Too much alcohol, and eating the wrong types of food (and too much of it!) over Christmas can lead to bloating, tiredness, poor skin and weight gain.
This is why January is the perfect time to take a look at the health of your digestive system and liver, to 'detox' your system and start the year as you mean to go on.
Eliminating just a few foods from your diet can help to give your liver and digestive system a welcome break. For many, the most important change to make is to eliminate alcohol. Alcohol is taxing for both the digestive tract and the liver. It also destroys B Vitamins, magnesium, zinc and Vitamin C, it irritates the digestive tract and it dehydrates the body.
Giving your body a break from wheat can be a good idea. This gluten-containing grain is commonly associated with allergies and intolerances and can be irritating for many. Gluten-free grain alternatives include quinoa and brown rice.
The second most common food intolerance is dairy. The protein in dairy, casein, can trigger immune responses in sensitive individuals.
Others experience digestive problems in response to lactose, the sugar in milk. Good alternative sources of calcium include nuts (almonds, brazils), seeds (sesame, sunflower, pumpkin), beans, lentils and vegetables (spinach, cabbage, kale, carrots).
Caffeine is an addictive stimulant and can rob your body of energy in the long run. It also impedes digestion by diverting blood away from the digestive system. Giving your body a break from caffeine can restore healthy digestions and improve sleep quality, helping you feel more rested and refreshed each morning.
For those who can't manage without, try reducing your consumption to one cup in the morning, switching to other drinks in the afternoon and evening. Switching from caffeinated drinks to more hydrating beverages such as Rooibos tea, herbals teas and fruit smoothies is recommended.
Supplements designed to support your body's detoxification pathways are often used alongside 'detox' diets. The liver performs a special process called 'conjugation' which chemically transforms toxins so that they can be removed from the body. My top three supplements for supporting the health of the liver are N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC), Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) and Milk Thistle Extract.
N-Acetyl Cysteine is a powerful antioxidant that boosts levels of glutathione in the body. Glutathione is primarily used in the liver, where it is needed for the liver's conjugation processes. When toxic load become too great, this process can be overwhelmed, and so NAC supplements can provide welcome support.
Milk thistle, also known as silymarin, is another supplement that boosts glutathione levels. This plant extract also inhibits the production of leukotrienes (inflammatory substances that can harm the liver), and stimulates the production of new, healthy liver cells.
As it is both fat- and water-soluble, alpha-lipoic-acid is a 'universal antioxidant'. It has the ability to enter all parts of the cell, gaining access to toxins stored in fat cells. It also helps to support blood sugar regulation and energy production.
A detoxifying diet should contain an abundance of fibre- and nutrient-rich plant foods. Foods that are especially good for supporting the liver include cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower which boost levels of detoxifying liver enzymes.
Glutathione-boosting avocado, walnuts and oily fish are also great additions. Finally, foods particularly high in protective antioxidants include tenderstem broccoli, berries, tomatoes, plums and watercress.
Suggested Meal Plan This example meal plan is free from wheat and dairy. It provides plenty of fibre, anti-inflammatory omega-3, anti-oxidant-rich plant foods and liver-supportive foods such as avocado and artichoke.
Breakfast: Warm water with fresh lemon juice. Scrambled omega-3 eggs with cherry tomatoes, spinach and watercress.
Lunch: Marinated artichoke and chickpea salad with steamed asparagus, lemon juice, garlic and olive oil.
Snack: Raw veggies with homemade guacamole
Dinner: Grilled salmon fillet with dairy-free pesto, puy lentils and a large green salad.