What to eat while detoxing
Updated on April 25, 2022
Medically reviewed by Mia Syn, MS, RDN
There are often trendy diets or eating plans touted for their benefits of “detoxing” and “cleansing” the body. However, many of these claims are not based on scientific research and can even be harmful.
In fact, a 2015 review concluded that there was no compelling research to support the use of detox diets for weight management or eliminating toxins from the body. Meanwhile, a 2017 review said that juicing and detox diets can cause initial weight loss because of low intake of calories but that they tend to lead to weight gain once a person resumes a normal diet.1
While the concept of a detox or cleanse is not inherently unhealthy, the results they claim to offer are typically misleading. Plus, following detox diets or crash dieting to achieve weight loss can lead to gaining additional weight or trigger disordered eating.
Ultimately, a detox diet is unnecessary because the body is an amazing thing, and it can detox itself.1 However, there are certain foods that can help with this process through various nutritional benefits. Rather than aiming for a short-term regimen, consider how to incorporate these foods into a balanced eating plan that can be sustained for the long term, to keep your body functioning at its best. Here is what you need to know detox foods.
What Is a Detox Food?
There isn’t one food that can magically detox your body. Instead, many different types of foods that contribute to overall health have the benefit of aiding in detox, too. Here is what you need to know about detox food.
Foods With Antioxidants
Antioxidants are substances that may protect cells in your body from free radical damage that can occur from exposure to certain chemicals, smoking, pollution, radiation, and as a byproduct of normal metabolism. Dietary antioxidants include selenium, vitamin A and related carotenoids, vitamins C and E, plus various phytochemicals such as lycopene, lutein, and quercetin.2
Natural sources of antioxidants are an excellent choice for their anti-inflammatory properties; many studies have confirmed their success in this area, and they’re being recommended more and more in place of medicinal offerings due to the lack of negative side effects.2
Foods With Prebiotics
Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients that are often added to “functional foods.” These ingredients are believed to promote the growth of helpful gut bacteria—thereby increasing gastrointestinal health and potentially providing other health benefits.3
Ongoing research has shown that prebiotics may provide health benefits to the general population. These benefits include improved calcium absorption, decreases in allergy risk, improved immune system defense, and other positive effects on metabolism.3
Foods With Fiber
Fiber is known for its role in digestion, but that’s not the only health benefit. Dietary fiber promotes several additional health benefits, including better control of cholesterol and blood sugar, lowering risk of diabetes or heart disease, aiding in weight loss, preventing obesity, and even reducing the risk of cancer.
Foods that are good for your heart can help your body detox by lowering your levels of “bad” cholesterol. High levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol can cause plaque to form in your arteries.4
In turn, this can lead to a range of serious conditions, such as coronary artery disease (CAD) and peripheral artery disease (PAD), among others. These diseases are leading causes of heart attack and stroke.4
Hydration is incredibly important for your body. Drinking enough water is key to all health pursuits, including any detoxifying efforts. It’s also important to monitor your salt intake.
Excess sodium (above the recommended maximum of 2,300 milligrams a day) can have negative impacts on your health. Additionally, food that is high in sodium is often unhealthy in other ways.
Vegetables are rich in phytochemicals (naturally-occurring plant chemicals) that are being explored for their potential to regulate hormones, stimulate the immune system, and prevent damage to the body’s cells. It’s helpful and healthy to incorporate vegetables into most meals to get the recommended 2 to 4 cups per day.
Vegetables thought to be particularly good for a liver detox include onions, garlic, beets, artichokes, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, collard greens, kale, and Brussels sprouts.
Other healthy vegetables to eat incorporate into your diet to maintain an overall healthy and detoxifying diet include asparagus, carrots, celery, cucumbers, endives, jicama, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, okra, parsnips, radishes, rutabaga, snow peas, spinach, sprouts, squash, sweet potatoes, turnips, watercress, yams, yucca, zucchini, and sea vegetables including arame, dulse, hijiki, kelp, nori sheets, and wakame.
Like vegetables, fruits contain phytonutrients that may provide health benefits. The USDA dietary guidelines recommend healthy adults incorporate at least 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups of fruit per day.
Choose whole fruit (fresh or frozen), such as apples, apricots, blackberries, blueberries, cantaloupe, cherries, cranberries, grapefruit, figs, grapes, guava, kiwi, lemon, lime, loganberries, mango, melon, nectarines, oranges, papaya, peaches, pears, pineapple, plums, pomegranate, prunes, raspberries, strawberries, tangerines, and watermelon.
