Detox Diet Considerations

by Catherine M. Haug,  July 2007; updated Feb 2017; Apr 2019; May 2022

There are many foods that can aid the elimination of heavy metals, or help detox from the effects of heavy metal toxicity.  There are other foods that should be avoided, as they increase toxic load, and may also contain toxic levels of heavy metals.  The following article is mostly from the Jigsaw Health website (1B).

Feb 2017 update: I originally wrote this article with a focus on detoxing from effects of heavy metal toxicity. But these same considerations would apply to any reason to detox.  For example, detoxing from effects of cancer or other disease, a food sensitivity, pharmaceuticals, or just a bad diet.

Good Foods That Help Treatment and Detox

Remember that it is better to get these helpful nutrients from whole foods, rather than from supplements.

The following list is from the Jigsaw Health website (1B), unless noted otherwise

  • Cilantro, a tasty herb common to Mexican cuisine.  It may mobilize mercury and other neurotoxic metals from the brain and other nerve tissue, enabling chelating agents to grab and then excrete the metals.
  • Citrus fruits (whole, not juiced):  oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit and tangerines for the antioxidant vitamin C, which defends against heavy metals.
  • Sprouted nuts and seeds for the antioxidant vitamin E, which defends against heavy metals.  Sprouted walnuts are also high in essential omega-3 fats.
  • Asparagus, to increase glutathione levels. Glutathione is the body’s master detoxifier in the liver. While a healthy body can make glutathione (given the needed amino acids: glycine, cysteine and glutamate), the burden of toxicity means the body cannot make enough.
  • Broccoli, spinach, swiss chard and other dark green leafy veggies, which not only increase glutathione levels, but also contain abundant essential minerals such as zinc, magnesium and calcium. Remember to consume good fats with your greens (such as olive oil), as the fats help the body to assimilate the minerals.
  • Garlic:  at least one crushed fresh clove daily (not canned).  Crushing releases the antimicrobial and antifungal allicin. Garlic also contains sulfur, which chelates many heavy metals so they can be excreted.
  • Onion family members. These contain sulfur, which chelates many heavy metals so they can be excreted. They also contain inulin, which feeds the good bugs in your gut, and stimulates your immune system.
  • Red meats from livestock raised and finished in pasture (look for Organic or Biodynamic) have high levels of zinc.  
  • Beans and other legumes are also high in zinc, and also contain sulfur, which chelates many heavy metals so they can be excreted.
  • Oysters from mercury-free waters also have high levels of zinc.
  • Pumpkin seeds have high levels of magnesium.
  • Kombucha tea may also help increase glutathione levels.
  • Yogurt, kefir, piima and other unsweetened cultured raw milk products.  These contain probiotics (friendly bacteria) which help defend the body from toxic substances.  Consume these twice a day.  If you are allergic to dairy, try culturing coconut milk or nut milks (like almond). See my article: Milk & Culturing of Milk (About); and my recipes: Butter & Buttermilk; Cottage Cheese (with or without rennet); Crème Fraiche; Kefir; Piima, Villi & FilMjolk; Sour Cream (Butter & Buttermilk); Yogurt
  • Fermented foods (pickled without vinegar) may be a good alternative.  IN times past, it was common to pickle foods by fermentation, but in the last 100 years or so, it has been more common to pickle them in vinegar. Unfortunately, pickling in vinegar doesn’t provide the same benefits as fermentation. This includes (includes links to my recipes): citrus, preserved lemons, beets, berries, cucumbers (as Bread & Butter Pickles), garlic, horseradish, melons, onions, tomatoes (as catsup), turnips, and cabbage (sauerkraut).
  • Ground flax meal, which is high in fiber, and may prevent heavy metals from being absorbed and to promote digestive regularity to excrete chelated metals.  Fiber also binds arsenic and helps to remove it from the body. Flax seeds are also high in essential omega-3 fats.
  • Fish such as wild-caught salmon, and albacore tuna from mercury-free waters, which are high in omega-3 fats.
  • Cod liver oil, fish oil and krill oil, high in essential omega-3 fats.  Cod liver oil also contains natural antioxidant vitamin A, and also vitamin D which is essential for assimilation of calcium for bone health (to replace toxic lead chelated from the bones).
  • Coconut oil and coconut milk which are high in antimicrobial lauric and myristic acids (medium chain fatty acids).
  • Purified water fortified with natural clay minerals (or natural water known to be free of chlorine and heavy metals) throughout the day.  [NOTE:  Some clays contain aluminum; but all clays, including bentonite clay, are high in silicon, which prevents absorption of aluminum in the intestines, and also helps removes hidden bound aluminum from body tissues. (3)]

Foods To Avoid (and better substitutes)

The following are mostly from the Jigsaw Health website (1B):

