How’s it going then, the January purge? Are you finding Dry January a bit parching? Veganuary plans wilting fast? Statistics say that this is the week most of us will ditch the detox and pour ourselves a large drink as the January blues really start to take hold. Yeah, we’ll be disappointed in ourselves, too - all our plans to survive on green juice and good intentions out the window. But it’s quite possible that abandoning the detox is the best thing we could do for ourselves.
It is as much of a ritual as sweeping up the pine needles. With January come resolutions and retribution for the gluttony of December. We are bombarded with ads for diets, beseeched to embark on a detox. We know it’s all nonsense - weight-loss firms cashing in on our guilt. Yet we willingly don the sackcloth and sign up for the annual purge.
It seems odd that we would choose the most miserable month of the year to restrict our few pleasures - surely May is the month to start eating salad. But we can’t put our ablutions solely down to festive damage control - new year cleansing rituals are common across many cultures. Thai Buddhists ring in their new year with Songkran, where the young sprinkle water on their elders. The Japanese undertake a ritual house cleaning. Here, we stick patches on our feet, brew strange concoctions and deny ourselves solid food.
Nor is a detox is a new concept. The ancient Egyptians believed that decomposing matter caused fevers, and used colonic irrigation and coffee enemas. Most religious observe a period of fasting to purify the body and/or soul - Lent, Yom Kippur, Ramadan. Autointoxication theory was popular around the turn of the century, and abandoned in the 1930s. But ‘detoxing’ is back in fashion - John Lewis even reported that cult smoothie-maker Nutribullet was one of its most popular Christmas gifts.
While Jesus may have been forced to retreat to the desert, we modern-day detoxers have a whole range of nifty products to help us. Health-food shop shelves are crammed with detox teas, tablets and supplements. You can buy books on juice fasting, or log on to Gwyneth’s Goop website for her dandelion detox. And you can always hand over a small fortune for a lunch-hour colonic.
Why now? Some psychologists suggest that our secular society is finding itself at a loss - seeking meaning in an age of instant gratification. It may explain the surge in popularity of yoga, mindfulness and, indeed, fasting and detoxing - all borrowed from ancient religions. Whereas in the past a treat was just that, now there is less pleasure to be gleaned from any foodstuff until we know deprivation. In his book Clean: The Revolutionary Program to Restore the Body’s Natural Ability to Heal Itself, Alejandro Junger says: “We usually end up finding what we are looking for, but we only look for what we already know.” As much of a spiritual journey as a physical one, it seems.
The healthy eating trends of 2015
The healthy eating trends of 2015
1/10 Acai bowls are the new green juice
Who ever thought we’d have been ok with adding spinach to our smoothies? Yet even virtuous green juices started to get something of a bad rep, as the ‘juice fast’ backlash grew and it turned out that some shop-bought juices contained as much sugar as a can of fizzy drink. Bring on Acai bowls, the new darlings of Instagram. Like a gloopier smoothie, these are made with antioxidant-rich acai berries (they are hard to come by - search for powdered or dried berries or frozen puree), which are said to aid weight loss. Blend with frozen bananas, berries and a little nut milk and top with whatever you like - seeds, nuts, cacao nibs, goji berries. A picture-perfect purple powerhouse for breakfast.
Ella Grace Denton, www.weneedtolivemore.com
2/10 Bone broth is the new Miso soup
Remember back in the day when the word ‘broth’ would conjure up visions of Dickensian orphanages? Then miso came along, Gwyneth embraced it, and we all followed suit, lauding how filling and protein rich with little wonder broth was. We’ve come full circle now, as bone broth is back on the radar. The glowing-with-health Hemsley sisters seem to use bone broth in most of their recipes, and rave about its nutritional benefits. “Bone broth is a nourishing all rounder packed with vitamins, minerals, collagen and keratin which makes it amazing for skin – including the dreaded cellulite! The healthy fats in the broth help you to assimilate important vitamins including Vit D.” There you go, something to stew over...
