The liver is the second largest organ in the body, after the skin (yes our skin is an organ). Our livers work incredibly hard performing over 500 (known) separate duties to help ensure the proper functioning of the overall system. Among that long list of responsibilities, the liver is largely responsible for detoxifying the body. The liver is like a highly intelligent and sophisticated filter – filtering the blood to remove toxins, harmful substances and excess hormones. The liver metabolizes everything you eat or are exposed to. We might not be able to always control what we are exposed to in the environment but we can largely control what we eat.
Thankfully the liver is amazingly regenerative. So no matter what you may have consumed in the past, it’s possible to start improving the health of our liver by making conscious choices about what we put in our bodies. The cellular turnover of our liver is quite fast with every single cell being replaced approximately every forty days. We can consciously choose to view food as our medicine and as the “raw material” upon which the body rebuilds and regenerates. In this post, I’ll share with you some of the top foods to help support liver function.
Foods To Support Liver Function
1. Eat High-Antioxidant Fruits, Especially Apples
Antioxidants help to protect the liver from the high levels of free radicals that are naturally produced during the process of detoxification. All the different berries are extremely high in anti-oxidants, so are oranges, prunes, grapefruit, cantaloupe and pears. Apples are also high in anti-oxidants and also contain pectin, known to bind with heavy metals and help their excretion reducing the load on the liver.
2. Leafy Greens – Especially Bitter Greens
Greens are super cleansing foods that offer a powerful support to the liver. All greens are extremely high in plant chlorophylls and help cleanse environmental toxins in the blood stream. Greens have an ability to neutralize heavy metals. In this category of leafy greens, it’s especially important to focus on bitter leafy greens, including dandelion, chicory, endive, and rocket.
The bitterness of these foods helps to stimulate bile flow within the liver, (bile helps remove waste from the organs and blood.) Dandelion greens are abundant everywhere. You can grow them quite easily in a garden, but make sure if you’re wild foraging for dandelion greens that you’re not picking off of someone’s chemically sprayed lawn!
Similarly to dandelion, artichoke had the ability to help the liver regenerate. It stimulates and increases bile production due to a compound called cynarin which helps remove toxins and unfriendly bacteria through the bowels. Some research suggests that 30 minutes after eating globe artichoke, bile flow is increased by over 100%.
4. Sulfur Containing Foods
The liver uses sulfur containing compounds to help in detoxification from environmental toxins, prescription medications, poor dietary choices, and alcohol. Sulfur containing foods include two main categories: garlic and onions, and the cruciferous vegetables. Garlic is a very strong herb and should not be over-used. It is highly medicinal and should be used in moderation for specific purposes. Garlic helps the liver with detoxification because of a sulfur-based compound called allicin. It is also thought that garlic can help the liver detoxify mercury from the body, as well as excess estrogen. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts and kale are also good sources of sulfur and help the liver detoxify. They can help neutralize nitrosamines and aflotoxin, the primary toxin found in peanuts (which I highly recommend avoiding). Cruciferous vegetables help the liver to produce enzymes it needs for its detoxification processes.
5. Eat Your Beets!
Beets are rich in a particular phytonutrient called betaine, that supports the liver in is function to convert fat to energy. Beets also help purify the blood and are capable of absorbing heavy metals, reducing the toxic load on the liver.
Herbs & Spices to Support Liver Function
People either love or hate cilantro.Which camp are you in? I personally love cilantro, and it loves me, and my liver, right back. Cilantro is commonly used in many heavy metal detoxification programs as this tasty herb has been shown to help detoxify heavy metals from the body. The goods news is that organic cilantro is readily available all year around, it’s inexpensive and you can use it in an incredibly wide range of dishes, even smoothies! Check out my favorite Pear Cilantro Smoothie Recipe.
7. Milk Thistle
Milk thistle is a very common ingredient in most herbal liver support blends and is widely recommended for anyone dealing with liver problems to help restore proper liver function. Most studies show milk thistle improves liver function because of a flavanoid called silymarin – the active ingredient that helps to protect the liver. Silymarin, a strong anti-oxidant, providing protection from the damaging effects of free radicals, is extracted from the seeds of the milk thistle plant. Silymarin helps repair damaged liver cells, keeps new cells from being destroyed, and helps reduce inflammation of the liver. You can find milk thistle at your local health food store and talk with the in-house herbalist for specifics about dosage.
Not only is turmeric an amazing spice that adds wonderful flavors to any traditional Middle-Eastern meal, it’s also highly regarded for its medicinal properties. This spice has a huge range of health benefits, including its ability to help detoxify the liver. Turmeric contains a high concentration of curcumin, a potent anti-oxidant that protects the liver from damage. Turmeric stimulates bile production in the liver and encourages excretion of bile via the gallbladder. This improves the body’s ability to digest fats. Turmeric is also a powerful anti-inflammatory as well as contributes enzymes that help flush out dietary and environmental carcinogens.
Astragalus has immune strengthening properties and has been shown to protect against chemical related liver damage, due to one of its key active ingredients called saponin.
Other herbs to incorporate into your diet to help support the healthy functioning of the liver include parsley, cinnamon and licorice.
Fluids to Support Liver Function
10. Lemon Water
One of the easiest and cheapest ways to help support your liver immediately is to start your day with a tall glass of lemon water at room temperature. This will help stimulate your liver first thing in the morning, helping to cleanse it and promote detoxification. It also stimulates bowel movement, which is essential for the body’s aid in detoxification. It also helps stimulate bile production and the vitamin C content helps the liver synthesize toxins into a water-soluble substance for easy removal by the body.
It’s also important to drink lots of water throughout the day as well to keep hydrated and to help flush the liver of toxins.
Incorporating juicing into your life has many benefits, and I highly recommend it for those seeking to live a more vibrant lifestyle. Juicing helps your body detoxify and will help improve the functioning of the liver.
Juice any combination of these fruits and vegetable, sticking to the 80/20 rule – 80% low glycemic vegetables and greens (cucumber, spinach, parsley, celery, dandelion, turmeric, ginger, dark leafy greens, cabbage, citrus) and 20% higher glycemic root vegetables and fruits: carrots, beet, apple).
Maintain a Healthy liver – What to Avoid
12. Opt for Organic
For long term support of your liver, make sure the food you’re consuming is organically grown, otherwise you’re just adding extra toxins (pesticides and chemical strays) along with the food you’re eating.
13. Reduce Alcohol Consumption
Give your liver a break by eliminating alcohol consumption. It is possible! I used to be a heavy drinker, as it was so engrained in my social circles, but have never felt better since I gave up alcohol. I transitioned to drinking home-made kombucha and ginger champagne, that I make in a wine bottle to bring out with me to social gatherings.
14. Opt for Low-Fat
When it comes to taking care of your liver, it’s best to avoid fast food, deep-fried foods, processed foods, high sugar foods and high-fat foods.
15. Opt for Low-Sodium
Aside from excess sodium being extremely taxing on your liver, I opt for salt because I was shocked to discoed how salt was affecting my weight. Giving up salt was one of the single most profound dietary changes I’ve ever made. I wrote a free report on salt, if you want to download it here. When it comes to loving your liver, minimize your consumption of smoked, cured and salted foods.
All these tips to support optimal liver function points you in the direction of real, whole, organic foods! Increasing your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet will do wonders for your health and dramatically improve the health of your liver.
What’s one thing you can start doing right now to improve the health of your liver?
Aloha from the Big Island of Hawaii