Answers to 3 common questions about liver health, and what to eat to keep your liver healthy and happy.
We use and abuse our livers all the time.
I don’t just mean with drinking (but we definitely do that too at the bar every weekend).
Our liver is our body’s filter by processing EVERYTHING we consume! Which means sometimes our liver can take a real beating. High-fat meals, high carbohydrate meals, those weird mixed shots you had at that dive bar last night, the ibuprofen you took this morning to stave off your nagging headache (probably from those weird mixed shots you had last night…)
All these things get to meet your liver.
You may be a social butterfly, but your liver pretty much does the dietary equivalent of shaking hands with everything you put in your mouth…
I can only imagine that sometimes your liver needs a “little me time,” and wishes you would just chill for a second and give it a break. I mean, it is the least you can do for an organ that does its best to remove toxins from your body, stores nutrients, and does many other jobs to keep your body working.
You take it for granted every day, trust me. It’s quite the wondrous 3-pound organ hanging with its friends the pancreas, gallbladder, and your intestines, protected by your rib cage (why you can’t really feel it).
It’s quite the wondrous 3-pound organ hanging with its friends the pancreas, gallbladder, and your intestines, protected by your rib cage (why you can’t really feel it).
What do you know about your liver and what should you be eating to thank it for it’s hard, thankless work?
Let’s find out. Here are answers to 3 common questions about the liver, and a list of the foods that you should (and should not) incorporate into your diet regularly for liver health.
What does your liver do?
Your liver has hundreds of functions, so we can’t possibly talk about all of them.
We have already established that the liver works hard to filter and process everything you eat. But it all comes down to the utilization of your food.
Your liver metabolizes the fats, carbohydrates, and proteins you eat and breaks them down to utilize the nutrients contained in them to run your body.
You cannot live without your liver due to just this one function (although as you will soon see, the liver performs many important functions that without it, we could not survive, so it’s health is pretty damn important…)
It breaks down carbohydrates within your body to their simplest form, glucose. When you talk about blood sugar, you are talking about the amount of glucose in your blood. Your liver employes various enzymes that are regulated by blood glucose levels. Energy is made using these enzymes controlled by your liver. Fat is also metabolized there to make energy, and your liver makes and transports your cholesterol.
We want our liver to remain functional so we don’t have to fret over our cholesterol.
Also, while we get our essential amino acids from our diet, the liver is responsible for producing many of our non-essential (meaning we can make them, not that they aren’t important) amino acids. Our proteins are also utilized in the liver to make plasma proteins that carry things around our body, including the clotting factor derived from vitamin K synthesis.
YOU ARE ALIVE BECAUSE YOU CAN EAT, PRODUCE, AND UTILIZE ENERGY.
What foods are good your liver?
Garlic contains high amounts of allicin and selenium which help cleanse the liver through the activation of liver enzymes that clear out toxins.
Grapefruit and other Citrus Fruit
High in antioxidants that help to stop free radicals throughout the body from causing damage (aka aging), grapefruits, lemons, and limes are great for liver health. The high vitamin C content and other antioxidants help to keep inflammation down and the liver working happy and healthy.
The catechins (a group of antioxidants) in green tea have not only has been studied for it anti-cancer effects and possible tool in the obesity crisis. Your liver should get excited too because these antioxidants also protect your liver from damage. Maybe you should start making green tea vodka cocktails…
Leafy Greens/Cruciferous Vegetables
We already know how awesome vegetables are, especially those big green ones both leafy and cruciferous. Spinach, kale, brussel sprouts, and broccoli contain high amounts of plant chlorophylls which help to remove environmental toxins, heavy metals, and pesticides from the blood via the liver. The cruciferous veggies contain glucosinolate, a compound that aids in digestion. Digestion is important because if that step doesn’t go quite right, your liver can’t continue the breakdown process to utilize nutrients.
Flavonoid-content = great liver function because of antioxidant properties.
beans, lentils, black-eyed peas, asparagus, and milk thistle also help to produce more glutathione.
Turmeric has been shown to help boost metabolism of fat and increase bile production. Bile plays an important role in digestion and absorption of fats and fat-soluble vitamins in the small intestine. Also many of the things our body wants to excrete as waste is part of bile.
