Most people don’t need to be sold on the benefits of cleansing.  And it’s not uncommon that people feel the need to cleanse, or at least clean up their diet after the indulgent holiday season. “Toxic overload” can have many faces: headaches, allergies, skin eruptions, fatigue, insomnia, mood swings, digestive complaints and chronic pain are just a few that creep in when the body needs a break. Not to mention the bloating and lethargy and just the general feeling of ‘ick’ that accompanies the post-holiday indulgence

The thing many people don’t consider is how their cleanse should change according to what season they are in. 

The ‘ideal’ time to cleanse in a traditional way is the spring. When all the naturally cleansing green foods are starting to sprout and we start to shift from the heavier and somewhat stodgy winter foods into a fresher and more cleansing diet. 

But cleansing after a particularly indulgent time can also have huge benefits. But before you run off to buy a juicer or get all raw food or bust on me, there are a few things you should consider when doing cleanse in the winter months.

First off, the basics of cleansing remain the same – removethe toxins or congesting foods. Avoiding refined foods (flour based products), sugars, caffeine, dairy, alcohol, processed meats and tobacco. Include naturally detoxifying foods in your diet daily which will help to facilitate the cleansing process and correct any toxic overload.

The liver, lungs, kidneys and colon are the primary sites in the body where toxins are processed and eliminated so it is important to target all these organs when cleansing.

When cleansing in the cold winter months, you don’t necessarily want to change the healthy foods you are eating, but rather, change how you are eating them

When it’s cold outside, we want to keep warm. We do this by how we dress, how we live and the temperature in our homes but also, very importantly, how we eat. 

In Chinese Medicine, we look not only at the nutritional values of foods, but also their properties. Some foods are naturally cooling (think peppermint and watermelon) and some warming (think ginger and cinnamon). Some foods are moistening (Dairy or sugar) and some drying (bitter greens). We want to use foods that are going to help nourish us but also balance us out. Intuitively it makes sense – if you’re cold, warm up, if you’re hot, cool down. Somehow we’ve lost touch with that in our modern culture, often eating raw, frozen or ‘cooling’ foods in the heart of winter and then wonder why we’re cold all the time or why our digestive system goes wonky. 

Everything that we eat needs to be warmed up above body temperature for the digestive enzymes to kick in so we can digest our food. And then we need to break our fooddown into a soupy consistency so our bodies can absorb the nutrients. If we’re eating foods that are cold, frozen or raw, our body has to work harder to break them down. Do that same thing in the middle of winter, it’s even harder for your body. Think of it like adding a block of ice to a soup your trying to make – It’s never going to work

Foods grown in the late summer and fall are naturally more warming in properties. Late fall squash, beets, and warming spices such as ginger have more of the energy we need in the cold weather months. 

So to customize your cleanse in a way that will not only give your organs a cleansing break, but also keep you toasty warm and balanced this winter, try some of the following suggestions:

• Include these warming spices more in winter cleansing than in the summer: Cumin, cardamom, ginger, fennel, cinnamon, turmeric, nutmeg, black pepper etc.
• Cook your foods, even lightly to maximize the absorption of nutrients and take the work out of your digestion. 
• If you consume cold pressed juices try to add ginger to them and consume them at room temperature or even warm them a bit by adding hot water to them to off set the cooling properties
• Think soup. Eating pureed soups is a great way to get the cleansing components of vegetables andit is in the exact form your digestive system needs to maximize absorption of nutrients and feed your cells with very little extra work for your digestive system. If you’re someone how has trouble losing weight, is chronically congested or has loose bowels, this can be one of the best things you can do to balance out your system.
• Exercise but don’t over-do it. Moderate exercise is great for detoxing. Bundling up and getting outside can actually do wonders for your immune system too, which will help to keep you healthy through the winter.
• Use dry brushing and a hot bath to help detox though your skin 

(note: if you’re someone who’s cold all the time naturally, and often wear socks to bed or cardigans in the summer, you might look to apply these cleansing principles year round. Perhaps just adding slightly more fresh food in the spring or summer but keeping the bulk of your food warm and lightly cooked)

Other detoxifying tips include:

• Drinking plenty of water- it is essential to help flush toxins from your system. You can include more warm water with lemon in the winter months to keep the heat in and your body warm. 
• Try eating your largest meal mid-day and avoid late night eating to give your organs a chance to rest and detoxify over night
• Be sure to eat lots of high fiber foods such as whole grains, chia seeds, fresh organic fruits and vegetables, flax seed, rhubarb, onions, 
• Include spices and herbs such as turmeric, dandelion, burdock root and nettles (taken in tea form)
• Eat lightly sautéed or steamed foods avoiding anything fried or greasy
• Avoid dairy products and cheese and decrease your animal meat consumption.
• Exercise regularly – it helps ride the body of toxins through perspiration. But be careful not to over exercise. 
• Rest! The body has to work extra hard while cleansing so it’s important to listen to your body and rest.

Cleansing Foods – what to eat, what to avoid


Fish (bass, cod, halibut, rainbow trout, red snapper, sole, swordfish), Beans and lentils (dried), Eggs (try not to exceed 6/week), Lamb, soybeans, tofu, Chicken (organic only), buffalo,

Avoid: Dairy (include Cheeses, yogurt and milk), Shellfish, Beef (unless it’s grass fed and organic)

Nuts and seeds: 

Almonds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, sesame seeds and tahini, others in moderation

Avoid: Oily nuts and peanuts


Apples, apricots, berries (blueberry, raspberry etc.), Cherries, Lemons, peaches, pears, plums, 

Avoid: bananas, currants, dried fruits (dates, figs, raisins, cranberries…), grapes, fruit juices, oranges, pineapple, mangos, papaya and other tropical fruits


Millet, brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth, oats, 

Avoid: Wheat, any refined flours, processed cereals, flour of any grain, 


Chives, garlic, ginger, onions (leeks, green onions, shallots etc.)

Arugula, artichokes, asparagus, avocado, beans (green), beets and beet tops, bok choy, broccoli, brusse sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, collard, chards, cucumbers, dandelion greens, endive, kale, lettuce, mustard greens, okra, parsley, parsnips, peppers (green, yellow, orange, red), radiccio, radishes, rutabagas, seaweeds (Kelp, noridulse…), sorrel, spinach, sprouts, turnips, watercress

Avoid: Eggplant, tomatoes, mushrooms


Turmeric, peppermint, parsley, vegetable seasonings (without yeast or sugar in the list), 

Generally Avoid: 

Honey, malt, maple syrup, molasses, cakes, candies, processed foods in general, brown and white sugar, 

Recipes for a winter cleanse:

Bone Broth

Breakfast soup

The Classic Ginger Tea

Hot Chia Breakfast 

Warm Creamy Turmeric Drink

Immune Boosting Change of Season Soup