Toxins: Everything You Need to Know

By: Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN

The words toxins  and detox are everywhere. You’ve probably heard these keywords, but you might be confused about what they mean and how they relate to you. Let’s first start with their definitions.

Toxin defined:
Toxins are simply things that can either build up in, or negatively affect our bodies and make us sick over time. They come in all shapes and sizes from emotions to chemicals to foods. Very simply put, they’re things we need to be aware of. Toxins can include: Artificial and processed foods and ingredients that not only provide little to no nutritional value, but that also may be challenging for our bodies to get rid of. As mentioned above, emotions and relationships that are unhealthy can also pose rise to increasing toxic load in our bodies as well.

Detox defined:
Detoxification or “detox” is the process of getting rid of toxins. Toxins can be eliminated two ways depending on what type of toxin they are; either we physically remove the toxin to lessen or eradicate our exposure (think of negative emotions, chemicals in our houses, etc.), or we help promote detoxification inside our body. Our bodies are great natural detoxifiers, especially the liver. The liver can detoxify the blood and remove chemicals and other toxins that have built up, especially if we decrease our intake of those toxic foods and chemicals, and increase intake of certain nutrients that promote liver detoxification (see below).

So now that we have a basic understanding of what toxins are and what detoxification is at a very basic level, it’s key to include some foods that you can eat and practices that you can do to help promote the natural detoxification process for our bodies and our lives.

Emotional Toxins

Although these types of toxins aren’t technically considered toxins because they don’t require the liver to process them, emotional toxins can promote making less healthful food and lifestyle choices that can negatively affect how our bodies process things and toxins. Our relationships are key places to look for toxins that may be affecting our lives; it’s key to find time for us to think and check in with ourselves, exercise and spend time with friends and family.

Chemical Toxins

Chemicals that we use in our lives can also pose some toxic risk. These chemicals can be found in household cleaners, laundry detergents, perfumes and fragrances, plastics found in food containers and water bottles.  

  • Household cleaners: Aim to choose a “natural” product that doesn’t use harsh chemicals or bleach. You can also make your own basic cleaner using: 4 Tablespoons baking soda and 1 quart warm water.
  • Laundry detergents: Similar to the household cleaners, aim to choose natural laundry detergents that are fragrance free and are set for sensitive skin, meaning they’re also free of harsh chemicals.
  • Perfumes and fragrance: Aim for fragrance free for most things, and when looking for a fragrance aim for a natural source, like essential oils (peppermint, lavender etc).
  • Plastics in food containers: If using plastics in the home in blenders, juicers etc. aim to hand wash and never put through the hot dryer cycle in the dishwasher. Instead of plastics though, aim to use glass or stainless steel water bottles and food containers, and when purchasing food in cans at the supermarket, aim for those in glass or paper box containers.

Foods as Toxins

Foods can also be toxic to our bodies, especially processed, pre-packaged ones like these 5 ingredients you should never eat that are loaded with chemicals that our bodies simply just don’t recognize. The good news is that there are foods that can actually help our bodies produce more detoxifying chemicals that can help the liver to better do it’s job of detoxifying. Here are foods you should include (and also, don’t forget to cut back processed, packaged and artificial foods) to help your body keep itself clean.

  • Onions: Onions are not only tasty and flavorful, but they are also a source of sulfur-containing nutrients that help our livers to produce detoxifying enzymes.
  • Beets: Beets contain loads of nutrients including betacyanin that may help the liver to produce more detoxifying enzymes.
  • Pineapple: Pineapple contains bromelain, a nutrient that may help to promote digestion and may also help to cleanse the colon.
  • Artichokes: Artichokes contain a nutrient called silymarin that’s an antioxidant that helps liver process toxins. Artichokes also contain another nutrient, cynarin, which is an acid that supports liver’s ability to break down fatty foods.
  • Apples: Apples contain pectin that helps our bodies remove food additives and metals from the system. Apples also contain quercetin that may help to promote production of detoxifying enzymes by the liver.
  • Parsley: Parsley contains nutrients that can help stimulate production of bile that is key for the detoxification process.
  • Broccoli & cabbage: Broccoli and cabbage are members of the cruciferous vegetable family that contain sulfur-containing nutrients that can help the liver to produce more detoxifying enzymes.
  • Citrus: Citrus fruits like lemons, limes and oranges contain vitamin C- that may help to clear the digestive tract and also promote cleansing of the liver too.

General tips for avoiding toxins:

  • Include as many fresh vegetables, fruits and plant-based foods as possible and cut back on processed and packaged foods
  • Drink plenty of water and cut back on sugary and alcoholic beverages
  • Eat consistently and plan means and snacks; prepare a shopping list with fresh foods to purchase at the grocery store
  • Add a fresh juice or smoothie in daily; these are both great ways to bump up nutrient intake

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Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN

Isabel is a Registered Dietitian, wellness expert and fitness coach. Isabel has her own nutrition and wellness practice based in New York City, Isabel Smith Nutrition, but she works with clients and corporations both nationwide and worldwide in a variety of areas including skin health, weight loss, gastrointestinal issues and allergies, sports nutrition, general wellness and more. As a Guided Reboot coach, Isabel has helped hundreds juice their way to better health. When she isn’t helping clients achieve optimal nutrition and wellness, she can be found trying and creating new juices and making other healthy recipes, running, cooking, spinning, practicing yoga, and enjoying time with her two Yorkshire terriers. Isabel is also one of the nutritionists who runs our Guided Reboot programs.

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