Whole Grains and Complex Carbs
Carbs are often thought of as the enemy, but there are many carbs beyond bread and pasta. Experiment and try other sources of whole grains and complex carbs, such as:
- Sweet potato
- Wild rice
- Winter squash
Unrefined whole grains are preferred, but also try products made from the above ingredients, including brown rice pasta, buckwheat soba noodles, glass noodles, kelp noodles, mung bean noodles, shirataki noodles, rice crackers, quinoa flakes, gluten-free bread, and rice bran.
Beans and Legumes
Beans and legumes are high in fiber, protein, and iron.5 Try:
- Split yellow and green peas
- Lentils (red, brown, green, yellow, French, du Puy)
- Other beans and legumes, such as adzuki, cannellini, chickpeas, black, black-eyed peas, kidney, and lima.
Many people avoid food with fat in it during a cleanse, but eating good fats from sources such as foods like avocado, raw nuts and seeds, and nut and seed butter is actually beneficial. Consider:
- Brazil nuts
- Flax seeds
- Hemp seeds, hemp nuts, hemp hearts
- Macadamia nuts
- Nut and seed butter, such as tahini, almond butter, cashew nut butter
- Pine nuts
- Poppy Seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Sunflower seeds
If you’re cooking with oil, try to use high-quality, cold-pressed, unrefined oils, such as:
- Almond oil
- Avocado oil
- Coconut oil
- Flax oil
- Hazelnut oil
- Hemp oil
- Olive oil
- Pumpkin oil
- Safflower oil
- Safflower, sesame, and sunflower oils in limited amounts
- Walnut oil
Dairy and Dairy Substitutes
Although cleanses will often recommend that you drop dairy temporarily, some include probiotic-rich organic yogurt and kefir. Instead of cow’s milk, consider trying one of these plant-based milks:
- Avocado milk
- Coconut milk
- Hemp seed milk
- Nut milk, such as almond or cashew milk (unsweetened)
- Rice milk (unsweetened)
In general, it’s a good idea to use your thirst to guide how much you drink, although some people have conditions that may require them to drink more or less.6
While detoxifying, you may decide to limit your alcohol, coffee, and soda intake, swapping in herbal, green, or white tea. Here are some beverage options:
- Coconut water
- Drinks or smoothies with healthful ingredients
- Herbal teas, such as rooibos tea, cinnamon tea, ginger tea
- Infused water (sometimes called “detox water”)
- Kombucha (unsweetened)
- Lemon water
- Mineral or seltzer water
- Plant-based “milks” such as rice milk, almond milk, hemp milk
- True tea such as green tea and white tea
- Unsweetened juice made from allowed fruits and vegetables
If you can’t face the day without your morning cup of coffee, try limiting it to no more than one 8-ounce cup (and avoid dairy milk or creamer and added sweetener).
Fresh and dried herbs and spices can make any meal more flavorful, without adding sugar or salt. Chop some fresh herbs such as basil, chives, cilantro, dill, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon, or thyme.
Spices to cook with include allspice, anise, caraway seeds, cardamom, celery seeds, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, nutmeg, saffron, tamarind, or turmeric. Fresh or raw ginger and garlic can instantly make meals more interesting. Here are some other condiments and ingredients to consider:
- Baking soda or baking powder
- Cacao powder and cacao nibs
- Carob powder
- Coconut amino acids
- Fish sauce
- Lemons and limes
- Nama shoyu
- Nutritional yeast
- Sea salt
- Vinegar (e.g. apple cider vinegar, balsamic, coconut, red or white wine, rice vinegar)
- Wheat-free tamari
Sugar and Other Sweeteners
Limiting your overall intake of sweets and sugar from all sources will go a long way. If you are going to use a sweetener, choose natural sources such as the following:
- Blackstrap molasses
- Brown rice syrup
- Coconut nectar
- Dried fruit, sparingly
- Fruit jam
- Maple syrup
- Monk fruit
For dessert, choose whole, fresh fruit or try frozen desserts or puddings made with nut milk (or yogurt) and fruit.
Detox diets differ on the question of whether to include animal protein. If you’re going to eat it, consider the following options:
- Anchovies and sardines
- Organic turkey
- Organic chicken, preferably pastured
- Wild, cold-water fish, such as Alaskan salmon
- Wild game, such as bison, pheasant, quail, venison, buffalo, ostrich
A Word From Verywell
Detoxing your body should not be about depriving yourself, skipping meals, or completing an overly restrictive juice cleanse. The ultimate goal is to make these healthful and tasty foods a part of your everyday routine and to make positive lifestyle changes that will last even after the “detox diet” is over.
Use this time to experiment with new recipes and cooking methods. You may discover, for instance, that spaghetti squash isn’t much harder to prepare than pasta. Likewise, roasted cauliflower can be a satisfying snack if seasoned with herbs or that nut milk is a delicious alternative to cow’s milk. Most importantly, look for healthy foods that you will enjoy eating.