Nourishing Winter Cleanse

Any time of year can be a great time do a Nourishing Winter Cleanse to nourish your gut, immune system, blood stream and whole body while eating only the cleanest fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, meats, fish and bone broth. These healthful eating tips can be useful even if you are not up for a full cleanse.

By eating deeply nourishing foods, and not eating foods that cause inflammation and toxic build-up, we can nourish our muscular-skeletal, gastro-intestinal and blood systems, reduce systemic inflammation and bolster our immune system. The immune system starts in the gut. A healthy gut lining means fewer toxins are getting through your gut lining into your blood stream where they can wreak havoc in your joints, arteries, brain, everything!

A healthy gut can process the food you eat efficiently, assimilating the nutrients our body needs and transforming them into the Qi and blood which is the basis for our defensive Qi, aka immune system.

The Spleen is one of the main organs of digestion according to Chinese medicine, and is responsible for transformation and transportation of food. The Spleen likes warmth. Too much raw and cold food is too cooling for the Spleen, especially up here in Vermont in the winter! The Nourishing Winter Cleanse is exactly the opposite of a raw food cleanse. So, a cleanse doesn’t necessarily mean juice fast or raw food diet.

When to do a Nourishing Winter Cleanse

January and September are both times when I have been wanting to reset my habits, including my eating habits. The last few years I’ve done my cleanses at those times instead of the traditional spring and summer. Spring because it is the time of the Wood/Liver energy, the Yang is rising and growing (sap, sun), and there is a tendency for stagnation (pain, irritability) – and Summer because some cleanses include light eating, and raw vegetables and juices which are cold and more suitable for hot climates.

January is particularly great if you overindulged over the holidays and by February the spring energy is beginning to sprout up, the days are getting longer, sap is flowing and in some places the flowers are even starting to sprout. Even if we can’t see it, early spring energy is here in Vermont.

September is a fabulous time to do a cleanse because harvests are bountiful and CSA baskets overflowing, plus the back-to-school routines are in place – might as well include meal planning.

How to do a Nourishing Winter Cleanse

There’s lots of different ways to do a cleanse. One of my year-round favorites is the no-sugar-for-a-month cleanse. It’s great if you have been over-indulging in sweets and want to change that. Drop dessert and have a cup of tea instead.

Sugar causes inflammation in the body which can lead to a cascade of issues, including heart disease. Everyone’s health is better without it, and symptoms improve easier without sugar. It’s great to do a no-sugar-for-a-month cleanse 1-2 x a year. You’ll find yourself craving sugar much less in the long run, and you will notice less puffiness, less pain, and more energy.

I always do food cleanses – no fasting, except “intermittent fast” which basically means don’t eat too late and no snack before bed so you can go at least 12 hours without eating overnight. One part of the Mediterranean diet that is not emphasized is intermittent fasting. Greek Orthodox men fast one day a week! They also eat lots of snails and mollusks.

I have done many different food cleanses over the years, including Clean, Whole30, and Restart. I like to do a cleanse 1-2 times a year. I have found Clean to be the most doable for me and effective. Alejandro Junger’s book, Clean: The Revolutionary Program to Restore the Body’s Natural Ability to Heal Itself very readable and informative.

Nourishing Winter Cleanse encompasses the best of the three above cleanses, Traditional East Asian Nutrition, and nutritional wisdom through my decades of study of holistic nutrition. Here are some of my more recent sources:

Why Do a Nourishing Winter Cleanse

–       Restart healthy eating habits. The first thing to do is nix sugar. Just doing no sugar and generally thinking about eating well can be enough. Eating hearty healthy meals with lots of vegetables and lots of animal protein really helps sugar cravings. By sugar I mean cane sugar. Fruit sugar is still sugar, but different. Some more intense food cleanses, such as Restart, allow only a little bit of fruit sugar because the goal there is to reduce all types of sugar.

–       Weight loss or maintenance. Leaving out the least healthy and most caloric parts of your diet can help you lose weight it you want to. If you do not want to lose weight, you may need to make sure you are having large enough meals and nourishing snacks. If you are burning a lot of calories and don’t have weight to lose, consider having four meals per day.

–       Increased nutrition. Eating the most nutrition food fuels your body and brain. You’ll feel it! Eating mostly grains and vegetables is not sustaining enough and can lead to malnutrition, which is why this diet is not suitable for vegetarians. Animal protein and fats contain essential healthy fats and protein. Unfortunately, due to bad research + politics, this feels counter-intuitive to many. Sugar, crappy oils and even grains can lead to health issues, not meat.

–       Reduce toxic build-up and inflammation. Joint pain and other inflammatory ailments can improve much quicker when irritants are taken out of your system: sugar, grains, vegetable seed oils. Read more about the anti-inflammatory diet.

