How to Properly Cleanse and Detox, According to Wellness Gurus
Plus, meet the new generation of super greens.
I will never forget my first juice cleanse. It was the summer of 2013, and all of my New York roommates were raving about the new juice bar that had opened in the East Village offering a rather pricey seven-day cure-all detox cleanse. I was on day two of solely drinking spinach and celery juice, walking through the Upper East Side to the French Consulate to get my visa, blatantly ignoring every red flag and alert my body was trying to send me. Needless to say, I did not last the total duration of the cleanse, and I reluctantly accepted it was not for my body. Fast-forward to eight years later, and I still think about how I felt on that humid August day and wonder how it would have been different today with the current paradigm shift in the detox culture.
Today there is a new wellness perspective on detoxing and cleansing. Rather than jumping on different fads because your friend told you to (yes, we have all been guilty), we now understand that remedies to cleanse and promote gut and skin health are not a one-size-fits-all solution. We know that a green juice won't solve all your problems, yet we cannot deny the beneficial intentions of incorporating these greens into our daily routines. The modern approach to detoxing and cleansing is intuitive versus unsustainable, and listening to your body is the first step to fostering a proper cleanse. We chatted with a range of wellness insiders, from registered dieticians and a cardiologist to holistic nutrition coaches and brilliant founders, to better understand the new standard of detoxing, ultimately uncovering a common belief amongst all—purifying and cleansing the body goes beyond one week of practice of adhering to strict rules; it is a continuous healing journey to realign and harmonize your body.
Ahead, we're introducing the new ethos of super greens and the meaning of a modern detox.
What Exactly Does Detoxing the Body & Skin Mean?
First, to understand how to detox the body, we must define what detoxing entails. Contrary to popular beliefs that a detox can happen in a day or week by removing certain elements from our diet, our body is actually always in a state of detox. According to Dr. Alejandro Junger, MD, an LA-based cardiologist, founder and medical director of the Clean Program, "Detoxification is something that is happening ALL the time. If this function stops, our body won't last for more than a few minutes. Every cell in our body is burning fuel, activating many biochemical functions, and producing waste products. This is what we call metabolism. On top of that, we are also exposed to toxins from the outside, natural and man-made, the exotoxins. Luckily, our bodies can deal with both."
Though we may lose sight of this from time to time, our bodies are extremely impressive beings. Dr. Uma Naidoo, a nutritional psychiatrist, professional chef, nutrition specialist, and author, adds, "Your body is designed to cleanse itself of environmental and naturally occurring toxins via the liver, kidneys, gut, lymphatic system, and skin, but our modern lifestyles (processed foods, added sugars, stress, lack of sleep, multitasking, COVID-19…) can compromise these natural cleansing systems, ultimately leading to toxin buildup and inflammation in the body and brain." She also defines detoxification as removing toxic substances from the body: "The lymphatic and circulatory systems detoxify individual cells, while detoxification on a bigger scale is mostly conducted by the hepatic, renal, and gastrointestinal systems in the body. The lungs and skin (the largest organ of the body) also play a part in how the body detoxifies itself."
So when we do a detox, we simply support an already existing system in the body rather than starting from zero.
Why Is Cleansing the Body Beneficial?
While our bodies are naturally built to detoxify, there are varying outside stressors that can affect the process. Carla Oates, founder & CEO of The Beauty Chef, a brand creating bio-fermented, probiotic whole-food powders and elixirs for gut health, makes an important case: "Every day we shower and brush our teeth without fail, but we often forget that our insides need a little TLC, too. I believe beauty begins in the belly and that good health and great skin start with the gut. While it doesn't sound very glamorous, the gut is truly where the seeds for good gut health and beauty are planted. It's where at least 70 percent of our immune system lies; it's where we metabolize hormones, make detoxifying enzymes and nutrients, and neutralize pathogens." A healthy gut microbiome is essential for ensuring our digestive system is working to its fullest potential. Our bodies have proven that what we see on the outside is often a direct correlation to what is happening inside; thus, a cleanse helps restore the body to a balanced state. According to Alana Kessler, MS, RD, and founder of Be Well by AK, an urban sanctuary promoting long-term healing for emotional eaters and health seekers, "Cleansing and detoxing helps to prevent and temper inflammation. Inflammation in the body means the body feels like it is being attacked and therefore triggers the stress response and emits enzymes and hormones to protect it. When this happens, the natural balance of the body and its ability to function is impaired. Detoxing and cleansing can be really helpful as a means to restore harmony and balance throughout the body."
Now more than ever, the terms cleanse and detox are open to individual interpretation. Kessler adds, "Detoxes also aren't one-size-fits-all and differ as they relate to the desired outcome. For example, a detox to cleanse the liver from environmental toxins can be different from a detox to lose the extra earth energy we may have on our bodies from the winter." No matter the type of detox you choose for your body, the results can lead to better skin, deeper sleep, inflammation reduction, better digestion, and improved mood and energy.
What Are Super Greens, & What Role Do They Play in Cleansing the Body?
