When the presents have been opened and all the treats are long gone, too many of us feel the need to “cleanse” or “detox” with a strict diet of fresh-pressed juices and hours of exercise. But before you ban all solid foods for the next week, hear us out — it’s entirely possible to clean out your system, learn how to detox and still eat.
“Detox diets that severely limit protein or food groups are too drastic,” says Bethany Doerfler, RD, LDN, and a clinical research dietician at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago. “I am an advocate of people stripping back foods that they simply don’t need. That sometimes gets touted as a detox diet. But really, it’s a version of clean eating.”
How to Detox, Decoded
Let us explain: When we consume enough fresh fruits and veggies (at least five servings per day), we’re filled with nutrients that help the body function properly. For example, potassium regulates blood pressure, and fiber reduces cholesterol levels and helps us feel full after eating. “Fiber-rich diets also help us have regular bowel moments, which is one way our bodies rid themselves of excess waste and unwanted compounds,” Doerfler says.
RELATED: Are You Getting Enough Fiber?
To reap the most benefits, Doerfler says the length of the detox or cleanse should depend on how restrictive it is. If you choose to do a very restrictive diet or cleanse (such as a juice cleanse) — which Doerfler does not recommend — it should last no longer than three days. But, if you’re just trying to add more lean protein, fruit and veggies to your diet, and pull back on the alcohol and soda, you can aim to maintain those changes for as long as you want to. You just need to make sure you’re getting enough calories, protein, and carbohydrates for the body to function properly.
By now, we hope you’ve abandoned all notions of a juice cleanse, and your mouth is salivating over the prospect of all the yummy, healthy foods you’ll be chowing down on while your friends are sipping charcoal. Well, achieving a successful dietary detox is as easy as following these simple guidelines:
1. Pack in the Protein
“Getting enough protein and distributing it properly though the day is essential,” Doerfler says. “As a general rule, the body likes to consume about 20 to 30 grams of protein every four to six hours.” This is roughly equivalent to three extra-large eggs, a half-cup of diced chicken breast, a four-ounce fillet of salmon or a half-cup of black beans. Stick to lean proteins such as eggs, egg whites, poultry, fish, legumes or tofu, and include some at every meal. Women need at least 50 to 60 grams of protein every day, and may require up to 90 grams per day depending on exercise habits. Men can also operate in this range, but larger men may need between 70 and 110 grams of protein per day.
RELATED: 13 Quick and Easy Protein Shake Recipes
2. Don’t Banish Carbs
Carbohydrates are still very important. According to the Institute of Medicine, your diet should contain no fewer than 120 grams of carbohydrates per day. This can easily be achieved with a healthy balance of vegetables, whole grains and legumes. For example, one cup of oatmeal for breakfast (27 g carbs), a green salad with roasted winter squash for lunch (like the Fall Cleanse Salad below, 41 g carbs), and a bowl of lentil soup for dinner (54 g carbs) would be just over 120 g carbs for the day.
“Some people may think that does not sound so low, but consider that the average American eats 300 grams of carbohydrates per day,” Doerfler says. Some of those can come from whole grains, and from a limited amount of low-fat dairy (think yogurt or kefir), says Doerfler.“I like for people to make sure they’re including at least one, if not two, servings of whole grains per day,” Doerfler says. Experiment with sources that are not typically in your diet — try quinoa, millet and wheat berries.
RELATED: 8 Ridiculously Easy Quinoa Recipes
3. Keep Calories Under Control
As a general rule of thumb, a low-calorie diet (aimed at losing weight) should consist of between 1,200 and 1,400 calories for women, and between 1,500 and 1,800 calories for men, says Doerfler. Aim for breakfasts of between 300 and 350 calories, lunches between 400 and 450 calories, and dinners between 500 and 550 calories. Snacks — up to two per day — should be around 150 calories.
Added sugar should make up no more than five percent of your daily calories, or no more than about 25 grams per day. Keep up that water intake, too, aiming for at least nine cups per day for women and 13 cups per day for men.
Remember that everyone is a little bit different — don’t be afraid to change things up after a few days if you’re feeling tired or hungry all the time. And of course, it’s always smart to consult with a doctor before starting a new nutrition plan.
