by Julie Christensen You probably don’t think much about your liver, unless, of course, it’s not functioning as it should. But, your liver serves many vital purposes in your body and keeping it healthy is one of the best things you can do to ensure health and vitality as you age. The liver provides the following benefits:
- Removes toxins from the blood stream that enter your body through your skin, respiratory system and digestive system. When the liver becomes overloaded with toxins, though, it can no longer remove them efficiently. They are stored in fat and may contribute to chronic diseases, such as cancer.
- Regulates endocrine production of the hormones we need for fertility, healthy metabolism and many other normal functions. Produces the enzymes used in your body for brain, eye, kidney, joint and muscle health.
- Keeps your metabolism fueled so you use food efficiently and burn fat.
When you think of liver problems, you probably think of hepatitis or liver failure, which can be caused by alcoholism, drug use, or in some cases, a genetically inherited trait. But liver problems can also be caused by stress and improper diet. Symptoms of liver problems include nausea, constant fatigue, loss of appetite, yellowish skin or eyes and dark urine. Women may experience painful or extended periods. It’s a lot easier to keep the liver healthy than to repair a damaged liver. Read on to learn about foods that naturally clean and detoxify the liver, as well as foods to avoid. Just a few changes can offer big dividends for your health. As you change your diet, look for ways to reduce stress and get more exercise, as well.
What to Eat
- Avocados. Creamy, satisfying and sweet, avocados are a good source of healthy monounsaturated fats. They also contain compounds that cleanse the liver. One study found that eating avocados twice a week for 30 days can repair a damaged liver, according to Natural News. Add avocados to salads, sandwiches and smoothies.
- Leafy Greens. Greens like spinach, kale, mustard greens, and dandelion greens, cleanse the liver of heavy metals and pesticides. Eat leafy greens lightly steamed or sautéed and drizzled with a bit of olive oil. Another option is to drink a tea of nutritive green herbs daily. Many health food stores offer liver teas that contain a combination of the following herbs: dried dandelion leaf, nettle leaf, alfalfa leaf, oat straw or Oregon grape root. You can also blend your own teas from loose herbs.
- Seaweed. Seaweed and spirulina are high in nutrients and excellent liver toners. Add powdered seaweed or spirulina to smoothies or soups.
- Garlic. Garlic might not ward off vampires, but it can detoxify the liver. This bulb contains detoxifying sulphur compounds and selenium. Add fresh garlic to almost any cooked dish for extra flavor. Or try roasted garlic with fresh bread.
- Beets. Peer reviewed studies have shown beets to have potent liver protecting effects. Beets are high in antioxidants, fiber and minerals. Try them raw in salads, or in smoothies, or juiced.
- Grapefruit. Eating more grapefruit just might help you lose weight as you tone your liver. This tart citrus fruit contains detoxifying enzymes and a flavonoid, or plant compound, which encourages the liver to burn fat. Choose grapefruit as a snack food or peel it and add it to salads. Mix fresh grapefruit juice with oil and vinegar for a refreshing vinaigrette.
- Tumeric. This spice is a powerful weapon in the liver-cleansing arsenal. It contains compounds that cleanse the liver, remove toxins and increase bile production. Add it to soups and casseroles.
- Broccoli. One of the best things you can do for your liver is boost its own detoxifying enzymes, and and sulforaphane is the most potent natural enzyme-inducers known. And you can get it from broccoli!
- Walnuts. Walnuts are a good source of essential amino acids, good fats and liver-cleansing compounds. Toast walnuts and add them to trail mix, granola or salad. Use them as a breading for poultry or include them in baked goods.
What to Avoid
As you might expect, the no-no list contains foods you already know you should avoid. The liver works overtime to process toxins from processed foods high in trans-fats and sugar. These foods raise blood sugar levels, which in turn, causes more stress for the liver. Over time, these foods can contribute to type 2 diabetes, hypertension and even certain types of cancer. Do your liver and your body a favor by eliminating or reducing the following foods from your diet:
- Sodas, sports drinks and energy drinks
- Fried foods, donuts and fast food
- Simple carbs, including cookies, bagels and breads made with white flour
- Candy and sweets
For Further Reading
For more information on maintaining a healthy liver, read the following: Liver Problems from the Mayo Clinic Liver Disease Frequently Asked Questions from the University of Iowa Hospital & Clinics Julie Christensen learned about gardening on her grandfather’s farm and mother’s vegetable garden in southern Idaho. Today, she lives and gardens on the high plains of Colorado. When she’s not digging in the dirt, Julie writes about food, education, parenting and gardening.