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Today, we are exposed to more toxic chemicals than ever before. Toxins are in the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. They’re inside our cosmetics and bodycare products, our paints and carpets—even our mattresses and clothing. 

One toxic chemical alone may not be a problem, but when the cocktail of thousands of toxic substances enters our body, it can, almost silently, begin to wreak havoc on our health. 

We all deal with the effects of this increase in exposure to toxins to varying degrees. Many common ailments such as headaches, bowel irregularities, allergies, weight problems, depression and anxiety are caused by failing detox systems. Looking older, feeling more tired and losing the radiant luster of health are also directly related to this overburdened and toxic state.

Many of these health challenges can be improved, sometimes even completely cleared, when we do some cleansing and detoxification. Cleansing is a method that anybody can use for restoring and rebalancing his or her health. A good cleansing program removes contaminants like toxins that create problems in the body and offers what the body is lacking: water, nutrients and rest.

My techniques are different than other detox plans that have gained popularity in beauty and alternative health circles, such as juice cleansing or even raw foods diets. Extensive clinical and personal experience has shown me that these practices demand too much time, energy and attention for most people to feel their intended benefits. They work best for those who have already done months or years of dietary cleanup, and they are better suited to retreat settings.

Instead, let’s lay out a simple cleanse program that can serve as a starting point from which to build your health:

Remove the five major “Toxic Triggers” for ten days

One of the most important elements of a good cleanse is the foods you eat, as well as the ones you avoid. Think of your cleanse food list as your prescription. Toxic Triggers are foods that cause indigestion, inflammation, bloating, fatigue and, if consumed over long periods of time, minor sicknesses, full-blown diseases and major health challenges. For the next ten days, remove the five most common Toxic Triggers from your diet: gluten, dairy, processed sugar, coffee and alcohol.

Let’s go more in-depth into why we remove these five specfic items:

Gluten is found in wheat, barley and rye, and is used in breads, pastas and cakes. It has been associated with an endless list of health problems from digestive and skin issues, to brain fog and autoimmune conditions.

Dairy intake is most commonly associated with allergies, skin issues, fatigue and excessive mucus creation in the body.

Processed Sugar is found in almost all processed foods today. Removing processed sugar will help balance blood sugar, reduce pathogenic bacteria in the gut and keep our moods stable.

Coffee or caffeine is the most consumed drug in the United States. Caffeine is a stimulant that can, over time, wear down our adrenal glands and make us more tired.

Alcohol taxes the liver and feeds pathogenic bacteria in the gut. For our cleanse, removing alcohol is a must.

So, what are the best types of foods to eat on your cleanse? Simply focus on whole foods and avoid the five items listed above. Looking for recipes? I’ve put together over 200 of them in my book, Clean Eats.

Have a shake for breakfast

During your cleanse, have a nutrient-dense shake each morning. Shakes are a simple way to get large amounts of water and easily digested nutrients into your body all at once. The liquefying process breaks down the cell structure of food for your body, so you can absorb more, while using less digestive energy. 

Giving your digestive system a break is a big part of any cleanse, and that’s exactly what shakes do: They help free up energy for repair and detox throughout the body. I love to have a liquid meal for breakfast or dinner because, in the morning, it gives me the water and nutrients I need without being heavy, and, in the evening, it’s so easy to digest that I feel light before bed.

You can also add a wide range and quantity of foods to a shake to upgrade the nutrient intake. In one shake, you could include wild blueberries, fresh ginger, a nut butter like almond or hemp seed or use different non-dairy milks like coconut or rice. You can also add in a protein packet with different types of fruit and even an avocado for creaminess. Each food will provide you with different beneficial vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. And you can make a unique shake every day.

Follow the shake-meal-meal structure for ten days

For the next ten days, have a shake in the morning and then two meals that exclude the five trigger items. If you get hungry, feel free to have a snack like berries, avocado or leftovers from one of your recent meals. It’s best not to skimp on calories but rather change where the calories are coming from.

This simple protocol is one of the most powerful and effective strategies I have in my medical toolbox. I’ve used it again and again to get my health back on track, and I know that it can do the same for you. 

If you’re looking for more support or have questions, my team and I would love to help you.


--Alejandro Junger M.D. is the New York Times bestselling author of Clean and Clean Gut. He completed his training in internal medicine at New York University Downtown Hospital and his fellowship in cardiology at Lenox Hill Hospital. After his medical training, he studied Eastern medicine in India. Dr. Junger is also the founder of Clean, a wellness company that helps people live healthier lives by guiding them through targeted programs. For more information on Dr. Junger’s cleanse program, please visit Clean Program. His recipe book Clean Eats can be found here: Clean Eats.

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