The Cleansing Diet
by Gary Gran, CYT, DAy.
There is an old saying that says you have to exhale before you can inhale. Put another way, you have to empty before you can fill. In terms of nutrition, you have to cleanse before you can nourish.
This article will focus on one of many cleansing techniques - the cleansing diet. The cleansing diet can be used anytime your digestion is sluggish, you feel heavy, congested, lethargic, or when you are coming down with a cold. Symptoms may also include headaches, a thickly coated tongue, bad breath, and digestive discomforts like gas, bloating, and constipation. Counter-indications are extreme weakness, emaciation, insomnia, palpitations, fainting, absence of menstruation and many specific illnesses. Please check with your health care practitioner before attempting a cleanse.
The first step is to cut out all junk food, food additives, snacks, desserts, left-overs, canned foods, processed foods and salty foods. The idea is to eat fresh foods freshly prepared and to keep meals very simple. Decrease the size and frequency of meals and be sure to slow down and chew your food thoroughly. You can skip dinner and/or breakfast for a day or two and replace them with lemon water or juice.
The second step is to distinguish between the heavy and light food groups. Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are termed heavy, or nourishing in Ayurveda. Fruits, vegetables, and herbs are termed light, or cleansing. In a balanced diet, portions of heavy foods are matched more or less evenly with portions of light foods. For the cleansing diet, we reduce the heavy foods and increase the light foods.
Carbohydrates can be divided into the so-called ‘bad’ carbs and ‘good’ carbs. ‘Bad’ carbs are simple carbs like sugars and refined flours. Eliminate them completely. ‘Good’ carbs are complex carbs like whole grains. They can also be eliminated or sharply reduced for a few days up to a week, but should then be added back. However, care must be taken with the gluten-containing grains because of gluten’s sticky property. In fact, if you take the last three letters off of glu-ten the name would be more descriptive! It is best to avoid wheat altogether during your cleanse as it has the highest gluten content. The other gluten grains are barley, oats, rye, spelt and kamut. Corn is best avoided as well because it is a common allergen. The best whole grains for cleansing are rice, millet, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat and kasha.
Next we eliminate animal-based proteins. These include pork, red meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy. These are dense and highly nourishing foods and are therefore counter-indicated for a cleanse. They are also high on the food chain and therefore more likely to carry environmental toxicity. We can continue to eat plant-sourced protein in small quantities during our cleanse for energy. The best choice is simple well-cooked whole grain and bean combinations. The smaller the bean the easier it is to digest. Mung beans are well-documented for their cleansing and protective attributes. The classic cleansing dish in ayurveda is kitcharee, a combination of basmati rice and split mung beans cooked with turmeric, coriander and cumin seeds, and perhaps fresh ginger. Whole mung beans can be sprouted and eaten like a vegetable. Brown rice and red lentils is another good complete protein combination. Nuts and seeds also provide protein but are high in fat and best eaten fresh in very small quantities or avoided altogether.
Fats and oils are used in very small quantities to counter dryness and provide EFAs (essential fatty acids). Use best quality, fresh, cold-pressed oils like olive, sunflower, flax and borage. A small amount of organic ghee is also acceptable. By all means avoid all fried foods, greasy foods, junk oils, refined oils, oily snacks, saturated fats, lard, crisco, and trans-fats.
Fresh organic vegetables are excellent detoxifiers. In warm weather salads with fresh herbs are a good choice. In cold weather, make vegetable soup with herbs and spices. Steamed veges can be used anytime. Fresh vegetable juice is excellent as are sprouts of all kinds. Wheat grass and barley grass sprouts make especially cleansing juices. Vegetables also combine well with grains and beans. They can be added to the kitcharee recipe mentioned above, or a small handful of grains and/or beans can be added to vegetable soups. Some veges are heavier and more nourishing like sweet potatoes and winter squash and should be used sparingly.
Organic fruits are perhaps the best cleansers and are best eaten alone. Make a meal out of them or make fresh fruit juice. If the juice seems too sweet, dilute it with some fresh filtered water. Be careful with the heavier fruits like bananas and avocadoes. Fruit is cooling so go easy in cold weather.
There is an old story about the young doctor who was on his way to a village where he was to serve his apprenticeship. He was happy at first because the doctor there was almost ready to retire. But when he approached the village he was dismayed that it was surrounded by lemon trees! “Everyone knows that people who eat lemons never get sick” he complained. But the older doctor reassured him, “Yes, that’s true, but I don’t tell them not to eat the seeds!”
An excellent cleanser is to add the juice of half an organic lemon to a cup of warm water with a little raw honey and a pinch of rock salt. One or two cups can be taken first thing in the morning to help move the bowels, or it can be used as a meal replacement during a cleanse. An alternate version is organic lemon juice, warm water, a little maple syrup and a pinch of cayenne pepper.
For cleansing purposes, herbs and spices fall into two categories - heating and cooling. Heating spices are termed pungent in taste and include black pepper, ginger, cayenne, fennel, cardamom, cinnamon and cumin. They help support digestion and burn off impurities. They can be cooked into grain, bean and vegetable dishes or taken as a tea. Fresh ginger can be juiced with other veges to give warmth. Ginger tea is an excellent choice during cold weather. The cooling herbs are termed bitter in taste and include dandelion, burdock, aloe, gentian and turmeric. They are especially good at cleansing the blood and removing excess heat from the body. Drinking burdock and dandelion tea during warm weather is a good choice.
Your cleansing diet can be supported by gentle stretching, aerobic exercise, deep breathing, sweating and massage. Remember to leave ample time between meals and take no food between 7pm and 9am. A short cleanse can be accomplished in three days. Others may need to stay on the cleansing diet for one to three weeks depending on constitution and condition.
In warm weather, the cleansing diet could consist of lemon water upon arising, fresh fruit for breakfast, rice and steamed vegetables with bean sprouts for lunch, salad for dinner with fresh water, dandelion or burdock tea to drink between meals. In cold weather, try the warm lemon drink upon arising, kasha for breakfast, kitcharee or other grain and bean combination with cooked veges for lunch, vegetable soup for dinner, with warm water or ginger tea to drink between meals. And once emptied and cleansed, your system will be ready once again to receive full nourishment.