Diet Dos And Don'ts For A Healthy Liver
- The liver is often faced with peril due to our poor diet, addictions, and lifestyle choices.
- Diseases caused by toxins, drugs, alcohol, or diet can lead to fatty liver disease or liver cirrhosis.
- These liver diseases can make it difficult for your body to process nutrients and thus cause a nutrition shortage in the body leading to rapid weight loss, weakness, and malnutrition.
- Eating the right foods that benefit your liver health like green vegetables, citrus fruits, anti-inflammatory foods, fibrous foods, etc can help you improve your liver health.
- Indulging in healthy drinks and saying no to alcohol is one of the basic steps you can take towards better liver health.
The liver is one of the most crucial organs in the human body. It performs an estimated 500 functions, the most important of which are:
- The liver filters blood, and removes toxins, such as turning ammonia into urea and sending it to the kidneys to be excreted.
- It cleanses the body of alcohol and narcotics.
- It metabolizes medication into forms that are easier to use for the body.
- It produces good cholesterol, which is one of the key components of cellular structure in the body.
- It generates bile, the cleaning fluid that removes fat and waste.
Not enough, however, is understood of the liver, and few people are aware of how to maintain a healthy liver or what the ramifications of liver diseases are.
The liver, like most other organs, is affected by what we eat and drink. While it cleanses the body, this hard-working organ itself needs a liver-friendly diet, so that it can stay in good shape.
If we don’t follow a healthy liver diet and continue to make bad food choices, addictions, and poor lifestyle choices, then that may lead to viral diseases like all the types of hepatitis — hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C — as well as fatty liver disease or liver cirrhosis.
Hereditary diseases like hemochromatosis and Wilson’s disease affect the liver, too. Another threat is liver cancer, a prevalent condition in today’s times.
To protect the liver from these perils, one of the first things to do is to avoid bad foods for the liver and build the best diet for liver health.
Let’s take a look at various liver health conditions, how they affect our body weight, and what are the dietary dos and don’ts for liver health.
Here are some liver conditions that are caused by viral agents or lifestyle factors and poor diet. It’s necessary to be knowledgeable about them, as they can be avoided with proper precautions and a healthy lifestyle.
- Hepatitis: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C are viral infections that primarily affect the liver. They may be caused by the spread of contaminated feces or body fluids from one person to another.
- Fatty liver disease: Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is an umbrella term for a range of liver conditions affecting people who drink little to no alcohol. The main characteristic of NAFLD is too much fat stored in liver cells. Some individuals with NAFLD can develop non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which is an aggressive form of fatty liver disease that is marked by liver inflammation and may progress to advanced scarring and liver failure.
- Liver cirrhosis: Cirrhosis is a late stage of scarring (fibrosis) of the liver, caused by many forms of liver diseases and conditions, such as hepatitis and chronic alcoholism. Liver damage caused by cirrhosis is usually permanent and cannot be undone.
- Liver cancer: The liver can be affected by primary liver cancer or secondary liver cancer, meaning cancer begins somewhere else and then spreads to the liver. Liver cancer can arise due to hereditary reasons or due to lifestyle changes.
Effect of liver diseases on weight
Our liver is responsible for breaking down complex enzymes in our food, making them available for the body for absorption. If this process is to be weakened due to liver diseases like fatty liver disease or liver cirrhosis, it can have very negative effects on our health.
These liver diseases can make it difficult for your body to process nutrients and thus cause a nutrition shortage in the body. This leads to rapid weight loss, weakness, and malnutrition. A decrease in weight is often noted when a person is suffering from a liver condition.
On the flip side, when people try too hard to lose weight, rapid and excessive weight loss and unhealthy eating habits can damage liver health. It may cause an imbalance of liver enzymes in the body and even lead to fatty liver disease.
A slow and steady weight loss with a healthy diet is recommended by experts for good liver health.
Healthy foods for a healthy liver
Foods good for the liver can boost overall health and act as protective agents for this vital organ. Here are some healthy liver foods you can eat as part of the best diet for liver health.
