The liver performs over 500 essential tasks in the body, such as filtering the blood coming from the digestive tract before passing it to the rest of the body, detoxifying chemicals, and metabolizing medications. The liver can contain up to 13 percent of the body’s blood supply, and it converts blood glucose into glycogen to be stored as energy. This is important for keeping blood sugar levels consistent. The liver also secretes bile that ends up back in the intestines, where it plays a critical role in digestion. Another one of the liver’s amazing feats is to store iron and other nutrients and vitamins as a back-up supply to be used when blood levels are too low.
Clearly, a healthy liver is essential for our overall wellbeing – but often we don’t take very good care of it and fail this precious organ a second thought. Let’s have a look at what we should eat and what foods are best avoided to keep our liver in optimal health.
Common foods that could hurt your liver
Foods that are extremely high in sodium – like deli meat – are taxing on your liver. While a normal amount of sodium (2000 to 24000 milligrams a day) helps regulate your blood pressure and bodily fluids, high sodium foods create an excess fluid that your liver has to deal with.
Most deli meats have preservatives and unhealthy fats (such as trans fats) in them to keep them edible longer. Eating foods high in trans and saturated fats can lead to Non-Alcoholic Liver Disease (NALD). Studies have found that overweight people who eat too much animal protein are at higher risk of fatty liver than those who don’t.
Other high-sodium foods to avoid:
- Canned vegetables
- Smoked, cured, salted or canned meat, fish or poultry including bacon, cold cuts, ham, frankfurters, sausage, sardines, caviar, and anchovies
- Frozen breaded meats and dinners, such as burritos and pizza
- Canned entrees, such as ravioli, spam, and chili
- Salted nuts
While you’re probably well aware that alcohol does no favors for your liver, did you know that sugary nonalcoholic drinks wreak havoc on it as well? Any beverage or food with high fructose corn syrup could be to blame for your declining liver function. Soft drinks, in particular, contain a form of high fructose corn syrup that’s an astounding 55% fructose, and research proves that consuming this much can cause liver damage, even if you don’t notice weight gain. In one study, researchers found that patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease consumed more than twice as much fructose as healthy controls – a pretty drastic difference.
As far as alcohol is concerned, keep in mind how many drinks your liver can typically process, which is one standard drink in a one-hour period. Consuming more than one standard drink in an hour on multiple occasions can put you at risk of developing fat deposits on your liver, over time.
Overall, maintaining a healthy weight is very important for the wellbeing of your liver. Obesity significantly increases your risk of developing nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Fat in the liver can cause inflammation, which may lead to the development of fibrosis and cirrhosis. Due to the rising obesity epidemic in the United States, the prevalence of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is rapidly increasing and is expected to overtake hepatitis C as the leading reason for liver transplant in the next 30 years. Therefore, eating fewer of these unhealthy foods, and more of the healthy options below is essential to maintain a healthy weight and protect your liver.
Foods that repair your liver
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower contain glucosinolates, which help the liver to produce detoxifying enzymes. They also contain sulfur compounds that aid with liver health.
Citrus fruits such as grapefruits, oranges, and lemons are full of vitamins that are known to protect and heal the liver. Research indicates that compounds found in citrus fruits can help restore liver structure when the organ is damaged.
Berries & grapes
Strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, you name it; any kind of berry is a superfood for the liver. Berries contain phytochemicals that help protect your liver from free radicals. Anthocyanins and polyphenols such as those found in grapes and berries have been shown to reduce the risk of liver cancer.
Fish may also provide some underlying benefits to your liver health, especially oily types such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel. The omega-3 content found in these fish can help reduce inflammation and fat buildup in the liver, while also promoting a lower overall BMI to protect liver health.
Walnuts contain high levels of l-arginine (an amino acid), glutathione, and omega-3 fatty acids. Animal studies suggest that these nutrients might help detoxify the liver of ammonia. Walnuts may also help oxygenate the blood, and extracts from their hulls are often used in liver-cleansing formulas.
Beets contain a pigment called betalain, which may protect the liver from oxidative stress and chronic inflammation.
Garlic contains high levels of the natural compounds allicin and selenium, which aid in liver cleansing.
Here’s some good news for those who love their morning cup of joe. When the body digests caffeine, it makes a chemical called paraxanthine that slows the growth of the scar tissue involved in fibrosis of the liver. This may help fight illnesses such as liver cancer, alcohol-related cirrhosis, non-alcohol-related fatty liver disease, and hepatitis C.
Ultimately, the best thing you can do to keep your liver healthy is to treat it well. Avoid frequent overconsumption of food and alcohol, maintain a healthy diet and exercise regimen, and get screened if you have liver disease risk factors. If you do have liver damage, work with your trusted healthcare practitioner to come up with the healthiest and safest plan for your personal needs.
-The UpWellness Team