Do You Need a Spring Cleanse?

Yoga and Nutrition are Perfect Partners

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

 Multi-Grain & Vegetable Stir-Fry with Crisp Tofu and Peanuts


Recently one of my favorite yoga instructors at the Pine Lake Club, Rebecca, asked me speak about dietary approaches to “cleansing” before a cleansing yoga workshop she was leading.  As the dietitian-nutritionist for the club, I said “sure, but….”


I explained that I’m not a proponent of cleansing supplements, colonic irrigations or other products.  I promote nourishing one’s body well every day with a variety of power-packed, nutrient-rich whole foods that fuel the body’s mechanisms to maintain balance and health.  


Yoga and nutrition are perfect partners and I was thrilled to share the following with the class before Rebecca’s refreshing workshop.  As a dear friend recently said, “Lorelle, doing yoga just makes you want to eat more healthfully!”  She was referring to the mind-body awareness that yoga facilitates.  It teaches us to slow down and tune into our bodies.  Through yoga we re-learn the simplest things, like how to breathe and to move our limbs.  We focus on the present moment and leave our worries and stresses, the past and future, at the door.


This enhanced awareness helps draw attention to what we put in our bodies and how it influences our mental and physical abilities.  In a world where “mindless eating”  is the norm and we eat and drink for many reasons beyond nourishment – stress relief, diversion, avoidance, habit, peer pressure or just because “it’s there,” the mindful practice of yoga is a tool to tap into the effects of our food and beverage choices.   These choices impact performance and endurance long after we’ve left the yoga studio.


To consider how food facilitates “cleansing” it helps to define the terms and the toxins. We commonly hear the words cleanse, detox and purify and they mean different things to different people.  Often there is confusion about the figurative and literal use of these terms.  I practice in the world of nutrition science so I’ll stick close to the literal meaning. 


What are the toxins we need to avoid or excrete? There are two types. Endogenous ones are produced internally through the body’s ongoing metabolic processes.  Exogenous toxins come from the outside environment and include pollution, pesticides, additives and chemical preservatives.  Can excessive exposure to organic pollutants, toxic minerals and heavy metals overwhelm the body’s natural mechanisms for excretion and lead to accumulation in the body? What is an excessive level of exposure?  This is a controversial subject in the nutrition and healthcare community; there are divergent thoughts on the significance of bio-accumulation and, if needed, the remedy.


Detoxification in the body is a 2-phase biochemical process. These processes use specific nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and amino acids to operate optimally.  Phase 1 transforms non-water-soluble toxins and metabolites into unstable molecules called free-radicals. Phase 2 changes free-radicals into water-soluble compounds that can be excreted in sweat, urine, bile or through the gastrointestinal tract. The liver and kidneys are key organs in processing and excreting substances.


Research suggests that a build-up of free-radicals, can cause inflammation and lead to aging and conditions such as cardiovascular disease and some cancers. The goal of nutrition in “cleansing” is to provide the nutrients that facilitate or up-regulate the detoxification pathways and prevent any possible “bioaccumulation.” 


Super foods may be an over-used term, but some foods are worth mentioning for their  type and/or amount  of health-promoting and disease fighting components. Our bodies deserve a constant supply of top-quality fuel to do all that we ask them to do on a 24-7 basis.  If you choose nutrient-rich foods and appetizing, well-crafted recipes, eating healthfully can be pleasurable and boost performance. 


A cleansing diet favors whole over processed foods with an abundance of richly-colored fruits and vegetables, good sources of dietary fiber and water.  Certified organic animal products and produce are often recommended, although it is better to eat well-washed non-organics than skip the produce.


1. Water Do you hydrate properly before, during and after your yoga or other work-out?  Sweat losses totaling 2% of your body weight can result in decreased energy and performance.  Exercising in a hot environment at moderate- to high-intensity can result in sweat rates of 1 to 2 liters (L) or more per hour. In such situations, athletes are advised to replace electrolytes, especially sodium, by consuming sports-type drinks containing 6 to 8% carbohydrate, sodium (0.5 to 0.7 g/L), and potassium (0.8 to 2.0 g/L) during exercise.


Checking urine color and monitoring your body weight before and after exercise are ways to estimate fluid losses.  Consider working with a registered dietitian to create an individualized plan for hydration and food to eat before, during and after activities to feel and perform your best.


2. Green Tea contains catechins, antioxidants associated with health benefits. Studies have examined green tea for a variety of conditions, including bone health, cognitive function, cancer risk and weight loss but are most robust in the area of preventing cardiovascular disease. 


There is a daunting variety of green tea to explore. It should be brewed at a temperature below boiling, 175 to 185 degrees Fahrenheit.  I often make a matcha latte by adding powdered green to very hot water and topping it with frothy steamed milk.  Matcha can be used in recipes, too.


3. Probiotics such as yogurt, kefir and lacto-fermented vegetables promote the growth of friendly bacteria in our large intestine to crowd out the unfriendly or pathogenic bacteria. 


A favorite mini-meal after hot yoga is a smoothie made with high-protein Greek yogurt, frozen berries and three to four other fruits. It supplies fluid for rehydration, protein for muscle building and micronutrients.


4. Cruciferous vegetables, include cabbage, broccoli, collards, kale, arugula, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collard greens,  horseradish, kale, radishes, rutabaga, turnips, watercress, wasabi  and turnip green sprouts.  They promote enzymes that regulate detoxification in the liver and have anti-inflammatory effects.   Plus they supply vitamins C, E, and K, folate, minerals, fiber and several phytochemical carotenoids that have antioxidant and other protective properties. Diets rich in cruciferous vegetables are associated with lower risk of several cancers.