Detoxifying Breakfast Recipes
1. Green Detox Smoothie
The Skinny: 264 calories, 1.9 g fat, 53.8 g carbs, 34.8 g sugar, 8.8 g fiber and 5 g protein per 16-ounce serving
This refreshing and nutrient-packed smoothie is full of heart-healthy fiber and potassium, thanks to the pineapple and banana mixed in. Spinach brings essential nutrients such as vitamin K (which helps keep bones and tissues in top shape) and vitamin A (which helps maintain healthy skin). While this smoothie may seem high in carbs, Doerfler says not to let that scare you away — just rein in your intake for the rest of the day. Craving something a bit more filling? Add a scoop of protein powder before blending. Photo and recipe: Ali Ebright / Gimme Some Oven
2. Baked Blackberry Oatmeal
The Skinny: 237 calories, 12.4 g fat, 25.5 g carbs, 10.7 g sugar, 4.7 g fiber and 8.6 g protein per ¾-cup serving
Blackberries and oats up the fiber in this breakfast bake, making it a great go-to to keep you full until lunchtime. The pumpkin seeds, pecans, hazelnuts and sunflower seeds also offer healthy poly- and mono-unsaturated fats and plenty of texture. A small scoop of this fruit- and nut-filled dish would make a great snack, too. Photo and recipe: Katie Morris / Katie at the Kitchen Door
RELATED: What 200 Calories of Nuts Looks Like
3. Cherry Chia Seed Pudding
The Skinny: 260 calories, 11 g fat, 32 g carbs, 8 g sugar, 13 g fiber and 9 g protein per 1-cup serving
Chia seeds are one of the best plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Soaking these tiny seeds in liquid creates a thick, pudding-like gel that is packed with fiber. Plus, its neutral flavor profile makes chia pudding the ideal canvas for whatever toppings you like. Cherries add a hint of sweetness, vitamin C, potassium, antioxidants, and even more fiber. Photo and recipe: Perry Santanachote / Life by DailyBurn
4. Pumpkin Papaya Superfood Acai Bowl
The Skinny: 306 calories, 9.1 g fat, 53 g carbs, 24.2 g sugar, 14.9 g fiber and 7 g protein per bowl
One surefire way to make sure you’re eating a balanced diet is to try and incorporate fruits and vegetables from every color family each day. Enter, the breakfast bowl. You’ll check off your orange and yellow produce requirements with pumpkin (packed with 245 percent of the daily recommended vitamin A per cup!) and papaya. Photo and recipe: Ksenia / Breakfast Criminals
5. Antioxidant Fruit Salad with Bee Pollen
The Skinny: 106.5 calories, .5 g fat, 27 g carbs, 22.5 g sugar, 4 g fiber and 2 g protein per 1-cup serving
If you’ve never tried bee pollen, consider giving this recipe a shot. Bee products are thought to help boost energy, provide essential nutrients, bolster the immune system, and even treat allergies. Blackberries, blueberries, plum, and nectarine make up the base of this hydrating and fiber-rich fruit salad. If you’d rather stick with seasonal fruits, feel free to sub in any variety you like. Add a scoop of plain low-fat Greek yogurt or a cup of plain kefir to boost the protein content. Photo and recipe: Renee Blair / Life by DailyBurn
6. 5-Ingredient Detox Smoothie
The Skinny: 181 calories, 1.6 g fat, 41 g carbs, 29 g sugar, 4.7 g fiber and 2.5 g protein per 2-cup serving
Antioxidant-packed berries and iron-rich kale make a nutritionally sound base for this easy detox smoothie. The ground flaxseeds in this recipe are a fantastic source of omega-3 fatty acids, and studies suggest consuming them may even help reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. Don’t skip the tofu either — it adds a bit of protein, but also helps create a nice silky texture. Add a scoop of protein powder or Greek yogurt to make this feel more like a complete meal. Photo and recipe: John and Dana / Minimalist Baker
Detox Lunch Recipes
7. The Ultimate Detox Salad
The Skinny: 442 calories, 38.7 g fat, 20.4 g carbs, 9 g fiber, 5.7 g sugar and 9.2 g protein per serving
This healthy salad packs in all of the fruit and veggie color families. Kale and broccoli provide vitamins A, C, B6, calcium and iron. Red cabbage is full of antioxidants and vitamin C, helps lower cholesterol and may also help lower the risk of some cancers. Carrots carry plenty of vitamin A, a nutrient essential for maintaining good vision. On top of that, avocado, walnuts and sesame seeds store a source of poly- and mono- unsaturated fats. Photo and recipe: Julia Mueller / The Roasted Root
8. Green Monster Detox Salad
The Skinny: 347 calories, 21.5 g fat, 37.9 g carbs, 13.7 g fiber, 12.7 g sugar and 11.2 g protein per serving
Cruciferous vegetables, which Doerfler says we should get at least three to four servings of each week, are the stars of this dish. Together, green cabbage and broccoli offer heart- and gut- healthy fiber, as well as compounds that have been linked to a lower risk of cancer. But that’s not all the green that this salad brings to the table. Celery and cucumbers also carry some added crunch as well as hydration. Photo and recipe: Consuelo / Honey and Figs Kitchen
9. Cleansing Spring Salad Recipe
