes, red bell pepper and more.
Radishes – Deliver vitamin C, anthocyanins, and the sulfur-based compounds common to cruciferous veggies that are so helpful in moving bile and cleansing blood.
Red Bell Pepper – Provides vitamin C, phytonutrients, and sulfur compounds.
Cucumber – Alkalizing; provides lignans, free radical scavengers and water.
Avocados – Fiber, antioxidants, more glutathione and good fats. Plus they’re just plain delicious.
Raw Food Favorite: Raw Veggie Sushi
This Raw Veggie Sushi recipe features shredded carrots, asparagus, avocado, cucumber, crisp lettuce, shaved cauliflower "rice" and sprouts wrapped in raw nori. To put it simply, it is yummy, fresh and satisfying!
Asparagus – Has diuretic qualities to support liver health by helping to flush out toxins.
Nori – Seaweed offers protein, lignans and antioxidants, but watch out for added salt in nori sheets. (I used raw, organic nori sheets from Navitas Naturals; sadly, they’ve discontinued that product.)
Lemon Water: An Everyday Cleansing Drink
Lemons – Excellent source of vitamin C, which neutralizes free radicals; stimulates the liver (to support breakdown of toxins) and the bowels (for healthy elimination).
Water – It’s water. It’s important for pretty much everything. The Institute of Medicine has said that men should drink roughly 3 liters (about 13 cups) of total beverages a day and women 2.2 liters (about 9 cups) of total beverages a day6. “Total beverages” should be health-promoting, though—those containing caffeine and alcohol actually contribute to dehydration.
Snacking While Detoxing!
During my 5-Day Detox, I did keep the Flax Snax and some Organic Cranberry Trail Mix (addicted to this stuff) around for snacks. But I also made these little fruit and nut bites with Organic Dried Mango, Raw Pecans, and Artisana Raw Coconut Butter. If you’ve never had coconut butter before, try it! So decadent.
Wrapping It Up and Ending the Detox
A detox bath is also recommended. Add half a cup of baking soda, half a cup of Epsom salts, and ten drops of lavender essential oil to warm bath water and soak for at least 20 minutes. This was one of my favorite parts of this experiment. It was so incredibly relaxing.
There are lots of horror stories about unpleasant side effects of a cleanse (headaches, body odor, having to run to the bathroom every half hour…). I didn’t have any of these issues. Maybe my body wasn’t harboring that many toxins to begin with? Cutting out irritants like processed foods, dairy, refined sugar, alcohol, caffeine and gluten in favor of detoxifying liquids and raw, whole foods wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, but I couldn’t maintain a liquids-only diet for very long.
5-Day Detox Plan Review
It wasn’t a miracle weight loss (or miracle anything else) experience, but it definitely left me feeling lighter, healthier and more relaxed than I had in a while. Plus, now when I eat not-so-good-for-me food, I can feel the difference—I eat, but I don’t feel nourished. I'm now motivated to eat clean more often.
There are some elements I’ll keep. I’ve discovered I really enjoy smoothies and salads; it's an easy way to commit to eating more vegan meals. Plus I’ve cut my caffeine intake down from coffee and soda every day to just a cup of green tea. I’ll likely do a cleanse again in the future (it sounds like the perfect antidote to the holiday season).