–       Habit and routine overhaul. Some of us can benefit from setting up some new routines, starting with meal planning. Also regulating sleep (i.e. not staying up too late and/or taking naps), exercise, relaxation, journaling, reading, meditating…

Do what is realistic for you and your lifestyle, otherwise it can be difficult to maintain.

Perhaps you already have a very clean diet and this is essentially how you are eating daily. Great! See if there are any tips here to help you get even more nutrients from your food.

This cleanse is not appropriate for vegetarians.

Anti-inflammatory Diet, Nightshades and Elimination Diet are worth knowing about before starting your cleanse. Check out the short article I wrote.

Here are a list of resources – reference books and websites – that I wanted to share with you.

Nourishing Winter Cleanse

I recommend 30 days for best results. It takes about 3 weeks to make new habits, and another week to solidify those habits.

What to eat

Lots of cooked fresh organic vegetables and locally raised meat primarily.  Prepare easy to digest meals such as broth, soups, congees. Take advantage of what is in season locally, which in the winter in Vermont is mostly root vegetables, though my CSA has kale and spinach that they grow in their hoop houses year-round. Try to get lots of different colors on your plate. It is not too hard if you plan your week and pick a day or two each week when you do extra food prep.


Vegetables: Hearty cooked greens and brassicas such as kale, chard, spinach collards, bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts…

Root vegetables: Beets, sweet potatoes, carrots, rutabagas, potatoes.*

Root veggies are key if you are avoiding grains altogether, or having much less grain. Roast up extra root vegetables so you can have some for tomorrow.

Vegetables that are really fruits: Squash and zucchini of all types, green beans, avocado, olives, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes*


Mushrooms: Cremini, white, portabella, shiitake, oyster mushrooms, whatever you can get your hands on. Mushrooms are a great way to add flavor, nutrients and heartiness to a meal.

Aliums: Onions, shallots, scallions, garlic.

Lacto-fermented veggies: Kim chi, sauerkraut or lacto-fermented carrots. These will introduce healthy probiotic to your gut to encourage a healthy balance gut flora. Take it slow, start with one teaspoon per day.

Fruit: Blueberries, Raspberries, apples, pears avocado, pineapple, papaya and grapefruit are the main ones. 2-3 servings per day. 0-1 serving max: banana, mango, orange. Minimal dried fruit (because the sugar is so concentrated)

Don’t drink juice as a beverage, but use it in your recipe if you want.

Nuts, seeds, nut or seed butter (no peanut butter) – 1-2 servings a day (1T per serving)

Seaweed – any kind. We always keep nori sheets around to use for nori rolls, or as a snack, holding one sheet of nori with tongs or chopsticks, gently toasted over the flame on the stove for 15-30 seconds.

Bone broth daily – this is a great breakfast, light lunch or snack. You can add left over root veggies, seaweed or other ingredients to make a quick soup. Warm, but don’t boil your broth. Here’s a link to my Bone Broth recipe.

Meat: Lamb, grass fed beef

Poultry: Chicken, turkey, quail

Game meat: Venison, rabbit, duck, grouse

Organ meat: Liver from grass-fed animals is amazingly chock full of nutrients. If you are getting a turkey or lamb you may have the option to also take the liver, heart, kidney, giblets, and neck. These are all highly nutritious. I just started making pate, and it is super easy and delicious – and that coming from someone who has never liked liver in the past.

Fish – Wild-caught Alaskan salmon, rainbow trout, Atlantic mackerel, sardines, herring. Fish sauce is a definite yes.

Look for fish high in omega-3 fatty acids and lower in toxins. If canned, make sure they are packed in olive oil, not soybean oil, please.

Eggs – unless this is part of your elimination diet

Oils: Ghee, coconut oil, lard or bacon fat (pork, so not ideal for the cleanse), and tallow all can handle high heat so are good for cooking. Olive oil and butter can handle heat, but not as high as the above.

Sea salt – I like Celtic grey sea salt for its rich array of minerals. Note that sea salt does not contain iodine like the conventional table salt which has additive that include iodine (and sugar, fyi). You can take iodine drops, or have 1-2 sheets of nori per day to get your iodine.

Warming and invigorating herbs and spices: Thyme, oregano, sage, rosemary, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, turmeric, anise seed, star anise, nutmeg, ginger, basil, parsley, dill, and black pepper (in small quantities).

Grains – none is ideal for the duration of the cleanse, but not always realistic. In Clean, gluten-free grains are allowed. People who do well on a gluten-free diet may do even better on a grain-free diet, which was known decades ago as the Specific Carbohydrate diet.

Best grains are: oats, barley, quinoa, rice. If gluten-sensitive, avoid barley, and oats that are not specifically labeled gluten-free. White rice is easier to digest and brown rice offers fiber. Worst grains are corn and wheat.