  1. “White foods” such as white bread, pasta, cookies, cakes, crackers, etc.. 
    • Substitute: Whole grain or sprouted grain breads, pasta and crackers are high in fiber and other nutrient value, and make good substitutes).
  2. Gluten-containing foods (most breads and other wheat products) unless you do not have a sensitivity to gluten (a blood test will indicate this).
    • Substitute: foods made with sprouted or fermented grains or pseudo-grains and other seeds
  3. Refined sugar and all foods containing refined sugar, including those containing other forms of refined sugar such as levulose, dextrose, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, etc.  Sugars hinder the functioning of the immune an detoxification systems.
  4. Synthetic sugar substitutes such as aspartame, splenda, etc.
    • Substitute: See substitutes for Refined sugar, above
  5. Sweetened or concentrated fruit juices, which may spike blood sugar too rapidly.
    • Better alternative: Whole fruits are the best alternative; when a juice is needed for a recipe, fresh-squeezed juices may be a good alternative to commercial juices.  Dilute fresh juices with water.
  6. Alcoholic beverages, which hinder the functioning of the immune and detoxification systems.
    • Substitutes: Non-alcoholic beverages such as “bitters and soda, with lemon or lime” is my favorite; iced tea or iced coffee,
  7. Caffeine (in excess), which can disrupt the body’s systems, causing insomnia and digestive irregularity.  Caffeine in moderation (1 cup of coffee/tea daily) may be beneficial.
    • Substitute: decaf coffee, but in moderation, as it may have toxins from the decaffeinating process.
    • Herbal tea
    • Golden milk (turmeric tea)
  8. Carbonated soft drinks (sodas), which alter the pH level of the body, making it too acidic.
  9. Fish and shellfish from waters contaminated with mercury.  This includes most commercial oysters, clams, lobster, tuna, mackerel and swordfish.
    • Substitute those from clean waters (which are getting harder and harder to find)
  10. Farm-raised fish often contain PCBs and not enough omega-3 essential fats, due to their diet.
    • Substitute: Wild-caught salmon.
  11. Meats, especially red meats are cautioned by many. Animal proteins are hard to digest, taxing the system during detox (the idea is to give your digestive system a rest).
  12. Processed foods containing sodium nitrite (hot dogs, lunch meats, bacon).  These also hinder the functioning of the immune system.
  13. Processed foods containing MSG (monosodium glutamate) or hydrolyzed protein used in many foods as a flavor enhancer.
    • Fresh, homemade versions are a good alternative.  Use homemade bone broths, unrefined sea salt, fresh herbs or spices, and mushrooms as natural flavor enhancers.
  14. Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats) found not only in margarines, fried and french-fried foods, but also in other processed and junk foods.  
    • Substitute butter, but it is not for use with high heat.
    • Refer to my article on Good Fats for cooking for better cooking alternatives.
  15. Tap water, unless you know it to be free of toxic metals. 
    • Drink filtered or purified water instead.

Foods not recommended if you have mercury toxicity

Avoid these foods if you have mercury toxicity, because the presence of mercury allows parasite and yeast infections (candidiasis) to get out of hand, and these foods are believed to promote growth of these infections.  This could also be a factor for people afflicted with Autism.

  1. Fermented foods such as cheese and wine are listed on the Jigsaw site as foods to avoid.
    • Raw cheese and other lacto-fermented foods (kefir, kombucha, kimchi, etc.) are considered highly beneficial for detox by many practitioners.  See also Lacto-fermented foods in the “good foods” section, above.
  2. Fungi and mushrooms. Many people believe they promote candida overgrowth. However, some wild mushrooms are actually helpful in keeping candida in balance.
  3. Foods pickled with vinegar.  Many people believe the vinegar promotes candida overgrowth.
    • Lacto-fermented foods – pickled without vinegar – may be a good alternative. See Cultured and Lacto-fermented Foods Menu for recipes. Nearly all foods normally pickled in vinegar have been lacto-fermented in times past, including marmalade, beets, cucumbers, melons, tomatoes (catsup), and cabbage (sauerkraut).

Other Diet-Related Precautions:

The following are from the Jigsaw Health website (1B):

  • Do not cook or bake with aluminum ware, and avoid using aluminum foil, or foods and beverages from aluminum cans.
  • Baking powder:  most brands contain aluminum.  Look for aluminum-free brands.
  • Stop smoking, and avoid second-hand smoke.   Cigarette smoke has high levels of toxic cadmium.
  • Do not use antique or any ceramic ware that has a lead-based glaze or paint, for cooking, serving or consuming foods and beverages, to avoid lead exposure.

Diet Considerations for Treatment of Autism

Many practitioners and researchers believe that the root cause of Autism is mercury toxicity from:

  • mercurochrome,
  • thimerosal, a preservative/adjuvant used in many childhood vaccines,
  • dental amalgum fillings.  

While treating for Autism, consider (2):

  • Gluten sensitivity:  Gluten is a protein found in wheat, oats and rye, and is an added ingredient in many processed foods.  Many people do not have the ability to completely break down the gluten protein, and should thus avoid ingestion of gluten containing grains and products, such as bread, cereals, pastas, baked goods, candies, etc..
  • Casein sensitivity:  Casein is a protein found in milk, and for many people is difficult to completely break down during digestion, and should thus avoid ingestion of dairy products unless they have lactose (enzyme) as an added ingredient.
  • The incomplete  breakdown of gluten and casein can result in a litany of secondary problems, exacerbating Autism by disrupting the biochemical and neuroregulatory process in the brain.
  • Candida (yeast) overgrowth is quite common in people with toxic levels of mercury, and may contribute to the behavioral and medical problems of autistic children, including confusion, hyperactivity, stomach problems, and fatigue.


  1. Jigsaw Health
    1. (1)
    2. (2)
  2. (3)
  3. (4)
  4. Wellness Education Center (WEC), Kalispell MT:
  5. The Truth About Cancer (TTAC):
    1. The Truth About Detox (part of The Truth About Cancer series):
    2. Detoxification for Cancer Patients, with Dr. Antonio Jimenez:
  6. Detox Smoothies e-Book by Dr. Pompa, Detox Smoothies:; I saved this as a pdf:  DetoxSmoothie-DrPompa-eBook.pdf (at: HEALTH-NUTRITION > DIET > DETOX)

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