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First-rate foods protecting liver health

Published by Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD on Feb 17, 2020

One of the most fascinating organs in your body is your liver. But do you know how healthy it is? That’s a tough question to answer yet all of us would be wise to protect and preserve this vital organ.

Next to your skin, the liver is the second largest organ in your body. Weighing about three pounds, roughly the size of a football, it’s one of the hardest working, multitasking organs of the digestive system performing hundreds of jobs. For instance, everything you eat or drink passes through the liver helping to manufacture what your body needs. Other duties your liver does includes filtering blood, monitors blood sugar, removes alcohol to be eliminated, detoxifies  chemicals, produces proteins essential for blood clotting, gets rid of old, damaged cells, and metabolizes medications, all to keep your body safe from harm. It’s apparent that to achieve optimal health, protecting your liver is critical for your overall well-being.

The concern of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

There’s a growing public health issue due to the large increase in NAFLD or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.  Referred to as ‘silent liver disease,’ NAFLD is when fat deposits accumulate in your liver.  These deposits keep your liver from doing a good job of removing toxins from your blood.  You may have heard of liver disease in people who drink too much alcohol due to cirrhosis brought on by chronic alcoholism or the necessity of requiring a liver transplant.  But that is not the same as NAFLD.

NAFLD is more likely to develop in overweight to obese individuals or have diabetes, high cholesterol or high triglycerides.  Rapid weight loss or anyone with poor eating habits are also candidates to develop NAFLD.  NAFLD is the most common chronic liver disease in adults with approximately 30 percent or one in three adults in the United States who have it. There has been a steady rise in NAFLD over the years likely due to the progression of obesity as it is directly associated with and proportional to the degree of obesity, particularly abdominal fat.

The concern with NAFLD is that it in some cases, it could progress to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), an aggressive form of fatty liver disease and liver inflammation increasing the risk of advanced scarring (cirrhosis) and liver failure.

How certain foods help preserve liver health

Besides maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and using alcohol responsibly, protecting liver health is also achieved by choosing foods wisely. While there are many health-promoting foods to choose from, here is a listing of some of the best for nurturing the health of your liver:

  • Green tea

Tea is second only to water among the most widely consumed beverages in the world, excellent for your liver.  That’s because studies have shown that green tea contains catechins called EGCG with strong antioxidant properties that inhibit the initiation and development of cancer at different body sites, including the liver. These same catechins found in green tea also improve blood markers of the liver, boost liver enzyme levels, and protect against oxidative stress and fat deposits in the liver. It’s recommended to skip green tea supplements and stick to the real stuff – a soothing brew of green tea, hot or cold.

  • Beans

Brimming with fiber, beans are well-known for supporting and feeding your healthy microbiome (trillions of bacteria living in your gut) and also for supporting good liver health. An excellent source of protein, fiber-rich beans help you feel fuller longer thus reducing appetite preventing you from consuming not-so-healthy foods.

  • Coffee

Go ahead, have your morning cup of joe, your liver will love it. Besides the burst of energy it provides, your coffee habit can help lead to a healthy liver. Coffee appears to reduce inflammation in the liver while increasing antioxidants the body naturally produces. The ideal way to drink coffee is black but if you must have some flavor, add just a splash of cream or a small spoonful of sugar. Avoid the overly sugary coffee concoctions loaded with calories.

  • Garlic

Detoxification is important to keep your liver healthy making garlic your go-to for supporting liver functioning. Garlic is rich in allicin, an antioxidant that protects the body from oxidative damage. Allicin is the main bioactive compound that stimulates the liver to activate the enzymes that can flush out harmful substances.

  • Broccoli

This powerhouse veggie is an excellent source of isothiocyanates, sulfur-containing compounds, the most notable being sulforaphane. The isothiocyanates regulate the expression of genes that are involved in flushing out carcinogens and improving metabolism. Broccoli also has anti-inflammatory properties, good for liver health.

  • Leafy greens

Make leafy greens a regular on your dinner plate – spinach, kale, mustard greens, collard greens, radish greens, Swiss chard, bok choy, all good for liver health. Leafy green veggies protect your liver from oxidative damage and other diseases. These nutrient-rich veggies contain a good amount of vitamins A, C, and K, calcium, and antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties.

  • Turmeric

Besides adding flavor to your meal, the spice turmeric also promotes liver health. This yellow pigmented root contains curcumin, the bioactive compound responsible for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial properties. Curcumin helps to protect the liver from liver disease and injury by reducing inflammation.

  • Lemons and Oranges

All vitamin C rich citrus fruits such as lemons are loaded with antioxidants. When individuals consume citrus fruit, it helps to reduce the oxidative damage in the liver.

  • Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids

Salmon, tuna, walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds all contain omega-3 fatty acids, beneficial to your liver. The fatty acid called DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) has been found to have a role in the prevention of fatty liver disease. In fact, deficiencies in blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to increase the progression of NAFLD.

Making liver health happen

Now that you know why liver health is important and what foods support its health the best, here are several ideas on using them in your daily diet:

  • Have either 2-3 cups of green tea or black coffee each day
  • Each day, have a green leafy salad for lunch or dinner using a variety of dark greens mixed together
  • Choose a small handful of walnuts for a healthy snack
  • Add flaxseed and chia seeds to oatmeal, smoothies, or soups
  • Add orange slices to a salad or enjoy as a snack. Use lemon juice in place of salt adding a fresh flavor to cooked veggies
  • Have fatty fish such as tuna or salmon twice a week
  • Sprinkle turmeric onto potatoes, egg dishes, chicken, pasta dishes, or added to soups
  • Cook with freshly minced garlic mixed with olive oil
  • Have broccoli or beans several times a week added to leafy green salads, soups, or as side dishes to a meal
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Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD

Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Institutional Management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for Cotton O’Neil Clinics in Topeka and Osage City; an adjunct professor for Allen Community College, Burlingame, KS where she teaches Basic Nutrition; and is a freelance writer and blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi, Urologic Oncologist Expert and World Renowned Robotic Surgeon in New York City. Cheryl is also the author of The Nourished Brain, The Latest Science on Food’s Power for Protecting the Brain from Alzheimers and Dementia and The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook, both available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions.

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