Over the last several years, super greens became an integral part of detoxing. By definition, super greens are greens that are high in nutrients—think spinach, chard, kale, spirulina, and broccoli. Supergreens (one word) are the concentrated form of these greens in powdered form with an abundance of antioxidants that support immunity and overall health. Today, some supergreen powders are enhanced with probiotics for gut health, adaptogens for stress hormone metabolism, protein, and collagen powder. Supergreens can also be found in topical products like face masks to fight inflammation for a healthy glow. Valerie Agyeman, registered dietician and founder of Flourish Heights, a platform sharing health tips and inspiration for women, says, "Supergreens have the purpose of giving your body a bit of a nutritional boost, especially if you're not consuming vegetables regularly, as a majority of Americans don't. These supplements are in powdered form and are made up of vegetables and leafy greens, plant-based enzymes, herbs, and much more."
So, to clarify, there is a difference between super greens and supergreens—both are beneficial for the body and an integral part of cleansing, but neither will miraculously detox you overnight.
Dr. Naidoo further explains, "One reason people turn to detoxes is the feeling of bloating, and it turns out that the electrolyte potassium found in large amounts in abundance in greens is vital to maintain fluid balance in your body. We may be bloated from the high level of sodium from processed, packaged foods we may be eating, and this is where a cup of steamed spinach, which contains about 840 mg of potassium, helps fend off things like bloating. Super greens are powerhouses!"
Consider supergreens a way to maximize your cleanse, not dominate it. According to Oates, "When you cleanse, you are primarily cleansing your liver, kidneys, and skin, as these organs are responsible for eliminating metabolic waste from the body. Eating lots of super greens and bitter herbs and vegetables is a great way to assist your body's natural detoxification process—so be sure to stock up on your cruciferous veggies too, including cabbage, broccoli, and kale, as they are rich in cleansing, sulfur-containing compounds.
How to Incorporate These Super Greens and Supergreens
Because supergreens come in a powdered form, they can easily be mixed with water or other liquid-based drinks like smoothies or teas. However, Agyeman states that supergreens should never substitute whole vegetables. "A priority should be increasing vegetables in your eating routine. They are the best and more potent sources of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which are beneficial for optimal health."
And when it comes to super greens, Vanessa Rissetto, a registered dietician, nutritionist and co-founder of Culina Health, a modern health and wellness platform, breaks it down: "It's quite simple—eat them rather than juicing them for the best results. When you juice them, you lose the fiber, ultimately losing a lot of their benefits." Rissetto's ethos is not to take anything away from her clients' lifestyles, but rather empower them to create healthy habits to remain balanced and be consistent.
The new generation of super greens is a hybrid between supergreen powders and the actual super greens, which seamlessly work together to support your body's natural detoxing process.
The Experts' Advice on What Makes a Modern Detox
Now that we've established that detoxes go beyond a simple green juice and embody a holistic lifestyle, the experts weighed in on a few wellness remedies to practice to further support a cleanse, in addition to incorporating the new class of super greens into your routine.
Sleep: Jules Miller, the founder and CEO of herbal medicine and supplement brand The Nue Co., reveals, "Many people don't realize that sleep itself is a detoxification process for the brain—it is during sleep that our brain rejuvenates and removes any toxic waste products from the [previous] day. If I'm feeling particularly stressed and unable to get a good night's sleep, I'll use The Nue Co's SLEEP DROPS containing valerian root, passionflower, and chamomile—all of which are natural ingredients proven to help aid sleep."
Inner Connection: "Take the opportunity to reflect and attune to the emotions that arise as well, so you can create a deeper connection to your needs and creativity. Journaling and meditation daily is amazing," advises Kessler.
Lots of Filtered H2O: "Drink lots of filtered water," says Oates. "When it comes to cleansing your body, nothing flushes your system as effectively as good old H2O—just make sure it's pure and filtered, so you're not replacing one toxin with another. By adding a squeeze of alkalizing fresh lemon juice to warm water in the mornings, you'll not only kick-start your metabolism for the day, but also help cleanse your liver, too."
Movement: "You can generally support your body's detoxification process by incorporating daily movement," encourages Agyeman.
Dry Brushing: "I absolutely love it and truly believe in the benefits," says Oates. "A simple five minutes body brushing a day helps to massage and get your lymphatic system moving, leaving your skin firmer and smoother."
Pay Attention to Your Gut: "Focus on your gut microbiome; try adding fermented foods such as kimchi, yogurt, and sauerkraut, and prebiotics such as oats, garlic, greens, and fiber-rich vegetables," suggests Dr. Naidoo.
Non-toxic Products: "Reduce exposure to everyday chemicals through adopting non-toxic household items like non-toxic cosmetics, personal care items like deodorant, laundry items, and kitchen utensils that don't leach chemicals," says Dr. Junger.
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[Editor's Note: As ever, we are not doctors or medical know-it-alls. And everybody is different, so make sure to check with a doctor before trying anything new.]
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