If your waistband felt a little tighter as you returned to work this week, you may be among the thousands of Brits vowing to undo festive excesses with a New Year detox or 'cleanse.'
Many of the fashionable detox kits on the market come with pills, powders and shakes that promise to shed pounds in a matter of weeks, yet the eye-watering price tags are enough to put even the most committed health nut off. So how can you fight festive excess on a budget?
Despite what the popular detox plans on the market would have us believe - Gwyneth Paltrow's GOOP brand for example, has just released a 21-day cleanse kit of curious powders, enzymes and liquids that will set you back a cool $425 (£274) – you don't have to splash out to get your insides in good shape.
In fact, detoxing and money saving can actually go hand-in-hand - figures from the Department of Health found the average UK household can save up to £29 a week by eating healthier - equal to £1,500 a year. So we asked medical herbalist Lucy Stephens from RevaClinic.com to demystify the detox process and explain how to cleanse your body with everyday foods on a budget.
Festive overindulgence such as overeating, excess alcohol, excess sugar, and possibly excess caffeine to keep us awake after the late nights all take their toll on our bodies by reducing the function of the liver.
Liver functions include removing old or excess hormones, eliminating toxins, balancing blood sugar levels, producing bile, which is needed for digestion, and storing nutrients. If any of these functions are not working properly, we can start to feel tired, sluggish and irritable. They can also trigger puffy eyes, dark circles and blocked sinuses.
The digestive system is the first line of defence against toxins entering the body. The bacteria in the gut start the detoxification process, neutralising enzymes and also helping to break down the food. If your gut bacteria aren't functioning optimally you may find you suffer from bloating, constipation and flatulence.
What is detoxing?
Detoxification involves the break down of substances to transfer them into harmless matter that can be removed. The liver works in two phases: phase one starts the break down of toxins and phase two makes the toxins water soluble so that they can be excreted.
The aim of changing your lifestyle to include more vitamins and minerals from food and reducing harmful things such as alcohol and sugar is to increase energy, clear skin, improve digestion, give a clear head and improved concentration.
Any detox regime that promises quick weight loss is not only unsustainable but may be dangerous too. Our body stores toxins in our fat cells, so if we start to lose weight rapidly these toxins are released and the liver suddenly has to cope with this extra load. The use of laxatives in detox diets is also not advised as they can make the bowel sluggish and lead to dehydration.
Changing your diet and lifestyle is a much better way to support the health of the body as it prevents us falling into the trap of "I've detoxed, now I can eat and drink what I want".
The enzymes and nutrients offered in many expensive detox kits and powders can be gained from regular fruit and vegetables, so you can save yourself a lot of money by simply upping your intake and altering how you prepare them.
The simple approach
The simple idea of a detox is to take to the load off the body's liver and digestive function by giving it nutrients and removing added toxins.
Raw vegetables contain lots of enzymes needed for digestion, which are usually lost when the vegetables are cooked. Try making raw vegetable juices as the process breaks down the vegetables to give quicker absorption of nutrients. However, avoid juicing fruit as the sugars will enter the bloodstream too quickly, resulting in a sugar rush.
Use any vegetables you would eat raw and focus on the green vegetables such as celery, cucumber, kale, lettuce, parsley and coriander. Adding some lemon and a little ginger is also nice. Drink the juice immediately otherwise it starts to oxidise and the nutrients break down. If you don't have a juicer, blend the vegetables instead to make a smoothie, adding avocado to make it creamy.
What to cut out and increase
Try minimising all substances that have to be processed by the liver. These include caffeine, alcohol, recreational or medicinal drugs, trans fats (found in margarines, spreads, packaged cakes and biscuits, deep fried foods or anything with hydrogenated fats on the label), salt, processed foods including meats (sausages, deli meat, etc) and tobacco.
Increase your intake of fresh fruit and green vegetables, onion, garlic, fish, raw nuts, seeds and green tea in the first instance, and add in root vegetables, meat, eggs in phase two. If you want to boost your detox, supplements worth buying include milk thistle and Epsom salts. Milk thistle contains silymarin - an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that has been shown to protect the liver cells against toxic damage.
Epsom salts are made of magnesium sulphate which helps regulate enzymes and eliminate harmful toxins. Studies show that many people are deficient in this mineral, which can be further drained by stress. Try adding two cups of Epsom salts to a bath around three times a week.
Finally, a good quality probiotic is a good option if you are suffering from any digestive complaints such as bloating and fatigue.