1. Green vegetables
Green vegetables are full of essential minerals and nutrients that our body needs. Including greens like spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, etc can help your liver function better. Studies have found that raw spinach reduces the risk of NAFLD due to the polyphenols and nitrates found in it.
Legumes, lentils, and soy are all nutritionally packed foods. These foods can provide your body with the liver nutrients it needs without posing the risk of fat build-up. They even give you the proteins that are needed to fight inflammation and disease. Soy has an abundance of the protein β-conglycinin, which can lower triglycerides and protect against visceral fat build-up.
Grapefruit is rich in antioxidants that can naturally protect the liver. The antioxidants found in grapefruit are naringenin and naringin, which work by reducing inflammation and protecting the liver cells. Also, grapefruit enzymes are known to metabolize alcohol well and even counteract some of its negative effects.
4. Fatty Fish
Fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, tuna, and trout are high in antioxidants and Omega-3 fatty acids. There’s a close connection between Omega-3 and liver function. Research has shown that supplementation with Omega-3 fatty acids may benefit those suffering from NAFLD by reducing liver fat, boosting good cholesterol or HDL, and lowering triglyceride levels. This can help with liver health and even with weight management.
5. Olive oil
Healthy and unsaturated fat sources like olive oil can improve liver enzymes and liver function. Olive oil can very well replace the saturated fats found in processed dairy items like butter, which can lead to weight gain and put you at an increased risk of NAFLD.
A diet rich in a mix of nuts is associated with reduced inflammation, insulin resistance, oxidative stress, and a lower prevalence of NAFLD. Studies have shown that increased nut consumption is significantly associated with a decreased risk of NAFLD. Walnuts, being rich in Omega-3 fatty acids are also known to improve liver health and performance.
Garlic is rich in antioxidants and flavor alike. Its anti-inflammatory nature works wonders against free radicals in the body. Some researchers have found that garlic supplements can help in weight management and the management of the fatty liver disease. Garlic may also aid in balancing liver enzymes and boost overall liver health.
Berries such as blueberries and cranberries are full of antioxidants and anthocyanins. These compounds are known to have many beneficial effects on the overall body. Studies have shown that blueberry and cranberry extracts can be particularly great for liver health. They have protective effects on the liver if consumed regularly.
It has been stated that a fiber-rich diet can work wonders for those suffering from NAFLD. Foods rich in fiber can help in lowering triglycerides and even liver fats. Oatmeal is rich in dietary fiber and has probiotic properties that can boost gut health and balance liver health.
Grapes are rich in a chemical compound known as resveratrol. Red and purple grapes are rich in these compounds. They’re known to act as anti-inflammation agents. They prevent damage and the increasing antioxidant levels in the body help fight inflammation and even liver disease.
Foods to avoid for a healthy liver
If you want to conquer your liver problems and attain peak liver health, it’s crucial to know what foods to avoid, and more so, about the foods to avoid for fatty liver patients.
Here’s a list of foods that are best avoided or minimized to cut the risk of liver diseases:
1. Red meat
Red meat is high in saturated fats, which are bad for your liver and overall health unless they’re consumed minimally. Processed red meat in the form of sausages and fillets is even more degrading to your health, considering the number of preservatives used in them. Red meat has been linked to numerous cancers, including liver cancer. Avoiding red meat and sticking to other protein sources would work best for good liver health, and should also be on the top of the list of foods to avoid with mild fatty liver.
2. Fried foods
Fried foods are full of fattening oils and unnecessary calories that not only lead to weight gain but also put your liver health in danger. Being overweight or obese increases your chances of suffering from NAFLD. Saying “no” to fried foods is the best way to manage liver ailments or prevent their occurrence.
