Nutrition: Detox for dummies

Don’t fall for fads, leave detox to your liver

Your liver’s got a hard enough life as it is, so help it out with a good supply of healthy greens, water, fruit and fibre, and lay off the trans fats, and booze

At this time of the year, when we’re stepping up the mileage and blowing out the cobwebs of a winter’s basetraining, it’s tempting to want to spring clean our insides too – to detox – perhaps with one of the many products or diet plans lining the shelves of your local chemist.


First up, forget about the products – most only deal with the symptoms, not the causes of toxic overload. Take all those ‘detox’ scrubs, beauty treatments and bath products, for example. All they are really doing is cleaning away toxins that have come out of the body via the lymphatic system, or those that have yet to work their way in.

Surface toxins do need to be cleared away, so a good scrub won’t hurt. But it’s no substitute for reducing your intake of toxins in the first place – and then giving the liver the resources it needs to do its job and expel the bad stuff via your gut.

Liver works

There are two phases to liver function and you can help both with the right diet. Phase one of this process involves the conversion of toxins into less harmful, water-soluble substances through an array of chemical reactions involving enzymes.

To create these enzymes you need a good supply of minerals and nutrients, especially B vitamins and magnesium, which is where a diet of fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, lean protein, pulses, nuts and seeds comes in.

Hydrogenated fats, such as the trans-fatty acids you find in processed junk food, are your liver’s sworn enemy and it treats them as toxins, distracting it from dealing with the other nasties constantly bombarding your body. Worse still, many toxins are fat-soluble, so an over-worked liver will store the toxins in the fats around your body where they can cause further problems.

To help your liver out during the first phase of its detoxing duties, your diet needs to contain a ready supply of anti-oxidants such as vitamins C, E and beta-carotene. These are crucial for absorbing ‘free-radicals’ – the byproducts created when your enzymes work on fat-soluble toxins. Left in the body, free-radicals are thought to produce carcinogenic substances.

Some of the toxins which are cleaned out or neutralised in phase one include alcohol, phenobarbital, dioxin, steroids, nicotine, carbon tetrachloride, sulfonamides, pesticides, and exhaust and paint fumes.

Some of the best foods for helping this first phase are cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, oranges, spinach, kale, caraway and dill. Milk thistle and artichoke are especially beneficial to liver function, as are niacin, and vitamins B1 and C.

Next steps

Phase two of liver function continues the neutralising process, transforming toxins into water-soluble substances that can be excreted via urine from the kidneys or by bile through the gut.

A healthy liver will make almost a litre of bile a day, which is the main carrier of toxins into the gut. After the bile enters the gut it’s absorbed by fibre and excreted. Not enough fibre in your diet means the bile and its toxic load will be reabsorbed by the gut wall and must be reprocessed again – which is not good.

Some of the best foods to help out phase two are green tea, berries and green leafy veg, which all are good sources of healthy phytonutrients.

For the final stage of the elimination process, add lemon juice to your diet to help bile production, and to get more water-soluble fibre eat oats, beans, lentils, apples and pears.

Keep riding… and eating!

The good news is that exercise such as cycling is one of the best ways of getting rid of toxins stored in body fats. Stress and fasting can release these toxins as well, but neither are going to improve your health or fitness.


Food advisor Christine Bailey especially advises against water-only fasting: “Not only will this leave you feeling tired and unable to ride, but it will probably result in muscle loss. It certainly won’t help your liver.”