With the spring equinox just past, we may feel the desire to take on spring cleaning for our homes, but what about for our bodies?
As the weather begins to warm and the snow starts to melt, there can be a natural desire to eat lighter food and fresh greens as they come into season. In Northern New Mexico, we look forward to the sprouting of wild asparagus along the acequias in the spring and early summer.
Following the cues of our bodies, eating available local food, and making small changes are good ways to start eating with the seasons to improve our health. Making temporary changes to eating habits, known as a “spring cleanse” or “detox,” is another option.
A gentle way to nourish the body and remove toxins
Kristin Swim is a nutritional therapy practitioner who has been with Taos Whole Health for six years. She helps people improve their diet and lifestyle to optimize health.
“I work to empower clients through education about how a nutrient-dense, whole food diet can completely change one’s health,” Swim said.
She is passionate about the healing power of whole foods and loves to create recipes that taste wonderful, provide energy and create a general sense of enhanced well-being.
Swim explained that spring is a time of growing and regeneration and the perfect time to cleanse. She works with her clients to do a 21-day whole food cleanse. Some people return to do the cleanse repeatedly. “The cleanse is designed to be gentle and not deprive participants of food,” Swim said. “I create meal plans that are easy to digest, with nutrient-dense foods to nourish your body while allowing your body to naturally eliminate toxins slowly. I provide meal plans and shopping lists to take the guesswork out of what to eat. There is an education component as well, so people can learn how the cleanse works and gain knowledge they can apply for continued success once the cleanse is done.”
Among the benefits that her clients report are improved thinking, clearer skin, deeper sleep, better energy, weight loss, and excitement about eating delicious nutrient-dense recipes. Many continue to use the recipes to feed their whole families. When making changes to your diet, Swim recommends working with a professional like a nutritionist, dietician, nutritional therapist or health coach to provide information and answer questions.
Another approach is changing your diet incrementally.
Local nutritionist Maggie Minter of Taos Nutrition works with clients on health and fitness goals so that they can adopt sustainable nutrition and lifestyle changes; an approach she calls a deep health perspective. She doesn’t usually recommend a spring cleanse as she believes that our bodies are designed to cleanse themselves and certain cleanses can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies and disrupt the microbiome.
“Making some additions or small changes often works best,” Minter said. “No one-size-fits-all. It is very individual.”
The recommendations she makes often include incorporating more fiber or vegetables and adding exercise. “With small changes, it’s not such a huge shift. People are more likely to adopt the changes and it gives momentum to other changes that build self-efficacy,” she explained.
Among the benefits she’s seen from her suggested eating and lifestyle changes are better muscle tone and strength, weight loss and even better relationships with children and spouses. She typically works with clients for three to four months, but continues to work with some for six months or longer to make effective changes.
An herbal cleanse and local plants
Using herbs is a way to support dietary changes.
Tina Hahn, cofounder of Taos Herb, said that they receive a few more inquires about cleansing in the spring, but not many more than other times of year. Among the suggestions they make are supplements and a special tea. “We make a proprietary tea called Detox Tea, which contains a combination of 14 herbs for detoxing the liver, kidneys and lymph,” Hahn said; the herbs include red clover, dandelion and burdock root.
She points out that for people who are immunocompromised, very underweight or dealing with an acute illness, consulting their doctor before undertaking a cleanse is important. A spring cleanse might benefit those who are currently not making good life-style choices or frequently drink alcohol or use recreational drugs. “The benefits from cleansing include feeling generally better, less aches and pains, and feeling more energy. By reducing the number of toxins that burden the liver, kidney and lymph, the body’s metabolic activities just burn cleaner, allowing for greater repair and restoration,” she said.
Among the native plants that are useful for enhancing the detoxification process are plants that emerge in early- to mid-spring, like dandelion greens, purslane called verdolaga in Spanish, stinging nettles, lamb’s quarters called quelites in Spanish, along with burdock leaves and chicory, which enhance digestion and liver detox, Hahn explained.
She pointed out that including plants in the bitter herb category have a variety of benefits, and that the French have had a long tradition of starting meals with a salad aperitif, which would include bitter herbs like radicchio, endive, chicory and arugula.
“It is important to remember that many of our most important vitamins like beta-carotene, vitamin A, C, E, K and many B vitamins, antioxidants, bioflavonoids and fiber occur in the vegetable kingdom,” she said. “I tell people to always eat salad because it is not only vitally important nutrition but is also where the medicine is.”
Using caution and common sense
Beware of programs or products that promise miracle results where it comes to improving your health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there have been only a small number of studies on detoxification programs. While some studies have shown positive results like weight and fat loss, the studies had problems like few participants or lack of expert peer reviews.
Two reviews of studies in 2015 and 2017 concluded that there was no compelling research to suggest that detox diets are effective for weight management or eliminating toxins from the body. The CDC reports downsides to some detox approaches like creating electrolyte imbalances in the body and that some detox products contain illegal or harmful ingredients.
Taos Herb is located at 710 Paseo del Pueblo Sur, Suite J or call 575-758-1991; website taosherb.com.