Foods That Love Your Liver
Liver health is vital for the functioning of all body systems and wellbeing.
Some of the most important actions of the liver include continuous filtration of blood to remove toxins, bile production for proper fat absorption and digestion, cholesterol regulation and healthy hormone metabolism.
As one of our major organs of detoxification, our liver is in charge of processing any drugs or chemicals that enter our bodies via the digestive tract, skin and respiratory system.
This includes toxic substances such as alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine, cosmetic chemicals, food preservatives and additives and even endogenous toxins from bacterial overgrowth in the gut.
Liver detoxifiction occurs in two stages called Phase I and Phase II detoxification.
Phase I detoxification involves modification of fat-soluble toxins to ‘intermediate substances’ to be metabolised by Phase II enzymes.
In some cases, intermediate substances can be more harmful to the body than the original toxins and create high levels of free radicals which cause oxidative damage to the liver and body tissues.
Phase II detoxification enzymes are required to transform these intermediate substances to harmless water-soluble compounds to be excreted via the kidneys or bowel.
Both phases require different nutrients to function efficiently and it is important to balance the rate of activity of Phase I and II detoxification systems so that production of intermediate substances during Phase I processes do not overwhelm Phase II detoxification enzymes.
Substances that speed up Phase I detoxification and are best to reduce your exposure to include alcohol, cigarette smoke, some medications and most environmental pollutants.
Signs that your liver may be toxically encumbered and sluggish include:
- ‘Foggy’ thinking
- Poor quality sleep and waking between 1-3am
- Abdominal bloating and alternating bowel habits
- Intolerance to alcohol and/or fatty foods
- Skin problems like acne or dermatitis
- Sensitivity to chemicals or fragrances
- Hormonal problems such as PMS
Liver dysfunction is also associated with disease states such as hypercholesterolemia, insulin resistance, obesity and fatty liver disease.
Unfortunately it is becoming more and more difficult to lead a non-toxic lifestyle nowadays, so eating these ‘Liver Loving’ Foods on a regular basis is important to enhance liver function and help to protect your liver from toxic damage.
Cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, kale and radishes contain phytochemical compounds such as sulfurophane, which help the liver produce enzymes for detoxification and improve antioxidant defenses.
They may also have beneficial effects on hormonal balance in women, as they help the liver to metabolise oestrogen.
To maximise the nutritional value you gain from the vegetables, try having them raw occasionally or lightly steamed.
Leafy greens, particularly bitter greens, such as mustard greens, rocket, radicchio, endive, arugula, dandelion greens and chicory promote the production and flow of bile from the liver to improve digestive function and are an excellent addition to salads.
These vegetables also have an alkalising effect on the body to reduce inflammation and acidity, and aid in the removal of wastes once they have been detoxified by the liver.
You can use dandelion root as a tea for similar liver-stimulating actions as the bitter leaves.
This is especially handy as a substitute for coffee for those of you trying to curb your caffeine habit.
Garlic and Onion
Garlic and onion form part of the Allium plant family and help to activate liver enzymes required for detoxification with their sulfur-containing compounds.
They also contain the nutrients allicin and selenium which are proven to help protect the liver from toxic damage and enhance detoxification processes.
Lecithin (from organic egg-yolks or non-GMO soy lecithin granules)
Lecithin is a rich source of fat-soluble nutrients and phospholipids such as choline which play an important role in maintaing liver health.
Choline is essential for healthy metabolism of fats by the liver and helps to reduce fat accumulation in liver cells which is a major cause of liver dysfunction.
It may also help to protect the liver from damage caused by heavy alcohol consumption and plays an important role in cardiovascular and nervous system health.
Citrus fruits, particularly grapefruits and lemons, are rich in vitamin C and other anti-oxidants that help to neutralise oxidative stress within the body and take the toxic load off the liver.
Studies have also found that the phytochemical responsible for the bitter taste of these fruits can help to stimulate fat burning mechanisms of the liver rather than storing ingested fats.
A traditional naturopathic liver tonic remedy is to start each day with a big squeeze or fresh lemon juice in water!
Beetroots are nutrient rich and considered a traditional ‘blood tonic’ vegetable.
As you may guess, beetroots have similar antioxidant qualities to berries due to their rich-red colour.
This helps to protect the liver from toxic damage and improve overall functioning.
Beetroots also contain specific nutritional compounds such as betaine, which stimulates liver detoxification pathways, and pectin, a type of fibre, which aids in the excretion of toxins from the body following processing by the liver.
Add grated beetroot to salads, have roast beetroots with dinner or start your day with a fresh and tasty beetroot juice. It makes a great combination with juiced apple, carrot, celery and ginger!
Turmeric is a powerfully anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant plant, also commonly used as a culinary spice.
Curcumin, a phytochemical found in turmeric speeds up Phase II detox pathways and increases the production of glutathione, a compound required for our internal antioxidant systems.
Add organic dried or freshly grated turmeric root to curries and stir-frys or even try it as a deliciously warming tea during winter!
Green tea is one of the most well-known antioxidant superfoods around the world.
It contains many potent phytochemicals such as catechins, that help to neutralise free radicals, protect liver cells from damage and balance Phase 1 and Phase II detoxification pathways.
Similar to citrus fruits, green tea has also been found to stimulate fat metabolism, improve cholesterol ratios and help to prevent fatty liver disease.
When drinking Green tea, ensure you buy an organic brand to avoid pesticide residues.
Good quality sources of protein such as fish, eggs, poultry, free-range lean meats, nuts and seeds and legumes are essential for liver health.
Amino acids are as the building blocks of protein and specific amino acids are required for the production Phase I and II detoxification enzymes.
Protein also helps to support energy levels, immune function and muscle health.
Include a good source of protein in each meal and snack you have during the day.
We’ve heard it all before when it comes to water, but the rumours are true!
Water is essential for optimal health and detoxification. Especially for the elimination of toxins once they have been converted to water-soluble substances that need to be flushed through the kidneys and bowels.
Make sure you drink at least 33ml per kg of your body weight to get an adequate amount of water daily.
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