Whether it’s because of holidays or a hectic schedule, sometimes our eating habits can use a little prodding to get back on track. That’s when some people turn to a detox diet or cleanse, which has be as gentle or extreme as you like. For some, it may be about curbing refined sugar altogether, while others may simply want to cut back on meat and other animal products, alcohol, or 3 p.m. sugary snacks.
It doesn’t need a juice cleanse to provide an effective re-set to a healthier way of eating. Focusing on home-cooked meals with vegetables, fruit, lean protein, unrefined whole grains, and healthy fats such as avocados, olive oil, and nuts allows you to get back on the right track, and hopefully continue to make these healthful foods part of your everyday routine.
For help recalibrating your eating and getting back on course, consider including the following detox foods in your diet.
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 our body’s cells.
A good rule of thumb is to incorporate vegetables into most meals, filling at least half of each plate with a variety of brightly colored (or strongly flavored) vegetables.
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 vegetables to eat 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, fruit contain phytonutrients that may provide health benefits. The USDA dietary guidelines recommend healthy adults incorporate at least 1.5-2 cup servings 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
Everyone has their go-to carbs (often pasta and bread), but this is a good time to experiment and try other sources of whole grains and complex carbs, such as:
- Wild rice
- Winter squash
- Sweet potato
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.1 They’re also less expensive than animal protein. 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.
During a cleanse, focus on fats from foods like avocado, raw nuts and seeds, and nut and seed butter:
- Brazil nut
- Hemp seeds, hemp nuts, hemp hearts
- Macadamia Nut
- Pine nut
- Sesame seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Flax seeds
- Poppy Seeds
- Nut and seed butter, such as tahini, almond butter, cashew nut butter
If you’re cooking with oil, try to use high-quality, cold-pressed, unrefined oils, such as:
- Olive oil
- Hemp oil
- Flax oil
- Almond oil
- Avocado oil
- Coconut oil
- Hazelnut oil
- Pumpkin oil
- Walnut oil
- Safflower, sesame, and sunflower oils in limited amounts.
Dairy and Dairy Substitutes
Although cleanses will often recommend that you drop dairy temporarily, some include probiotic-rich organic yogurt and kefir.
Instead of milk, consider trying one of these plant-based “milks”:
- Unsweetened nut milk, such as almond or cashew milk
- Hemp seed milk
- Rice milk (unsweetened)
- Avocado milk
- Coconut milk
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.2
You may decide to limit your alcohol and coffee intake, swapping in herbal, green, or white tea. Here are some beverage options:
- Infused water (sometimes called “detox water”)
- Plant-based “milks” such as rice milk, almond milk, hemp milk.
- Coconut water
- Lemon water
- Herbal teas, such as rooibos, cinnamon tea, ginger tea
- Green tea, white tea
- Kombucha (unsweetened)
- Unsweetened juice made from allowed fruits and vegetables
- Mineral or seltzer water
- Drinks or smoothies with allowed ingredients
If you simply can’t give up your morning cup of coffee, try limiting it to no more than one 8-ounce cup (and avoid 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 you can 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:
- Vinegar (e.g. apple cider vinegar, balsamic, coconut, red or white wine, rice vinegar)
- Baking soda or baking powder
- Coconut amino acids
- Fish sauce
- Nama shoyu
- Nutritional yeast
- Lemons and limes
- Cacao powder and cacao nibs
- Carob powder
- Sea salt
- 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:
- Brown rice syrup
- Coconut nectar
- Dried fruit, sparingly
- Monk fruit
- Maple syrup
- Blackstrap molasses
- 100% fruit jam
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:
- Organic turkey
- Organic chicken, preferably pastured
- Wild, cold-water fish, such as Alaskan salmon
- Anchovies, sardines
- Wild game, such as bison, pheasant, quail, venison, buffalo, ostrich
A Word From Verywell
Cleanses don’t need to 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 it as a time to experiment with new recipes and cooking methods. You may discover, for instance, that spaghetti squash isn’t much harder to prepare than white pasta, roasted cauliflower can be a satisfying snack if seasoned with herbs and sea salt, or that there are delicious milk alternatives like almond or macadamia nut milk. Most importantly, look for healthy foods that you will enjoy eating.