When Hippocrates proffered the sage advice "let food be thy medicine", we had not yet been confronted with preservative-laden pre-packaged meals and a microwave oven to cook them in.
We are constantly exposed to environmental toxins, found in everything from plastic containers to dry-cleaned clothes to skin and hair care products. Toxins are also produced as a by-product of our digestive and metabolic processes. And we may even unknowingly be eating toxic food.
I believe our bodies produce and take in more toxins than they can safely eliminate, and so we live in a state of chronic toxicity. Many natural health professionals believe this to be the underlying cause of many chronic diseases. Enhancing your body's capability of detoxing helps to correct this imbalance.
In my opinion a regular detox programme - one that targets the liver - is an essential health practice. The problem is that detox has become fashionable and commercialised. There are a plethora of detox options, some of which may only mess up your metabolism more, weaken your immune system and leave you with the same toxins you started with. Water and juice don't work.
For the past two years I have been working with the nutritionists and chefs at the wellness sanctuary of Kamalaya in Koh Samui to infuse my dishes with well-being. I believe the key secret to being healthy is as simple as eating well.
Kamalaya co-founder Karina Stewart, a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, says research shows that certain key nutrients are needed for a detox programme to be effective.
"These nutrients, which include antioxidants and amino acids, help your body to efficiently metabolise and clear out the waste," she says.
"Without them, the liver cannot deactivate the components of the detoxification process and what are left are very active, very toxic by-products. Some supplementation is required, but many of the necessary nutrients are found in food, which is why the diet is such an important part of our detox programmes."
This means that to detox, we should eat only low inflammatory, low glycaemic and low allergy foods - so no animal products, alcohol, soft drinks, sugar, bread, rice and most other grains. Peanuts, soy products, tomatoes, corn, potatoes, capsicum and eggplant are also off the menu, as they contain chemicals that can be inflammatory. You should also limit sweet fruits, like mango, and use only a minimal amount of healthy oils such as olive oil or coconut oil. A small amount of seeds may be included, but it is best to avoid all nuts.
The liver loves certain foods, like green leafy vegetables, so eating a lot of these during a detox will support the process. It is not necessary to stick to a raw diet. In fact, it is beneficial to include some cooked food, such as soups, salads and steamed vegetables. You should avoid microwave cooking.
The goal of a detox is never weight loss. I have been detoxing at Kamalaya for the past five years and what I found most helpful about going through a detox programme is the change in my daily habits.
After completing my first detox, I started craving healthy food and lost interest in deep-fried food. I significantly reduced my alcohol intake by saying no to low quality wine and accepting only the good bottles: same budget, less quantity, more satisfaction.
I found this transformation happening without effort, because eating is not just physical nourishment but also emotionally charged. When eating well is not uncomfortable or antisocial or boring, it also leads to inner balance.
"As I see it, there are two ways in which we can approach life," says Stewart. "One is to simply eliminate all the things we don't like. The other is to focus on what we do like, using those things to nurture and nourish parts of ourselves that we want to develop. [With the latter], the unwanted aspects naturally atrophy because you're not focusing on them and giving them energy."
This week's recipe is from Kamalaya: a detox dish that's both delicious and easy to make.
Detox pumpkin curry
For the curry paste
40 grams large dried red chilli, seeded
30 grams garlic
20 grams young galangal
50 grams lemon grass
4 grams kaffir lime leaves
200ml vegetable stock
For the pumpkin curry
500 grams coconut milk
80 grams curry paste
4 kaffir lime leaves
140 grams sliced pumpkin
80 grams sliced kohlrabi or other white vegetable
30 grams sliced okra
3 sweet basil leaves
6 slices red chilli
- Combine all the ingredients of the curry paste and blend until fine.
- Heat up the coconut milk in a pan until it starts to simmer.
- Add the curry paste and kaffir lime leaves. Add the vegetables and simmer for two minutes more.
- Before serving, add the sweet basil and garnish with three slices of chilli. Season with salt to taste. Serve with steamed rice or steamed rice noodles.
- You can make more curry paste and store it in the fridge for up to one week.
Healthy Gourmet is a weekly column by private chef Andrea Oschetti. firstname.lastname@example.org