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If you’ve read any of my other articles, you probably know how over-the-top obsessed I am with toxins. I’ll even slam synthetic ingredients that the Environmental Working Group (EWG) says are perfectly safe just because they weren’t made by Mother Nature.
I’m aware that I can be slightly unreasonable when it comes to chemicals — I can live with that. What kills me is that we’ve added all this junk to absolutely everything in our lives and we barely give it a thought. Our food, our skincare, the mattresses we sleep on, the air we breathe… it’s all polluted with plastics, heavy metals, and all sorts of harmful chemicals that we either inhale, ingest, or absorb into our skin.
It’s so pervasive that it can overwhelm our bodies and lead to some pretty serious illnesses over time.
Purging the toxins
The disciplined among us do juice cleanses, water fasts, and coffee enemas to periodically purge accumulated toxins. These are all great practices and I wholeheartedly believe in all three, especially when they’re accompanied by an everyday effort to keep the bad stuff out of our bodies in the first place.
And whether we’re on a regimented detox cleanse or not, the fact of the matter is that our bodies are constantly in detox mode. Our liver, kidneys, skin, and even our lungs are hard at work, every second of every day, to process and eliminate contaminants from our body.
With that in mind, I’d like to share some of the key nutrients that our organs need to facilitate this natural detox. This way, you can make sure you’re getting enough of them in your diet and can help your body to combat this constant bombardment of chemicals that invade our lives.
In addition to discussing the vitamins and minerals that support our natural detoxification efforts, we’ll also cover the foods that provide these particular nutrients.
In this article
Detoxification happens in two phases. In Phase 1, enzymes in our body neutralize toxins by converting them into less harmful ones. If these toxins (less harmful as they may be) are allowed to accumulate in the liver, they can still cause harm. So, the job of Phase 2 detox is to further neutralize the toxins, converting them into a water-soluble form so they can be eliminated from the body.
B-vitamins are needed to support the pathways in Phase 1 detoxification. Foods rich in detoxifying B-vitamins include:
- B1 (thiamine): nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, and nutritional yeast (which I sprinkle over salads, cooked veggies, rice, and popcorn. Yum!!)
- B2 (riboflavin): broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, spinach, asparagus, almonds
- B3 (niacin): sunflower seeds, tahini (sesame seed paste), split green peas, brown rice
- B5 (pantothenic acid): mushrooms (shiitake & crimini), avocados, sunflower seeds, lentils, sweet potatoes, dried peas, broccoli, fatty fish
- B6 (pyridoxine): spinach, avocados, potatoes, dried plums, bananas, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, hazelnuts, pistachio nuts, amaranth
- B7 (biotin): walnuts, almonds, oats, sweet potatoes, raspberries, cauliflower, onions, tomatoes
- B9 (folate): beans, lentils, asparagus, spinach, broccoli, turnip greens
- B12 (cobalamin): The best source is from animal products, but if you are vegetarian or otherwise need to avoid meat, dairy, and fish, consider supplementation. (NOTE: the methylcobalamin form of B12 is easier for the body to assimilate.)
Supporting the pathways for phase 2 detox
While B-vitamins support phase 1 detox, there are certain compounds that facilitate phase 2 detoxification.
For example, curcumin is a powerful compound found in turmeric that stimulates phase 2 detox. Interestingly, curcumin is also what gives turmeric its powerful anti-inflammatory effects, as well as its yellow color.
Sulphur is known to catalyze phase 2 detoxification and can be found in strong-smelling foods such as raw garlic, onions, leeks, scallions, chives, daikon, and shallots. It can also be found in eggs and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussell sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, cauliflower, turnips, kale, turnips, and kohlrabi.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps to boost our immune system, fight disease-causing free radicals, and minimize damage to our cells. Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes) are a well-known source of vitamin C.
Other fruits that are high in this valuable nutrient include:
There are also several vegetables high in vitamin C, including:
- bell peppers
- tomatoes (Yeah, tomatoes are technically a fruit, but we eat them more like veggies, so I’m including them in the veg list.)
Vitamin E is another powerful antioxidant that helps to protect our cells and prevent chronic disease. It also helps to reduce inflammation in the body and strengthen our immune system. It’s found in so many commonly eaten foods that boosting your intake should be pretty easy to do.
Great sources of vitamin E include:
- sunflower seeds, almonds, pine nuts, and hazelnuts
- beet greens, swiss chard, spinach, turnip greens, mustard greens
- chili peppers
- butternut squash and sweet potato
Like vitamins C and E, carotenoids are a powerful antioxidant that help to boost our immune system, reduce inflammation, and protect against disease. Carotenoids are also a phytonutrient (a natural chemical within plants that protects them from germs, fungi, and pests) and give fruits and vegetables their yellow, orange and red colors.
Most of us immediately think of carrots as a great source of carotenoids and we’d be right. However, others include yellow and orange veggies such as:
- butternut squash
- sweet potatoes
- tomatoes (yellow, orange and red)
Despite their color, several dark leafy greens are also a good source of carotenoids. These include:
- collard greens
- turnip greens
An important mineral for our overall health, magnesium plays a key role in flushing toxins from our body. Magnesium can easily be depleted when we’re suffering from a disease or from chronic conditions, including heightened stress and anxiety.
Great food sources of magnesium include:
- pumpkin seeds
- spinach & chard
- black beans
Beyond food, those suffering from multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS) often report feeling an immediate decrease in symptoms after taking magnesium-rich Epsom salt baths. And those who don’t suffer from this chronic condition often report “feeling better” (physically and emotionally) after an Epsom salt bath.
While there is scientific debate surrounding the assimilation of magnesium through the skin (some say it works and others say the results are inconclusive), the bottom line is that if you feel relief after an Epsom salt soak, then it works for you. And if you don’t consistently feel better after a soak, then perhaps it doesn’t. No debate needed.
To give it a try, add 1 to 2 cups of Epsom salt to a hot bath (full-body or feet-only) and soak for 20 to 40 minutes. Epsom salt is inexpensive and can be found in most drug stores, supermarkets, health food stores, and (of course) online.
Zinc is best known for fighting colds, but it is also an effective, immune-boosting antioxidant. Additionally, zinc helps to break down the carbohydrates we eat. Since carbs are a key source of energy for our body, low levels of zinc can affect our energy levels and contribute to chronic fatigue.
To help prevent colds and energy depletion, it’s important to include zinc in our diets consistently, not when we’re already feeling under the weather.
Great sources of zinc include:
- whole grains
- legumes (such as chickpeas and lentils)
- pumpkin seeds
Selenium is another mineral that plays a key role in detoxification. While a deficiency in selenium is rare for most, it can be more common in those with chronic conditions or illnesses that hinder nutrient absorption.
Great sources of selenium include:
- brazil nuts, chia seeds, and sunflower seeds
- pinto and navy beans
- oats (whole grain, not fortified)
Eat your veggies!
The human body is fascinating, isn’t it? It’s amazingly complex and yet Mother Nature has made it so simple to get exactly what we need by enticing us with a variety of beautifully colored, delicious foods. And that variety is key. If you tend to eat the same foods all the time (and who doesn’t fall into that habit?!), challenge yourself to mix it up a bit. Bookmark this article and refer to it as you make your shopping list each week, so you can consume more of the nutrients you need to support your body’s natural detoxification efforts.