3. Salt-laden foods
Salt intake is closely linked to gaining weight and other dreadful conditions like hypertension, diabetes, and liver disease. Indulging in salty snacks or other high-sodium foods daily can lead to unhealthy weight gain and put your liver health in danger as well. Putting the salt away would be a good decision for your liver health. Also, at meals, substitute white salt with black rock salt or pink rock salt.
4. Sugary treats
Refined sugar and high-fructose corn syrup cause a fatty build-up that can lead to liver disease. Some studies show that sugar can be as damaging to the liver as alcohol, even if you’re not overweight. Limiting foods with added sugars, such as biscuits, pastries, and candies is essential for preventing liver disease.
5. Starchy foods
Starchy foods like pasta, white bread, white rice, etc are quickly digested and are known to contribute to weight gain. Doctors also believe that their overconsumption can damage the liver in what is becoming a “silent epidemic”. Consuming whole grains instead of processed starchy foods is a good way to start your journey to better liver health.
Healthy drinks for a healthy liver
It's not just what you eat, but also what you drink that can make or break liver health. Here are some beverages that support liver health:
Coffee in the right amounts might aid liver health. Studies have shown that moderate consumption of coffee helps with keeping liver diseases at bay. Consuming coffee reduces the risk of fatty liver and increases antioxidant capacity by increasing glutathione production in the body.
2. Green tea
Green tea, coupled with the right amount of physical exercise, promotes liver health. Green tea is brimming with antioxidants and flavonoids, which reduce the inflammation in our body and cut the risk of liver disease. Green tea is also advised for weight management by many healthcare professionals.
3. Beet-root juice
Beetroot is loaded with antioxidants and nutrients such as folate, pectin, betalains, and betaine. It can also provide an adequate amount of fiber, manganese, potassium, Vitamin A, and Vitamin C. These nutrients can improve the flow of bile and help remove the toxic waste from our bodies, thus promoting liver health.
4. Amla juice
Amla (or Indian gooseberry) is loaded with antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, Vitamin C, and several essential nutrients. These can help flush out the toxins from the liver. Studies have stated that amla might help prevent the onset of liver fibrosis and other conditions like hyperlipidemia and metabolic syndrome.
5. Turmeric tea
Curcumin in turmeric might reduce markers of liver damage in people with NAFLD. Turmeric is high in antioxidants and has been used in detoxification for ages. Studies have shown that turmeric might reduce the levels of serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST), the two enzymes that are abnormally high in people with fatty liver disease.
Drinks to avoid for good liver health
Here are some drinks that you should limit or completely avoid for your liver health:
Drinking a lot of alcohol causes damage to liver cells. These cells do regenerate over time, but continuous and heavy alcohol intake can leave the liver damaged, not giving the cells enough time to regenerate. This can slowly progress to liver failure. Try to limit, space out, or altogether avoid drinking alcohol and be mindful of your liver health.
When choosing an alcoholic beverage, try to pick one that has low alcohol content, so that you get the taste of alcohol but minimize its impact on liver health.
2. Sugary soft drinks
Sugary fizzy soft drinks might be tempting, but they can cause weight gain over time. They're also packed with preservatives and sugars that can be a hard task for the liver to break down. Avoiding or minimizing these sugary drinks can help you live healthier.
3. Energy drinks
Energy drinks contain caffeine, taurine, sugar, preservatives, and other ingredients, which, if consumed in excess, can harm the liver. Avoiding such energy drinks can take you a step closer to a healthy liver.
The liver is a high-functioning and essential organ that does detoxifying and metabolizing work in the body. It needs to be cared for, just as you'd care for your heart and other vital organs. The liver is a strong organ and its cells regenerate, but if you take it for granted, then liver diseases will emerge and may lead to liver failure.
The right choices of food and drink are very important for good liver health. Along with that, drink the recommended 2 liters of water daily — or up to 3 liters if you sweat a lot — to enable the liver to effectively cleanse your body.
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Our team of experts frequently monitors developments in the health and wellness field, and we update our articles when new information becomes available.
Aug, 01 2023
Dr. Lynda Odoh - Anikwe