Food Loves Writing, Flickr
3/10 Bee pollen is the new Manuka honey
Every health hipster has a jar of manuka honey on their shelves - if they can afford it that is, a jar can cost about £15. But many claim it is worth its weight in gold, due to its unique antibacterial properties. Traditionally it was used on wounds, but many also claim that it performs miracles combatting cholesterol, diabetes, cancer and digestive problems (although the science is limited). Now bee pollen is the latest ‘superfood’ out there - thought to ward off colds, limit food cravings, improve skin tone, ward off allergies like hay fever (although some caution that it may exacerbate them) and, of course, fight cancer. Again, the science behind these claims is dubious - but it certainly adds a nice sweetness to your morning porridge.
4/10 Kelp is the new kale
Last year saw the emergence of an unassuming green leaf that was previously barely used beyond cattle feed. Now, we have kale chips in Pret, kale juices, ‘massaged’ kale salads - it’s even on the menu in fine dining restaurants. Yawn. Introducing kelp. This seaweed is high in iodine, which is said to improve thyroid function and control metabolism. It is also thought to have anti-aging properties for skin and hair. Try it in salads or add to asian-style soups.
5/10 Matcha is the new green tea
Yes, yes, yes, green tea, weightloss, yadda yadda yadda, boosts metabolism, etc etc. For 2015, though, it’s not about just any old green tea - this is matcha green tea. Made from finely milled high-grade matcha leaves, which are grown in the shade, matcha boasts 130 times more anti-oxidants than your bog standard green tea and is supposed to boost energy levels, lower stress, improve your mood and aid metabolism. It can be consumed as a regular tea, added to steamed milk for a matcha latte or even used to add a pleasant green shade and flavour to ice-cream.
6/10 Whole 30 is the new Paleo diet
Thought you were a culinary champ with your caveman-style eating plan? Well, think again, paleo is for wimps! Ok, not quite, but while people on the paleo plan cut out grains, legumes, sugar and processed foods, there is an increasing trend to paleo-fy your treats, with almond-flour pancakes, banana bread and a lot of brownies. The Whole 30 plan is a purer, stricter version of Paleo and really takes you back to basics when it comes to eating natural foods. The 30-day plan bans scales as well as sugar and alcohol, so that you can concentrate on nourishment rather than weight.
7/10 Fermenting is the new sprouting
Just when we thought we were ahead of the game by starting to sprout our own seeds and with sprouted flours creeping on to the market, the health set had to kick it up a notch. Now it’s all about making your own kombucha (fermented tea), sauerkraut or kimchi (both kinds of pickled cabbage). Fermented foods are said to aid digestion thanks to the creation of enzymes and probiotics in the process. Plus they tend to be high in B-vitamins and Omega-3 fatty acids. Think of it as the new jam-making, and break out those mason jars.
8/10 Banana flour is the new coconut flour
Coconut flour was one of the coolest baking ingredients of the year, beloved by Paleo fans. Its highly absorbent qualities mean you only need a tiny bit for baking, keeping your creations low carb but resulting in the odd dry-crumbly-mess baking fail. Banana flour is the next flour to experiment with. Made from green bananas (and no, not banana-flavoured), it is gluten free and light in texture, so ideal for baking. High in resistant starch, which is effective against colon cancer, obesity, and diabetes, it is already being lauded for its nutritional benefits in Africa and South America, and will surely start to become much more visible on health-food shop shelves in the near future.
9/10 Bulletproof coffee is the new soy latte
Nowadays it is possible to walk into almost any cafe and order a soy latte without being eyeballed as a lunatic by the person behind the counter. But would you have the guts to request a stick of butter in your morning brew? Well, some coffee shops are offering exactly that. Bulletproof coffee is a paleo-friendly invention which involves a black coffee with a dollop of coconut oil or butter. Bleurgh. But advocates say it gives you more slow-release energy, sharpens your brain and helps you to focus - and even that it is delicious. Now the theory has been expanded into a whole ‘Bulletproof’ diet plan, rich in fat. Who wants to bet on when Starbucks will give it a shot?
