Toxins and Why You Should Worry About Them

After all those Thanksgiving festivities, give your liver a boost with special detoxifying foods, from our Health Editor, Tapp Francke.
photo my Marili Forestiari

Toxins are chemicals or poisons that are known to have harmful effects on the body. A build-up of these toxins is thought to contribute to a range of diseases and conditions, including cancer, skin rashes, depression, inflammation, weight gain, joint pain and neurological dysfunction.

Toxins are all around us – in the food, air and water. They’re in our cocktails. They’re in French fries. Our bodies, however, are built to handle them. Like a well-run factory, the kidneys, lymphatic system and liver all work together to bind and sweep these toxins out of our systems.

So why should we worry about toxins if our bodies are dealing with them? The problem is that, in the modern world, we are exposed to more toxins than our bodies can process. And just like anything that is overworked, the body can get burned out.

Today’s toxin overload reminds me of one of my favorite I Love Lucy episodes: Lucy and Ethel are working at a chocolate factory. The conveyer belt starts moving too quickly and the two get overwhelmed. Panicked, they end up shoving chocolates in their mouths, shirts and hats. This is much like what happens in our liver when it gets bombarded with more toxins than it can handle. It becomes overwhelmed and can’t do its job properly. That’s when we end up feeling sluggish, gaining weight and end up feeling sick.

I Love Lucy‘s famous “Job Switching” episode.

Detoxifying foods help the body to sweep the toxins out of our system. For example, orange vegetables (carrots, orange peppers) contain beta-carotene, which the liver converts into Vitamin A. The liver uses it to help move toxins out of the body. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower contain a phytonutrient called diindolylmethane, which assists in liver detoxification. Think of it as adding more workers to the assembly line.

Here are my five favorite detoxifying foods:

  • Dandelion greens. Juice them or sauté them with some garlic.
  • Artichokes. Packed with antioxidants, they can be steamed and the leaves dipped in fresh-squeezed lemon juice (another great detoxifier).
  • Butternut squash. It’s nutrient dense and high in beta-carotene.
  • Kale. This nutrition powerhouse is high in diindolylmethane.
  • Garlic. It produces a chemical called allicin, which promotes the growth of white blood cells that help your body fight against toxins.