Kick-start your diet with a spring 'detox'

Spring is the best time to refresh, re-energise, and revive your energy with a seasonal detox.
Spring is the best time to refresh, re-energise, and revive your energy with a seasonal detox. Photo: iStock

Over the cooler months many of us may have overindulged in comfort foods or fought the chill with a tipple or two. 

But as the weather gets warmer, we have the chance to re-energise and revive with lighter spring cooking.

Ayurveda is an alternative and traditional system of Indian medicine, which draws upon seasonal eating protocols including detox diets. 

Chara Caruthers, an ayurvedic nutritionist and author of Eat Like You Love Yourself, says spring is the "king of seasons" because it's an opportunity to "clear out the heaviness and stagnation of winter, by introducing lighter seasonal foods in our diet".

"A food cleanse, even for only a weekend, is a gentle and healthy way to shed extra weight and eliminate accumulated toxins out of the body," she says. 

Another alternative system that claims each season correlates to different elements of nature, food flavours, and organ systems in the body is traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

Try ginger tea with ayurvedic herbs and spices.
Try ginger tea with ayurvedic herbs and spices. Photo: iStock

"Spring is linked with the wood element, the sour flavour, and the liver and gallbladder system," explains Clancy Street, a Melbourne doctor of traditional Chinese medicine.

"This suggests that we should emphasise foods with a sour taste - but only in small amounts so we don't overstimulate the liver - as the cleansing actions of sour foods break down excess fats, cool the liver and have tissue-drawing capacities, which eliminate toxins from the organs," she says. Sour food suggestions include salad greens, sour plum, sauerkraut and pickles including citrus foods such as lemons, lime and grapefruit.

Similarly, ayurveda links the flavours of food to season and suggests bitter and astringent flavours for a spring "cleanse". Liver-loving foods that include these flavours are dandelion, garlic, ginger, kale, broccoli, carrots, bitter gourd, chard, basil and cauliflower. 

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Kate Save, an accredited dietitian and founder of meal program Be Fit Food, says that while our bodies are designed to detox by themselves quite naturally, sometimes our organs and especially the liver might benefit from a break if they become fatty or dysfunctional due to excess alcohol consumption.   

"A weekend 'cleanse' whereby we eat more plant-based, high-fibre foods and eliminate processed foods and alcohol would be the perfect liver 'detox'," Save says.

The benefits of a gentle spring "cleanse" may extend beyond our physical bodies. 

A weekend 'cleanse' whereby we eat more plant-based, high-fibre foods and eliminate processed foods and alcohol would be the perfect liver 'detox'.

Kate Save, accredited dietitian

According to traditional Chinese medicine, having the liver and gallbladder in "balance" leads to improved digestion, increased circulation and reduced inflammation, among other benefits, Street says. 

And in ayurveda, a "detox" purports to improve concentration and mood. "Generally, you can count on feeling less foggy and more clear-headed," adds Caruthers.

Commonsense caution

"If you're new to detoxing or decide to do the detox diet on your own choose a weekend where there won't be any social pressures or interruptions, and interference from work stresses, to support complete nourishment," Save says.

In ayurveda, a detox is traditionally done two weeks on the either side of the season changes. "Therefore, as the spring equinox falls on September 21 anytime from two weeks before or after is recommended," Caruthers says.

"Fasting is also not advised for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to conceive, the elderly and those with a medical condition or autoimmune disease," Street says.

"If you have any chronic health problems, detox under supervision and with the approval of your physician."

How to detox

Ayurveda supports a simple mono-diet healing dish for a weekend cleanse, known as kitchari, a simple one-pot stew of rice and mung beans, spices, ghee and seasonal astringent vegetables. 

"When we give our body just one type of food, the body has plenty of energy to reallocate for all its natural cleansing processes – for digestion, detoxification and cellular repair," Caruthers claims.

"Therefore, it's preferable to have this for breakfast, lunch and dinner over the whole weekend, but start your mornings with a cup of warm water and a splash of lemon."

To make the most of your detox weekend eliminate caffeine, alcohol, sodas, animal protein and dairy, processed foods, sugar and snacks. 

"Replace that with at least six glasses of water and sip on detox tea throughout the day - a combination of equal parts cumin, coriander and fennel, and a small slice of fresh ginger, steeped in hot water for five minutes," Caruthers says. 

Heavy coffee drinkers may experience headaches from caffeine withdrawal. "It's natural and just move through it but the detox-tea should help curb your need to snack, [as well as] boost digestion and help balance sugar cravings," Caruthers says.    

Post-detox

"Because the cleanse is plant-based it's best to try to ... re-introduce foods like animal protein, dairy, and even processed foods gradually back into your diet," Caruthers says.

Do the same with coffee. Notice how during the detox you loosened the body's dependence on caffeine and incorporate it only as you feel you need it. "You don't want to 'retox' straight away, especially as this is a highly sensitive season for the liver. Think of it, as a way to reset your whole diet and lifestyle," Street says.  

In traditional Chinese medicine, she says, the post-detox diet includes a variety of foods that cover a balance of the whole five-flavour palate of sweet, salty and spicy (pungent), not just sour, bitter and astringent tastes, to maintain balance and keep the gut flora happy.

"To keep in tune with the ebb and flow of the digestive fire during spring, have your biggest meal in the morning when the digestive, liver and gallbladder function peaks, and a lighter meal for lunch and dinner will support liver and gallbladder function throughout the whole season."   

Some spring food suggestions

Foods that support the liver according to traditional Chinese medicine: Mung beans and their sprouts, celery, seaweed, lettuce, cucumber, watercress, plum, chlorophyll-rich foods 

Foods that assist the gallbladder according to traditional Chinese medicine: Pears, parsnips, radish, seaweeds, lemons, limes, chamomile