10/10 Tiger nuts are the new almonds
2014 was a good year for almonds. Gym-goers and raw foodists alike carried around a stash for healthy, protein-rich snacking, almond-milk lattes were quaffed, and almond flour featured in so many paleo and gluten-free treats. Now tiger nuts, or ‘earth almonds’ (yes, really), are about to vie for snacking superiority. Tiger nuts are not nuts, but the tubers of the sedge plant. Originally a key food source for Paleolithic Indians, they have until recently been used as animal feed or a side dish in South America, Africa and the Middle East, or in Hispanic companies made into a sweet, milky drink called horchata. But now the hipsters have got their hands on it, drying, roasting and flavouring with the likes of sweet chilli for an on-the-go snack. High in healthy fats, protein and natural sugar, it is rich in energy content, and thought to help prevent heart disease and improve circulation.
Spiritual or secular, if we’re happy to fork over the cash, then what harm can a detox do? Well, it depends how passionately you purge. Cutting down booze, sugar and fat will only do us good. But, unless you have been abusing alcohol or hard drugs, the idea of us needing to detox has been dismissed as rubbish. “Your liver contains enzymes which convert toxic substances into less harmful ones. It works together with your gut, your kidneys and your lymphatic system to provide – the only – detox,” charitable trust Sense about Science says.
“So, the best way to get that ‘health fix’ after a time of indulgence? Simply drink water to keep hydrated, eat a balanced diet and get a good night’s sleep. The human body has evolved to get rid of unnecessary substances through your liver, kidneys, and colon. It isn’t possible to improve their function without medical assistance.”
In 2009 Sense about Science looked at 15 difference detox products on the market, and found scant evidence to back up their claims - in fact, no firm could explain in detail which actual toxins had been eliminated. So what are the products actually doing?
They range from the dubious to the more dangerous. Most detox teas contain peppermint, fennel, dandelion or nettle - natural diuretics that are a pleasant, hydrating alternative to caffeinated drinks. Some, however, contain laxatives, which will definitely make you feel, ahem, lighter, but over time can cause reduced bowel effectiveness.
Those patches that turn brown after a night on your feet? They claim to rid your body of toxins, parasites and cellulite, but in reality the brown gunk is a substance in the pads reacting with your sweat - you will get the same result over a steaming kettle. Certain ‘miraculous’ detox pills will result in an impressive ‘snake’ of faeces in your toilet (proud users even post the resulting pictures online) - but it’s merely plastics binding your poo. Colonic irrigation can lead to an electrolyte balance, or at worst, perforation of the bowel.
But surely a juice fast can’t be a scam? Nothing but liquidised fruit and veg must do us good? Well, yes, but perhaps a lot less than eating the vegetables whole (although, granted, you’d be munching for a while to consume the same quantities of raw produce). Juice-fast advocates say it gives the digestive system a break, but in fact beneficial fibre is lacking. And while you may feel lighter, most people tend to soon regain the pounds. Same goes for the more bonkers quick-fix diets like the Master Cleanse - the cayenne pepper and lemon juice fast made famous by Beyoncé - which may make you shed weight, but quickly gain it back.
“Fasting in any form will not help your body to preserve essential muscle mass, which drives an effective metabolism,” says weight-loss and lifestyle expert Louise Parker. “With a juice cleanse or fast, one usually sees exciting 'weight loss' - but when you look closer at the statistics, the percentage of muscle loss exceeds the fat loss which totally defeats the objective of anyone trying to achieve a leaner, more toned body. Some juice diets contain a lot of concentrated fruit sugar and whilst it is natural, it's still sugar. Sugar in any concentrated form is the enemy of effectively targeting fat loss.”
Then what’s the answer? Drink and eat whatever we like? Not quite - eating a balanced diet is key to good health. If you must absolve your festive sins, by all means have a daily green juice, swap your morning coffee for some matcha tea, or plump for a salad. Just don’t think a detox will be your saving grace.
Louise Parker’s Optimum Weight Loss Programme is available worldwide www.louiseparker.uk.com