Healthy Liver Diet
Why is a healthy liver diet necessary? What you eat and how well you take care of yourself can affect how well your liver works. Therefore, it’s important that you choose foods that will help maintain and support your liver. Good nutrition can also help to rebuild some damaged liver cells and help the liver form new cells.
Eating a well-balanced diet is a very important element in maintaining or regaining optimal liver health. Signs of liver problems are often not apparent until the damage has worsened. By choosing wholesome, natural-foods, you can protect your liver and assist it in the regeneration process.
Some foods are obviously not good for us: fast food, snack food, and many of the convenience foods that are available. Some foods seem to be healthy but actually strain the liver for various reasons.
Foods that help the liver: The Good
Vegetables and fruit, especially those in bright colors, are excellent for the liver. Eat a lot of lightly cooked vegetables and fresh fruits like: dark green, leafy green vegetables and orange- yellow- purple- and red-colored fruits and vegetables. They contain:
- Living enzymes
- Vitamin C
- Natural antibiotic substances
- Cancer fighting phytonutrients
Bitter is Better!
Bitter foods have naturally antibacterial and antiviral cleansing capabilities.
Bitter foods include:
- Bitter melon
- Coffee (in moderation)
Drink green tea. Green tea has immune-boosting properties, and its antioxidant properties are 100 times more effective than those in vitamin C. Green tea consumption has been proven to reduce the risk of some cancers. Drinking green tea also boosts metabolism and helps you to shed pounds.
A little goes a long way!
Recent reports have suggested that moderate coffee drinking (1-3 cups per day) could help regulate liver enzymes. Drinking excessive amounts of coffee and other caffeinated beverages can put strain on the liver and cause the body to become dehydrated.
Foods that can make the liver work overtime
- Salt and sodium intake contributes to high blood pressure, fluid retention, and swelling in the body. In turn, these conditions create strain in the liver and a greater risk of infection. Many foods naturally contain salt, and many packaged or processed foods contain a lot of added salt. Cured meats, canned vegetables and soups, sauces and salad dressings, condiments like ketchup, packaged noodles and rice, some cereals, and juices can all contain high amounts of added salt. Try to familiarize yourself with nutrition labels and what certain claims mean. For instance, the claim "sodium free" on packaged foods, means that the product contains less than 5mg of salt, whereas the claim "low sodium" means that the product contains up to 140mg of salt.
- Saturated fats are difficult for the liver to process. There are different classifications of saturated fat, so a good rule of thumb is to remember that processed foods are typically not as healthy as natural foods. Of course, fries are made from potatoes but the process of frying them makes them an unhealthy dietary choice. Limit high fat meats like sausage, bacon, salami, and hot dogs as well as, high fat dairy products like whole milk, ice cream, and cheese; which contain high concentrations of saturated fats. Snack foods and fast foods also contain high amounts of saturated fat.
- Refined grains, sugar, and carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta, sugar, white rice, cakes, cookies, and donuts are hard on the liver. Limit your intake of anything that is made with white flour or sugar, or that has gone through a refining process to strip away natural coloring. These refined products have been stripped of their nutrients, and they are digested quickly, causing sugar levels in the body to skyrocket. The liver processes everything in the body before digestion, and refined grains, sugars, and carbohydrates can create strain on the liver. Though individuals with liver disease are often advised to fill their diets with carbohydrates rather than protein, it's important to avoid excessive intake of refined carbohydrates. Substitute refined carbohydrates with carbohydrates made from whole grain alternatives like brown or wild rice, whole wheat flour, oats, quinoa, and barley.
- Protein, either not enough or too much ,can create strain on the liver for some individuals with liver disease. It is important to speak with your doctor about your individual protein needs.
- Caffeine in excess may cause the liver to struggle to filter toxins. Coffee, tea and many sodas contains a lot of caffeine. Limit caffeinated drinks to no more than 3 per day.
Foods that are especially hard on the liver: The Bad
The easiest way to select food that is good for the liver is to read the ingredients and nutrition information labels on the packages of food. Foods with cryptic ingredients, or with names that you would not find in the shopping aisles at your local supermarket, are foods that are not good for the liver. Manufacturers often use artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and additives because they are cheaper, but these can have harmful consequences for the body. Below is a list of things you should avoid when selecting food to nourish your liver.
Trans fat (aka partially hydrogenated oils) is an industrially created fat solid formed by combining hydrogen with vegetable oil. Warnings about the health risks of trans fat have been widely reported. They include an increased risk of heart attack, stroke ,diabetes, and cancer. Manufacturers have been required to list trans fat on packaging since 2006. Trans fat is often found in snack foods, fried foods, pastries, pie crusts, margarine, shortening, salad dressing and crackers, among other sources.
Artificial colors are commonly found in top brand cereals, cakes, candies, bakery products, drinks, juice, vitamins, and pharmaceuticals. These additives are often made from coal and petroleum extracts. Some artificial colors have been banned for use in the U.S. Some artificial colors to look out for are:
- Red # 3, found in maraschino cherries, baked goods and candies has caused thyroid tumors in rats.
