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Alejandro Junger's CLEAN program is a great cleansing and detox program for anyone -- and it's Gluten-Free!

Removing toxins from the body. Restoring nutrients. Fortifying the immune system. Nourishing the body. 

I can't tell you how long I've wanted to try some sort of cleansing program or "detox" diet. But it just never seemed like the right time. After all, it's usually a bit of work, requires you to eat new and different foods (and depriving you of some of your favorites!), and can make any social plans revolving around food a real challenge. I also wondered how I'd feel on a cleansing diet...if I'd have "withdrawal" headaches, be cranky, or feel energy-deprived.

Screen Shot 2012-04-11 at 4.12.22 PMMy husband happened upon Dr. Alejandro Junger's "CLEAN" program last year and gave it a try -- by himself. One of my husband's clients is a health-related company, and he wanted to try the cleanse to see what it was all about. For various reasons, I decided to wait until another time to join in.

Fast forward a year later, and we decided to do the program together, somewhat of a "Spring cleaning" of our bodies, if you will.  This time, instead of doing the full 3-week cleanse program as my husband had done last year, we deciced to "split" the Clean program and each do a week and a half -- together. In between trips and other social events on our calendar, that was all we could swing right now, and we didn't want to put it off any more. And I wanted to be sure the program was "doable" for me before I committed to the whole 3-week time frame that's recommended. So it would be a good trial run. 

Well, I wish I'd done the whole three weeks -- and I am actually looking forward to doing the "full" program sometime down the road! I can honestly say that this cleansing program is well worth the little bit of extra effort involved, in terms of buying and preparing foods you probably aren't typically used to consuming. I felt great for the duration of the program -- and plan on prolonging the benefits by changing the way I eat going forward. The CLEAN program really makes you want to improve your diet and your health.

Screen Shot 2012-04-11 at 4.13.39 PMA quick overview: the CLEAN cleansing program was developed by Dr. Alejandro Junger, a cardiologist who initially began the research that led to the development of the program because of his desire to get away from the toxic foods, drinks, and thoughts weighing on his own health. He found that modern medicine often takes a "band aid" approach to "fix" or cover up a health problem, but the key is really to nurture our body from the roots with the right foods and nutrients. And by creating the right conditions, our body will begin to naturally heal itself. 

His popular program, which he details in his best-selling book, Clean, involves drinking one nutrient shake in the morning and one at night -- with a "regular" meal at lunchtime. With each meal, you also take a range of nutritional supplements, which include enzymes to break down and properly digest food -- and probiotics to support the immune system. (The shake mixes and the supplements are all gluten-free.) The goal is to allow 12 hours between the nighttime shake and morning shake, in order to give your body an adequate "break" from the process of digestion, which uses an enormous amount of energy.

IMG_5223The "regular" meal you eat mid-day may not actually be a "regular" meal as you define it...because it should be a meal free of the foods that cause allergies, food sensitivities, and digestive problems. During the 3-day "Pre Cleanse" and throughout the 21-day Cleanse, you will need to eliminate the following foods (this is not an exhaustive list, just a sampling): gluten, dairy, eggs, shellfish, pork, red meat, soybean products, peanuts and peanut butter, nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant), certain fruits (but not all), white rice, corn, oats, alcohol, caffeine (except for green tea), refined sugar, and most oils. You CAN have chicken, fish, brown rice, quinoa (if you have never tried this wonderfully versatile and protein-packed grain, now's your chance!), and plenty of veggies, fruits, nuts, and other food staples.

IMG_5225If this sounds a bit difficult, have no fear...the booklet you'll receive with the Clean program includes many delicious recipes that are fairly easy to make. Recipes I made included Mango Avocado Salad (pictured above); Slow Simmered Chicken with Chard, Mushrooms, and Onions with Cherries; Homemade Guacamole; Cool as a Cucumber Soup with Dill; Grilled Chicken and Garlic Mashed Turnips; and Quinoa Salad with Roasted Vegetables (and I threw in some poached chicken breast). I also experimented with some creations of my own, including Salmon with Pineapple, Red Onion, Cashew and Cilantro salsa (shown with a brown rice medley and broccoli to the right) and some other quinoa dishes.

IMG_5313If there were two foods that I added en masse to my diet during the cleanse, it was quinoa and avocados! I put a half of an avocado in my chocolate morning shakes (lends a nice creaminess -- and lots of nutrients and healthy fats to the shake -- without any avocado taste), and I found I LOVED quinoa recipes filled with veggies, herbs, and even chopped chicken breast for extra protein. Now that I've been off the formal cleanse diet for 10 days, I'm still craving these wonderful, nutrient-dense foods. Here I've shown a Quinoa Salad with Avocado recipe from the magazine Living Without. Everything in the recipe (quinoa, extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, garlic clove, Dijon mustard, sea salt, pepper, cherry tomatoes, red onion, mint leaves, and avocado) is safe to eat on the Clean diet, with the exception of tomatoes, which I've now re-introduced into my diet. 

And speaking of reintroducing the foods you've temporarily eliminated, the idea is to pinpoint if any particular food is causing problems for you. I haven't noticed anything other than re-introducing an occasional glass of wine with dinner has made me very groggy in the morning. But then again, I didn't suspect any intolerances before starting the progam...I just wanted to give my body a rest from all the toxins...give it a chance to heal and "reset," as Dr. Junger would say. 

I have to say upfront that our family's diet is probably better than most. Because our son is gluten-free due to Celiac Disease, the rest of us tend to eat less gluten than the average American. And I've always been a label reader, trying to avoid foods with artificial additives, chemicals, and preservatives. Finally, I"m a stickler for serving three square meals a day and insisting my kids eat their veggies! But there's always room for improvement, right? In my case, I quickly found that the answer was YES!

While following the Clean program, I felt like a million bucks. I can honestly say I had tons of energy and focus even without my usual afternoon coffee (it probably helped that I gave up coffee beverages for Lent, many weeks before even beginning the Clean program). I did continue drinking a cup of green tea most mornings, which is my custom anyway. For anyone who doesn't care for green tea -- or is really hooked on coffee -- the initial days of the program may be a bit more challenging. However, I was thrilled to see that I didn't get ANY headaches on the diet (from less caffeine, fewer calories, change in diet, whatever...), and I slept really well. I never felt terribly hungry, and when I did, I took my husband's advice and drank some water (another key component of the program). It was actually nice to never have that "too full" feeling many of us have after a big meal -- or a meal full of all the "wrong" foods. I dropped a full 6 pounds in the 11 days I followed this program, and my husband lost even more. Though this was not at all the goal of our doing the program, it was a great side benefit. And that was even without much exercising, something Dr. Junger advises to go light on when doing the program.

I could go on and on about the CLEAN program, but I should probably just refer you directly to the CLEAN website for more informaion. (You'll see that many well-known celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Demi Moore are fans of the program.) There's also an online support community and wellness coaches you can consult throughout the program.

I want to make it clear that I have no affiliation with this company and did NOT receive the program for free. We paid for it just like everyone else. I thought that my gluten-free followers would benefit from this post, and I assure you, you are already in a better position than most people beginning this program, since your diet is already free of one of the biggest "problem" foods: GLUTEN. You will probably find that they dietary changes are not a huge sacrifice -- and the benefits are well worth it. PLEASE comment below if you've ever done this -- or any other -- cleansing program. And be sure to email me us at if you DO try this program...and let us know of your results! I look forward to hearing from you!