Also, Bile is what make our poop brown. Otherwise, it would be white (a sign that your liver isn’t working, btw…)
Tomatoes, another liver healthy food, are not only abundant in the free-radical fighting antioxidant lycopene, they are also rich in certain compounds that help protect against liver disease. Also, raw tomatoes are great for detoxing the body since they contain high levels of glutathione in each serving.
Another veggie that possesses glutathoine is asparagus. Not only that, but asparagus is rich in fiber, folate, iron and other important vitamins so it is very good for the rest of your body, not just your liver.
While deez nuts also contain the detoxifying antioxidant glutathoine that we’ve been discussing, they also have omega-3 acids, which help support our liver through the cleansing process.
You may already know that carrots contain a lot of beta-carotene (the orange stuff that gets converted into Vitamin A in your body), you might not have realized that these carotenoids are great for liver health.
When you consume a carrot, they stimulate bile release, which helps to remove toxins from your body. They also contain a healthy amount of dietary fiber, which helps your liver work at full capacity.
What foods are bad your liver?
Foods that are bad for your liver are more about what is in them than the food as a whole. This is because unless you are literally eating a poisonous food like inedible mushrooms, it about the meal you are having rather than one ingredient.
Foods to AVOID: Fries, mozzarella sticks, doughnuts, fried sushi rolls, onion rings, fried chicken, rolled tacos, and chicken nuggets.
Eating these foods that are very high in saturated fat, sodium, and often simple sugars can cause damage to your liver when consumed too often. Having a fatty meal full of fried food puts a lot of pressure on your liver to work faster.
Just like if you can burn yourself out by working (or playing) too much, your liver can get overworked which will cause it to not function as well.
Foods to AVOID: sugared soda, applesauce, canned fruit, fruit (but this is more about high fructose corn syrup because you can get a lot more in a small volume), fruit juice, cereal bars, crackers, bread, yogurt, pudding.
Obviously there are some of these foods that are made without all the high fructose corn syrup. But high amounts of fructose in your diet has shown in some studies to cause dyslipidemia (high amounts of fat in your blood) which can lead to fatty liver and inflammation over time.
Foods to AVOID: Fried food, pie crusts, store bought cookies, margarine, ice cream, popcorn, icing/frosting, biscuits, breakfast sandwiches, and doughnuts.
In just a couple more years, trans fats will be non-existent in food production in the United States due to some new legislation. Trans fats are so terrible they have been taken off the GRAS (generally recognized as safe) list.
Trans fats raise your bad LDL cholesterol and lower your good HDL cholesterol. This increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes (type 2), and stroke. You should limit your intake as much as possible.
Trans fats only came about because they were cheap to make, had a long shelf-life, and gave certain food products great flavor and texture. When reading a label, you will see the most common source of trans fats listed as “partially hydrogenated” oils.
Foods to AVOID: canned and cured meats, pickled foods, soup, salted nuts, frozen prepared foods (burritos, pizzas, fries), canned beans, and chips.
We already knew that high amounts of sodium intake is bad for you. We know all about poor health outcomes, like hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes. But what is high amounts of sodium doing to your liver?
High salt intake alters your fluid balance and can cause you to retain water and edema. You liver also experiences this, and then leads to a disturbance in blood pressure. This increased water tension also creates more stress in general on the liver.
When your liver is not functioning as well you may notice that you bloat from water retention. Your liver is also processing all the liquids you consume, so high salt with a lot of fluids is a big NO-NO.
Generally speaking, if you are mindful of what you are eating and eat a diet high in plant foods, low in saturated fat, and don’t exceed moderate intake of sodium, you are probably doing alright in the liver department.
Also, I’m not going to lie and say that drinking alcohol is ok for your liver, especially when you are binge drinking.
Try and be responsible when it comes to drinking so you don’t end up needing a new liver in 20 years. Also, be careful about what medications you take with alcohol.
Medicines that have acetaminophen (like Tylenol) when in combination with alcohol can be fatal via liver failure.
Your liver works really hard for you all day, every day. Try and pay it some thanks by eating better and working in some foods that help the liver remove toxins and metabolize your food more efficiently.