- Blue # 1 and, Blue #2, found in candy, baked goods, soft drinks and energy drinks may cause cancer.
- Yellow #6, is found in a variety of products such as baked goods, candy and sausages. It is known to cause adrenal gland and kidney tumors, and it contains many cancer-causing chemicals.
Artificial flavors are found in a variety of foods and beverages. Often found in snack foods and soft drinks, artificial flavors can also be found in flour, pharmaceuticals and seemingly healthy convenience food alternatives. Most artificial flavors are derived from petroleum and have not had extensive safety tests performed. Many artificial flavors are excitotoxins. Excitotoxins are substances that cause the overstimulation or excitement of brain cells, causing them to die. Excitotoxins can cause permanent brain and nervous system damage as well as harm the development of a fetus if a mother ingests them while pregnant. Some common excitotoxins include:
- High fructose corn syrup, found in sodas, flavored drinks, juice, baked goods, and condiments, has been implicated in a number of health problems. HFCS advocates claim that it is natural and healthy, but it is a highly processed chemical and is far from natural.
- Diacetyl, most commonly found in the butter flavoring for popcorn, has been proven to cause lymphoctic bronchiolitis, a lung disease in rats.
- MSG (Monosodium glutamate) is an excitotoxin. There more than 40 different names for MSG in food, which can sometimes make it difficult to spot on a nutrition label. It is often found in soups, broths, chips, frozen foods, snack mixes, and canned fish products; it can even be found in products claiming all-natural and/or organic status.
- Aspartame is an excitotoxin often found in diet or low-calorie sodas, juices, drinks, gum, candy, cereal, and even vitamins and pharmaceuticals.
- Acesulfame Potassium (Acesulfame-K, Ace K, Sunette, Sweet One, E950) is an artificial sweetener found in baked goods, gelatin foods, gums, and soft drinks. It is an excitotoxin and may cause cancer.
- Olestra is a fat substitute that cannot be digested. Often found in fried or baked foods, it has been linked to gastrointestinal diseases and nutrient malabsorption.
- Nitrate and sodium nitrate are flavorings, colorings and preservatives added to cured meats, lunch meats, bacon, hot dogs, cured fish, and more. They can mix with chemicals present in the stomach to form nitrosanine, which is known to cause cancer.
- Sodium sulphate (E221) is used to make wine, processed foods, and dried fruits; it can also be added to fresh fruits and vegetables. It is an additive that is used to prevent bacterial growth and to keep the product fresh. About 1 in 100 individuals are sensitive to sulphates, and on rare occasions, this sensitivity may cause death.
- BHA and BHT are found in many common top brand breakfast cereals, snack foods, processed meats, pastries, and chewing gum. These additives are made from coal or petroleum. As many as 30 years ago, these additives had already been shown to cause altered brain chemistry in lab animals. Currently the State of California acknowledges that these additives cause cancer, and the World Health Organization has acknowledged the possibility of the validity of this claim.
- Potassium Bromate (bromated flour) is an additive found in flour and can be found in baked goods, bread, and tortillas. It has been linked to cancer in lab animals for over 30 years and is banned in Brazil, Canada, China and Europe.
- Bromated Vegetable Oil (BVO) is often found in flavored citrus drinks . BVO builds up in fatty tissue and causes organ damage in lab animals. It is banned in Europe, India, and Japan. The FDA has never approved its use in food, but it has also failed to take action against its use in the nearly 30 years since proved to be harmful when ingested.
Tips on what you should avoid: The Ugly
Excessive consumption of alcohol. Alcohol is a powerful toxin that damages the liver. Liver specialists advise men not to drink more than two units of alcohol per day- and women not to drink more than one unit per day. Specialists have found that exceeding these quantities can be dangerous to the liver.
What’s a standard unit? Are all types of alcohol created equal? Find out here!
Drugs and medicines taken with alcohol. Many prescription and over-the-counter drugs (including herbal medications) contain chemicals that can hurt liver cells. Do not take them with alcohol as this could increase the damage to these cells.
Chemicals like food colorings, flavorings, and preservatives. These substances, as well as toxins such as insecticides and pesticides, put a strain on the liver.
Multi-vitamins that contain iron. Supplementing with iron may increase the risk of iron toxicity, as iron is stored in the liver. Multi-vitamins without iron are readily available. Do not take an iron supplement without your doctor's approval. Consult your doctor if you have any concerns regarding an iron deficiency or iron supplementation.
Environmental pollutants. Fumes from paint thinners, bug sprays, and other aerosol sprays are picked up by the tiny blood vessels in your lungs and carried to your liver. There they are detoxified and discharged into bile. Exposure to chemicals should be controlled and minimized to prevent liver damage. Be sure to have good ventilation when working with or around chemicals, and always wear a mask and cover your skin. Should a chemical come in contact with your skin, immediately wash it off with soap and water.
Eat light meals more frequently. Eating a light evening meal can help to reduce the liver‘s work during the healing hours of sleep.