I aim to include a cruciferous vegetable every day, in a salad, vegetable side or in a one-dish meal, as in the recipe below. Think outside the veggie box and work them into snacks or even onto a pizza.

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto



 5. Eggs, Garlic and Onions are sources of sulfur which supports production of an antioxidant glutathione, sometimes called the “master detoxifier” as it is a cofactor in both phases of detoxification in the body.


It’s easy to overlook the mostly white vegetables such as garlic, onions, chives, leeks, ramps and scallions.  They contain allium compounds derived from sulfur-containing glucosinolates. They have anti-viral and anti-bacterial and anti-fungal activity.  Potential health benefits include reduced risk of some cancers, lower cholesterol and blood pressure.


Eggs are an inexpensive source of high biological value (top quality) protein.  Consider keeping a few cooked in-shell eggs on hand in the refrigerator for grab-and-go meals and snacks.  Onions and garlic are widely available in varieties ranging from sweet to pungent, to round out the flavor and add depth to recipes.

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto


 Easy to grow, chives add delicate flavor to just about any dish.


6. Turmeric has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and stimulates the liver to break down toxins.  It has a long medical and culinary history in India.  I experiment with turmeric in Indian recipes, especially with legumes and lentil dishes such as dal, a cornerstone of Indian meals.


7. Fiber-Rich Foods increase transit time through the intestines and minimize contact with potential toxins.  Soluble fibers such as in oatmeal and barley bind to bile acids and help usher cholesterol out of the body. 


Legumes are a top source of dietary fiber along with whole grains, fruits and vegetables.  Of course these foods supply a wealth of other key nutrients, too. 


The recipe below, Golden Grain & Vegetable Stir-Fry with Crisp Tofu and Peanuts is a vegan recipe that includes five of the seven categories of cleansing foods mentioned above.  Tofu and peanuts are protein-rich legumes, turmeric contributes to the curry flavorings, broccolini is a cruciferous vegetable, the alliums onion and garlic are sulfur-containing vegetables and whole grains  provide fiber. 


Photo by Lorelle Del Matto


Reference 2, by Robin Foroutan provided much of the information in this blog, including the seven categories of foods for cleansing. 



1. Gut Myths? Clearing up confusing in the GI Tract.  Nutrition Action Healthletter. January/February 2013.


2. Defining Detox, Reclaiming One of the Most Divisive Words in Dietetics, Food and Nutrition Magazine, Fall 2012 by Robin Foroutan.


3. Sports Nutrition, A Practice Manual for Professionals, 4th edition American Dietetic Association, Marie Dunford, PhD, RD editor


4. Cruciferous Vegetables.


5. Drinking Tea Protects Your Head, Heart and Bone. Tufts Health and Nutrition Letter. April 2013 P. 4-5. 


6. Green Tea May Lower Heart Disease Risk. Harvard Heart Letter Volume 13 A, 2013 p. 7.


7.  Essentials of Nutrition for Chefs by Catherine Powers, MS, RD, LD and Mary Abbott Hess, LDH, RD, LDN, FADA. Culinary Nutrition Publishing LLC.  2013.


Golden Grain & Vegetable Stir-Fry with Crisp Tofu and Peanuts


Turmeric lends the golden hue to the dish and yellow bell pepper and carrot carry out the theme.  A minced fresh Serrano or jalapeno would be a zippy addition if you have one.  I used a blend of brown basmati rice, red rice and barley in this recipe. See the note following the recipe for an easy way to cook whole grains.  I had a lovely saffron-salt on hand to season this dish but a sea salt or sodium-reduced soy sauce will work.


1 package firm or extra-firm tofu, drained, patted dry on paper towels and cut into cubes

2 tablespoons canola oil, divided use

1/2 yellow onion, chopped

1 cup chopped carrot

1 yellow, orange or red bell pepper, chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

5 cups cooked whole grains (See below*)

2 cups baby broccoli (broccolini), stems peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces and steamed or micro-cooked until tender-crisp

1/2 cup vegetable or chicken broth, more as needed

Saffron-salt, fennel-salt, sea salt or reduced-sodium soy sauce and freshly ground black pepper


Curry Spices:

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon ground fenugreek

1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom


Garnish:  Roasted, unsalted or lightly salted peanuts


Swirl 1 tablespoon of oil in a large nonstick skillet and place over medium-low heat.  Add tofu cubes and sauté, turning occasionally and adjusting heat as needed, until golden brown.  Remove from heat and reserve.


Combine Curry Spices in a small bowl and place near the stove.  Heat a large, deep skillet over medium heat.  Swirl in remaining tablespoon of oil.  Add onion, carrot, bell pepper and garlic.  Cook, stirring often, until onion is very soft.  Sprinkle in spice mixture and toss for a few seconds to toast the spices.  Add grains, broccolini, broth and reserved tofu.  Cook, stirring often and reducing heat as needed until all ingredients are hot.  Add salt and pepper to taste, as desired. Garnish with peanuts.  Makes 4 servings.


*Whole Grains: I mix a variety of cooked whole grains for interesting textures and flavors in this and similar recipes. I cook such grains ahead, in sequential batches in the same pot, using the pasta method: cook in boiling water until just tender and then drain well.  I often do this on the weekend so I have grains for sides, salads or entrees throughout the week – and there’s just one pot to wash. Other grain options include wheat berries, black rice and wild rice. 


© 2013 Lorelle S Del Matto

lorelle About lorelle

Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.


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