Feeling sluggish and saggy after a winter of rich foods and too little exercise? Never fear, spring is here. As the weather warms up, Mother Nature provides a bounty of veggies that help cleanse and energize wintered-over bodies. While all spring greens are good for you, a select few have properties that target key cleansing organs, such as the liver, gallbladder, and kidneys. We feature them here, along with recipes that go heavy on detox ingredients and light on calories, so you can spring-clean your system—and maybe shed a few pounds.
Since Roman times, this harbinger of spring has been eaten to cleanse the digestive system. Asparagus is a top food source of glutathione, an antioxidant that helps support the body's main detox center, the liver. High levels of fiber in asparagus act as an intestinal broom, sweeping out toxins as it winds its way through your digestive tract.
So much more than a weed, the jagged leaves of the dandelion plant are a natural diuretic; urination helps remove sodium and water from the body and lower blood pressure. Dandelion greens are grown commercially and can also be foraged from fields year-round. Just be sure to snip young greens and stay away from dandelions in parks and public lawns that may have been sprayed with chemicals.
Was Hippocrates, the father of medicine, onto something when he plied patients with watercress as a blood purifier? A study published in the European Journal of Nutrition discovered that watercress may help reduce cancer risk by stimulating the production of detoxifying enzymes. Also, Irish researchers found that munching on this green can safeguard health by reducing DNA damage and improving blood antioxidant levels.
Traditional Chinese medicine credits bok choy with promoting digestion. This relatively mild-flavored Chinese cabbage lends a tender sweetness to dishes while packing a wallop of vitamin C, carotenoids, and phytonutrients that help strengthen the immune system and may reduce the risk of some cancers.
Related to kale, cabbage, and other cruciferous vegetables, peppery mustard greens are high in glucosinolates, compounds that rev up detoxification enzymes and help protect liver cells and other organs. The leaves are an excellent source of vitamin C and beta-carotene.
At a mere 16 calories per cup, celery is a dieter's dream. But this veggie can do more than just fill you up without a heavy calorie toll. Celery's potassium and water content works as a diuretic to promote toxin removal and kidney support.
In French Women Don't Get Fat, author Mireille Guiliano kicks off her diet with Magical Leek Soup to nourish and cleanse her system. The science behind the magic involves leeks' high fiber content and mild diuretic properties. Leeks, like their garlic and onion cousins, contain sulfur compounds that play detoxifying and cancer-fighting roles in the body. Also, leeks have a healthful dose of vitamin K, which, according to a study in published in 2010 in Diabetes Care, may help reduce type 2 diabetes risk.
In herbal medicine, parsley is prescribed as a depurative (system cleanser), a stomach soother, and even a breath freshener. The tasty herb, which goes with just about everything, is high in vitamin C, beta-carotene, lutein, and niacin (vitamin B3), which may help reduce the risk of environmental pollutants in the body.