Unseen but ever-present, environmental toxins constitute a growing threat. Slowly but surely, heavy metals, pesticides and pollutants in food, air, water and soil can accumulate in our bodies, seriously affecting our health and well-being.
But the antidote may be as close as the organic produce aisle of our local market. Many common, easily available foods have the ability to safely and naturally extract harmful chemicals from our systems, while granting protection against disease through their high antioxidant levels.
Beets help to cleanse the body by improving liver function
According to Toronto-based naturopathic physician Dr. John Dempsey, these humble root vegetables are highly beneficial to the liver and gallbladder – both vital components in the disposal of waste and toxins. The beet’s brilliant scarlet color is a testament to its high levels of beta-carotene, so you also get a large helping of this antioxidant plant pigment, which helps to scavenge destructive free radicals. Vitamin C, another important antioxidant, is also in good supply in beets, along with dietary fiber – which can help prevent colon cancer.
And, athletes should take note: beets can increase physical stamina, helping you to prolong bouts of vigorous activity. In a 2009 study conducted at University of Exeter, researchers found that a glass of organic beetroot juice helped volunteers exercise up to 16 percent longer.
Eating apples will reduce your heavy metal burden
Apples are extraordinarily rich in beneficial flavonoids. According to Dempsey, one flavonoid in particular – phlorizin – stimulates the production of bile, thereby improving liver function and promoting elimination of toxins. This refreshing fruit also features the potent antioxidants quercetin, epicatechin and tartaric acid.
Another health bonus: apples contain healthy amounts of the soluble fiber pectin, which Dr. Dempsey credits with helping to filter out heavy metals and food additives. But, be forewarned: non-organic apples are high on the list of foods containing pesticide residue. Save yourself from a dose of organochloride pesticide and opt for fresh, organic apples.
Lemons help the body break down chemicals and medications
Not only do lemons have a natural antiseptic effect, but they help to balance the body’s pH levels. In addition, they convert toxins into a water-soluble form that makes them easily eliminated.
But their main contribution to purifying and cleansing the body comes by way of their high vitamin C content. Not only is vitamin C a potent antioxidant in its own right, but natural food expert and author Michelle Schoffro Cook notes that it is used by the body to make glutathione. This compound, composed of the three linked amino acids glycine, cysteine and glutamate, helps to neutralize environmental toxins and chemicals, including the over-the-counter painkiller acetaminophen.
Fresh garlic protects the body from harmful pathogens
Rich in sulphuric compounds, garlic is renowned for its antibiotic, antifungal and antiviral properties. As researchers race to find new ways of defeating antibiotic-resistant bacteria, garlic is emerging as a key player. In a study published in 2012 in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, researchers found that ajoene from raw garlic extracts can thwart the formation of drug-resistant biofilms by “scrambling” the communication system of bacteria.
Garlic also improves cardiovascular health by cleansing residue from arteries. Of course, only fresh, organic garlic will do – powdered garlic and “garlic salt” are of little benefit.
Turmeric reduces disease-causing inflammation
Turmeric – and curcumin, the beneficial plant pigment it contains – has been the subject of 5600 different peer-reviewed, published medical studies into its detoxifying effects. Antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral and chemopreventive, turmeric also has powerful effects against the inflammation that is at the root of many diseases.
In one study, it was found to be a more effective anti-inflammatory agent than many conventional medications, including aspirin, ibuprofen, indomethacin and naproxen – without dangerous side effects. In Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric is known as haldi, and has a long history of use as a trusted treatment for liver problems.
For maximum benefit, use certified organic turmeric, which has not been irradiated – a process which removes beneficial phytochemicals.
Avocados outperform other detoxifying fruits, study says
Delicious, buttery-tasting avocados are high in healthy monounsaturated fats, packed with essential vitamins and minerals, and rich in dietary fiber…and that’s only their “general specs.” In addition to their other gifts, avocados feature potent detoxifying and purifying powers, due to their outstanding levels of naturally-occurring glutathione.
In a study released in 2000 by the American Chemical Society, Japanese biochemists discovered that phytochemicals in avocados could help reduce liver damage. In fact, out of 22 fruits tested, avocados performed the best at reducing laboratory-induced liver damage in rats, leading the research team to conclude that avocados could offer a promising therapy for hepatitis.
Dandelion greens: a time-honored herbal remedy
Natural healers and herbalists have long utilized dandelion greens to treat jaundice and other liver problems. The notched, deep green leaves are exceptionally high in vitamin A, an important antioxidant that protects eyes and mucous membranes. Flavonoids include cryptoxanthin, lutein and zeaxanthin, which are protective against lung and oral cancers. Mild diuretic and laxative properties contribute to dandelion greens’ cleansing effects.
You may be able to find organic dandelion greens at your local market. If not, gathering the tender, young leaves in springtime makes a satisfying yearly ritual. Naturally, you will want to make sure the area is free of pesticides, foot traffic and animal waste. This familiar plant is easy to recognize, but if you have any doubts as to its identity, check with your local county extension office or an experienced herbalist before consuming it.
In a nutshell, many detoxifying foods share similar characteristics. They tend to be brightly or intensely colored, high in fiber, low in calories and rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. They are often either the fruits, leaves, seeds or the roots of a plant. One thing they emphatically are not is processed, dyed, artificially flavored or preserved, or elaborately packaged.
While the above seven foods are stellar examples of detoxifying ‘superfoods’, they are by no means the only ones. Try eating cabbage, kale, seaweed, broccoli, flaxseed, blueberries and cranberries. (the list goes on and on) The more of these life-sustaining foods you enjoy, the richer the health benefits you’ll receive.