The Skinny: 185 calories, 12 g fat, 20 g carbs, 6.4 g sugar, 6 g fiber and 3 g protein per 2-cup serving
With their earthy flavor and luscious texture, beets are a great way to add some heft to salads in addition to health benefits such as inflammation- and cancer- fighting properties. If you can find them in your local grocery store, spring for the microgreens over their normal-sized cousins — studies have shown that some microgreens can contain up to 40 times more nutrients than more mature versions. Photo and recipe: Renee Blair / Life by DailyBurn
10. Sweet and Savory Detox Salad
The Skinny: 186 calories, 3 g fat, 38.4 g carbs, 23.3 g sugar, 7.2 g fiber and 6 g protein per 2-cup serving
Don’t be turned off by the interesting combination of ingredients in this mix. Chopped broccoli and cauliflower (two points for cruciferous veggies!), sunflower seeds, currants, raisins and parsley combine to create a crave-worthy salad packed with nutrients. The dressing is simple, too — just vitamin C-packed lemon juice, a drizzle of maple syrup and salt and pepper. Photo and recipe: Angela Liddon / Oh She Glows
11. Fall Cleanse Salad Recipe
The Skinny: 427 calories, 29 g fat, 41g carbs, 6g fiber, 9g sugar and 12g protein per 2-cup serving
When in season, fall squashes, such as delicata, are a creative way to add orange produce into your diet. In the off-season, look in your local freezer section for pre-cut frozen winter squash, Doerfler says. It’s simple to prepare (just steam or roast!) and will boost any salad effortlessly. Fennel is a great way to add some crunch and it’s a good source of tons of nutrients that support better skin (thanks, vitamin C!), improved bone and heart health, lower blood pressure and better digestion. Photo and recipe: Renee Blair / Life by DailyBurn
Detox Dinner Recipes
12. Roasted Beet Noodles with Pesto and Baby Kale
The Skinny: 263 calories, 25 g fat, 10 g carbs, 4 g sugar, 3 g fiber and 3 g protein per serving
News flash: Beets make a great substitute for pasta! All you need is a spiral vegetable slicer, which uses a special blade to cut vegetables (or fruit) into thin, noodle-like pieces. Beets are packed with heart-healthy nutrients including fiber, folate and betaine. They’re also a great source of potassium, which helps many vital organs operate properly. Plus, research suggests that betalains, the pigments that give beets their color, have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory powers and may even help protect against some cancer-related issues. Add some grilled protein or white beans to make it more satiating. Photo and recipe: Ali Maffucci / Inspiralized
13. Raw Spicy Zoodle Bowl
The Skinny: 364 calories, 16.2 g fat, 54.7 g carbs, 18.1 g sugar, 14.2 g fiber and 9.7 g protein per serving
Here’s a comforting meal to brighten a dark and wintery day. Zucchini and carrot noodles are the foundation, but the rainbow of nutrients doesn’t stop there. This dish also contains antioxidant-packed red cabbage and red bell pepper, plus a bevy of other flavor-packed fresh ingredients such as celery, cilantro, ginger, avocado and sesame seeds. Photo and recipe: Shannon / The Glowing Fridge
14. Coconut Lentil Soup with Lemongrass and Ginger
The Skinny: 497 calories, 15.5 g fat, 54.5 g carbs, 5 g sugar, 21.5 g fiber and 24.6 g protein per serving
This soup is a heart-health powerhouse. Lentils and butternut squash contain a healthy dose of soluble fiber, which helps to lower cholesterol levels. Lentils are also a great source of lean vegan protein, offering about 18 grams of protein per cup (cooked). Because this recipe is relatively high in carbohydrates, make sure to limit your carbs for the rest of the day, aiming for around 120 to 130 grams total. Photo and recipe: Lindsey Johnson / Café Johnsonia
15. Macro Bowl with Sesame Tofu Recipe
The Skinny: 379 calories, 23 g fat, 29 g carbs, 2 g sugar, 6 g fiber and 16 g protein per serving
Macrobiotic meals are dense with essential nutrients thanks to a mix of whole grains, vegetables, lean vegan proteins, greens and seaweed in each serving. This flavor-packed bowl is low in saturated fat and high in fiber and protein. Brown rice brings fiber and magnesium, which helps keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy; and seaweed adds a wealth of iodine, a nutrient that is crucial in maintaining thyroid health. Photo and recipe: Perry Santanachote / Life by DailyBurn
16. Grapefruit, Avocado and Shrimp Salad
The Skinny: 288 calories, 22 g fat, 23.4 g carbs, 12.5 g sugar, 8.9 g fiber and 3.6 g protein per serving
Shrimp makes a great (and quick) addition to any salad. Four large shrimps contain just 22 calories, while also offering five grams of protein and zero grams of fat. Fit in a serving of whole grains with brown rice, or sub in another option such as quinoa or wheat berries. Avocado adds creaminess while grapefruit delivers a hefty dose of vitamin C. Photo and recipe: Mary / The Kitchen Paper
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Originally posted January 2015. Updated January 2016.