Sometimes when the weather cools it is easy to get into the habit of eating more dense, cooked foods. For some people this is just what they need. But for others, a balance between raw and cooked (or even predominantly raw) is best. We each are unique, and so should be our diets. This colorful and nutrient-dense salad provides some key ingredients to support healthy detoxification. The dressing is delicious and can be used as a dip for raw veggies or used to top your favorite salads! I've even used it to top steamed vegetables!
What is detoxification?
In functional medicine, detoxification is often considered "biotransformation" because our bodies will transform harmful substances into less harmful substances and then excrete them from the body. This process can vary in effectiveness in different people depending on the nutrients we ingest, our genetics, and what types of toxins we are exposed to. For example, if we are exposed to persistent organic pollutants, which are so complex that they recirculate over and over in our body's detoxification process, they can slow everything down, not allowing a person to properly detox the everyday exposures like mercury from dental fillings or alcohol. Persistent organic pollutants include things like dioxins, DDT, and PCBs. DDT is an insecticide that was banned from the US in 1972. My mom has told me many stories of how she and her friends and siblings used to run behind the trucks that were spraying DDT when she was growing up in the 60's because they all liked the smell of it! Unfortunately, they just had no idea back then how toxic it was. DDT has a half life of 50 years, which means that she passed down this stuff to me in utero and through breastfeeding. As a result of this (and other factors), I always need to take extra care in supporting my detoxification pathways.
Toxins come in through our air, food, water, and skin. Once they are in our bodies we need to change their shape to make them less toxic and get them safely out of our systems. Toxins go though two phases of detox: Phase 1 and Phase 2. Phase 1 adds a chemical handle onto the toxin (usually a hydroxyl group). Phase 2 then grabs the handle and pulls the toxin out of the body (commonly this is glutathione that attaches to the hydroxyl group). Now the toxin needs to safely exit out of the body. This happens through the sweat, urine, and feces. However, if you are consuming a diet low in plant foods, while consuming a diet high in salt and acidifying foods like processed foods, meats, and dairy, then you will not be able to excrete the glutathione-bound toxins in the urine and therefore they will get reabsorbed back into the body! Same with the gut. Without enough soluble fiber from plant foods, the toxins will stick around and get reabsorbed back into the system. This is another reason why a plant-rich diet is so important.
Detox Benefits of this Salad:
The pigments in beets called betalains will increase GST (glutathione-S-transferase) activity. This allows for more glutathione to be connected to toxins. Glutathione is produced in our own bodies from three amino acids—cysteine, glycine, and glutamic acid—and is one of the most important detoxifying nutrients in the human body. DDT is often detoxified by glutathione.
Greens are a great source of natural folates. Folates are needed for the methylation pathway in your body. Methylation is the most ubiquitous cycle in the human body. We are always methylating, but there are many factors that can decrease the functioning of this incredibly important cycle. Genetics is one, of course, but so is the amount of toxins you are exposed to everyday. Your body will steal cysteine away from the methylation cycle in order to make more glutathione to process your toxins. When this happens, more substrates are needed to ramp up methylation (like folates from greens). Deficits in methylation are often found in children and adults with ADHD, autism, anxiety, depression as well as people with conditions that alter their digestion including those with celiac disease and people taking acid blocking medications. Greens and beans are both a great source for natural plant-based folates (especially 5-methyltetrahydrofolate), which help to ramp up methylation....so eat 'em up!
Legumes, especially lentils, pinto beans, and garbanzo beans (chickpeas), are high in natural folates (though chicken liver is the highest source of natural folates). All types of legumes are high in soluble fibers, which are excellent for binding to toxins that are excreted in the bile. This would include many of the fat soluble toxins like DDT, PCBs, and other Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).
Carrots are rich in carotenoids, which act as an antioxidant in the body, donating electrons to those free radicals floating around causing damage! They are also an excellent source of pre-biotics that feed friendly bacteria in the gut. Researchers are estimating that up to 50% of detoxification actually happens from bacteria interacting with toxins in the gut!
All cruciferous vegetables are a rich source of sulfurophane, but broccoli sprouts tend to be the highest. Sulfurophane ramps up the creation of glutathione and many other antioxidant and detoxification compounds in our bodies.
All types of radishes are part of the cruciferous vegetable family (Brassicaceae family), like broccoli (and broccoli sprouts), cabbage, kale, arugula, cress, brussels sprouts, collards, and cauliflower. Radishes help to ramp up the body's own detoxification pathways. Radishes are also excellent for stimulating digestion! Whenever my digestion is feeling sluggish I'll eat a bunch of radishes to get back on track!
All types of winter squashes are high in soluble fibers, which help bind to toxins in the gut and safely excrete them. Winter squash also contains potassium and beta carotene to further assist in detoxification.