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A Different Way to Detox

Forget the drastic juice fasts. Amie Valpone, author of the new book Eating Clean, shares her top secrets for creating a clean food plan that can help you detox, lose weight, and more—every day.

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Forget the drastic juice fasts. Amie Valpone, author of the new book Eating Clean, shares her top secrets for creating a clean food plan that can help you detox, lose weight, and more—every day.

Let me share with you a general overview of what I believe about food, diet, and eating clean for your best health. This will give you a quick introduction to where I’m coming from. I credit eating this way to finally overcoming a decade of chronic illness. I call thismy “Eating Clean Manifesto.”

1. There is no one ideal diet.

I believe you can benefit from a cleaner, greener diet. But that doesn’t mean you need to eat exactly what I eat. While there are some precepts for clean, toxin-free eating, there are many ways to eat healthy.

I’m not into labels. This isn’t about being a vegan, vegetarian, or flexitarian. If you want to come up with a name for what this is, knock yourself out. But the most important thing is to eat foods that make your body feel good.

2. If a food makes you feel lousy,it’s not for you.

I don’t care what’s trending or hot or highly recommended by the buzziest superstar or bestselling author. You are the expert on what you can eat. Your friend, trainer, or mom may swear up and down that unpasteurized dairy is the golden key to health or that millet is king, but if it makes you feel ill, pass it up.

Same goes for animal protein: some people swear you shouldn’t eat it, but there’s no need to feel guilty if you feel your best after eating a grass-fed burger. The right foods for you should make you feel satisfied and energized, not sick and sleepy. There is no preordained, across-the-board “right,” just what’s right for you.

3. Detox is not the same thing as a juice cleanse. Not even close.

This is a common mistake. Take spinach, a powerhouse green and juicing favorite. It’s also one the most contaminated vegetables when it comes to pesticides. It’s on the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Dirty Dozen list for that reason.

Apples are another example of a healthy food often used in juice cleanses that can be full of toxins. (Conventional apples rank No. 1 on EWG’s Dirty Dozen list.) Putting them in a blender together with other fruits and veggies and drinking the resulting mixture through a straw doesn’t make them healthier. You’ll just be delivering the toxins to your body in super-easy-to-digest form.

The best way to detox, in my book, is to go organic and remove toxic exposures that make you sick, fat, and bloated.

4. Detox is a way of life.

You can’t detox over a single weekend; there is no shortcut. If you care about your health, detox needs to
be an ongoing process that becomes a way of life. Instead of approaching it in fits and bursts, it’s better to develop a deep understanding of the harmful environment we live in, and then bring that awareness to everyday life, gradually eliminating toxins from the body.

5. There’s more to health care than Western medicine.

Western medicine (also known as conventional or allopathic medicine) has its place, no question. It saves lives every day. But where it excels in emergencies, it falls short on day-to-day lifestyle guidance.

Why? Your physician does not go home with you. (If he does, can I have his number, please?) No one knows what you experience but you. Most doctors are highly skilled in one area, but don’t have the time or expertise to know what lifestyle changes you need.

I highly recommend you do your homework on different kinds of integrative and functional medicine doctors. These are MDs who treat the body as a whole, looking not just at the physical self, but the mental and emotional self, too. (Check out my website,, for more information on integrative and functional medicine.)

There are options beyond Western medicine. One more crucial thing to keep in mind: you’re the expert on your body. Explore what methods and practices make you feel best, and share these notes with your doctor at each visit. You might just pass along something useful to someone else, and it will go a long way in enabling your doctor to combine his wisdom with yours. You and your doctor are a team. It’s time to start playing your part.

6. Feed your body, not just your belly.

Hunger and appetite together drive you to do one very important thing: eat. When you feel that pang of hunger, you know what you need to do. But eating is about more than just quieting your appetite. You do not subsist on calories alone; you need a spectrum of nutrients and vitamins to feed your body on a cellular level.

Foods have so much more to them than calories, and yet many people think caloric intake is the bottom line. Au contraire, my friend! The number of calories a food has is merely information, and as with any other kind of information, less isn’t necessarily better, just as more isn’t necessarily bad.

A 100-calorie snack pack is in no way equal to 100 calories of an avocado. Counting calories is the last thing you should worry about when you’re trying to eat clean. A handful of nuts may be calorically dense, but there’s a lot of goodness packed in there you can’t get somewhere else.

Choose foods based on how they nourish every cell in your body, rather than by how many calories you believe they will glue to your waistline. When you’re eating clean, believe it or not, those calories don’t add up to love handles and saddlebags.

7. Processed foods can’t hold a candle to one-ingredient foods.

Food in its whole form is the healthiest version. That’s my rule of thumb, and it should be yours. The majority of what you eat should have one ingredient. What’s in cabbage? Cabbage. What’s in an orange? An orange. If most of your meals come from a box, then it’s worth rethinking your diet.

Because we live in the 21st century, I get that there is a fair amount of packaged convenience foods you probably won’t cut completely out of your life. If the only way to know what you’re eating is to read about it on the side of the package, though, you are, as I always say, eating sawdust.

The more a food is processed the less of its original nutrition remains. Sure, some foods need to be heated to make them palatable and to ease digestion, but I’d rather you do more of the processing yourself—be it heating, blending, or chopping—and leave less of it to manufacturers.

8. Pay now or pay later—organic is cheaper than medical bills. (Trust me.)

The point of eating organic is not to reap more nutrients. The reason you should choose organic is to avoid toxins like pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics, and herbicides found in conventional foods, which are making you sick.

Every time we pick up a fork, we choose whether or not to put chemicals in our bodies. Your food makes the biggest difference; you can live a healthy life (like I did), but if you continue to eat conventional foods and expose yourself to hidden chemicals, you’ll probably end up sick from toxicity at some point.

No one educated me on this subject. Western medicine doctors didn’t know, my family didn’t know, I didn’t know. It wasn’t until after I started working with integrative doctors that I realized biting into a juicy conventional
cucumber that had been sprayed with toxic pesticides was like eating something sporting one of those warning labels you find on chemicals underneath the sink.

Somewhere along the line we’ve gotten the idea that food shouldn’t cost us anything. Not true. The total sum of my medical bills came to just shy of half a million dollars. And no, it wasn’t all covered by insurance. Yet we’re so enamored with getting a great deal that we’re bargaining with our health, and our lives.

Good, healthy food is perhaps the greatest investment you can make in yourself and your future. So before you give in to the urge to save a few bucks by opting for conventional strawberries or factory-farmed eggs, think about what you’re worth. If your health doesn’t seem worth it to you (and that’s a whole other discussion), consider that you’re paying not only for the quality of the food itself, but for the many hands that helped cultivate it in a way that’s least harmful to the earth and to your family.


Text and recipes excerpted from Eating Clean, 2016 by Amie Valpone. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.