What to drink

Water – good quality water – room temperature or warm. Spring water, filtered water, not reverse osmosis (or if that’s what you have, add a pinch of Celtic sea salt or drops of trace minerals). Pay attention to your thirst (and your BMs) and drink accordingly.

A mug of hot water is a great way to start the morning. Add a squeeze of lemon if you like.

Mineral water – with or without a squeeze of lemon or lime

Coconut water

Herbal tea – Nettles makes a nutrient rich herbal infusion that is I liken to land seaweed. It nourishes and simultaneously detoxifies the blood. A cup a day… Experiment to find what tea you like and/or talk to your practitioner about what suits your constitution.


Cold foods of all kinds. Warm your left-overs! Never eat cold grains. Don’t add ice to your beverages or smoothies (your Spleen thanks you). I am a crusader for not-cold smoothies.

Raw vegetables such as salads. Consider including cooked veggies in your salads if you are a salad lover. Don’t cook your lettuce J but include blanched spinach, lightly steamed kale or broccoli, or roasted roots. Ideally, show your love for your body by eating soup instead of salad.

Grains may be included on a limited basis – max 1 serving per day. Choose the best grain for you: quinoa, barley (not gluten-free), oats (steel cut is best, oats may not be gluten free), or rice (brown has lots of fiber, white is easy to digest and healing for the gut lining when uses as a congee or in Vietnamese Chicken and Rice Soup)


No sugar – If you do one thing only, this would be it – no processed cane sugar – none.

No fruit juice or other sweet beverages

No added honey, maple, agave or the like, ideally, but if you must this is better than sugar

No alcohol

No peanuts or peanut butter (peanut is not a nut but a legume)

No soy, beans and legumes (except green beans)

No additives, preservatives, sulfates, nitrates, nitrites (that are not naturally occurring).

No shellfish or pork. No conventional beef.

No vegetable seed oils, such as vegetable, canola (rapeseed), safflower and sunflower oils because when headed the molecules convert to trans configuration, which is essentially the trans-fatty acids found in fake foods like margarine, which causes inflammation and leads to bad health.

No grains (including corn = the worst grain for our guts) – or limit, max 1 serving per day

No dairy (except ghee)

What about my morning coffee or tea? It’s up to you. A lot of cleanses recommended avoiding caffeine. If you don’t want to give up your morning cuppa, drop it down to just one organic cup. You can also change it up and go for a light green tea instead of the darker brew.

If you use milk in your coffee or tea and can’t fathom going without, use the best quality you can get, ideally raw, unhomogenized milk. If you don’t have access to raw milk, you can at least get organic unhomogenized milk at the market.


Starting the week before you cleanse, go shopping and start experimenting with foods on the YES list and see what you like.

The key to eating well is meal planning.

Double your recipes so you have left-overs for lunch or even breakfast. My husband likes to make an omelet with left-over meat and veg for brunch. The chili omelet is my favorite so far.

Your bowel movements will be informative. If you are feeling constipated or having hard stools, you may need to up your vegetables and/or water intake.

Do what feels right for you. There is no singular right way. We have so many factors to consider, including general health, age, activity level and ancestry. Just like as Denise Minger concludes her book, Death by Food Pyramid, cultures all over the world that experience exceptional longevity ALL do not eat processed food and junk food, ALL eat some sort of meat/fish combo plus vegetables and fruit. SOME eat grain, SOME eat dairy… We have to do what feels right for our bodies.

Do what is doable now. Start realistic. Check in with your doctor if you have any doubts.

Pro-tip: get a mug warmer and put your jar of bone broth on there in the morning so it will be perfectly warm when you need your mid-morning snack or lunch.

After the Cleanse

Take some habits with you! Choose at least one thing that you want to continue doing and keep it up. You know if feels good!

Another way to go is 80:20. 80% of the time you keep up with the cleanse as above, and 20% of the time eat whatever you want.

When I finish this year’s Nourishing Winter Cleanse I intend to continue with mostly eating vegetables, fruits, nuts and fish/poultry/meats but will add back the nightshade family, some grains, and will be less stringent when it comes to sauces and such. For example, a little palm sugar in a coconut curry enhances the flavor. Other than that, I will be going 80:20, plus my 100-day challenge.

100-day Challenge

This year I encourage you to pick at least one specific food or category of food to avoid, or a healthy habit from your cleanse that you want to continue for a total of 100 days.

I intend to not eat Red Hot Blues corn chips (my weakness) and dessert foods, and to continue with my morning routine (yoga/martial arts) for 100 days.

If you have questions, feel free to email or call me. The list of foods is certainly not exhaustive but more of a condensed guide to winter cleansing. Please check out my other blogs *tag Cleansing* or read some of the awesome books or websites I refer you to if you want to learn more about nutrition.

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