Updated: Sep 29
After an indulgent festive period many of us may turn to a change in diet or lifestyle during January. Typically it is a ‘start-a-fresh’ time of year. Whilst we don’t need to get all caught up in the deprivation thinking of this time of year, and be too strict, there are a few simple steps we can take to help support the liver, which may have been working hard for us during December. Choose a few to focus on from the list below that suit your needs and lifestyle.
The liver is a very hard working organ, carrying out many different jobs in the body. Modern diets and lifestyle can mean that liver function can become sub-optimal. This does not mean that liver disease is present, but that the liver may not be functioning optimally. A detoxification diet can help to support the liver and to give it a well-earned rest!
One of the liver’s main functions is to process and eliminate toxins from the body. If it is over loaded with toxins (through poor diet, alcohol, smoking, use of medications) this can lead to sub-optimal function and poor health. Nearly everyone can benefit from following a diet and lifestyle that supports the liver.
WHAT TO EAT
Eat a light diet built on greens, grains and legumes.
Eat only when hungry and stop eating when you are full.
Eating too much puts excessive strain on the liver. The less processed, added sugar and fat, and fried foods you eat the better. Excess sugar is converted by the liver to cholesterol and fat which is then stored around the body, especially around the middle of the body.
Good sources of protein to include are fish, occasional organic meat, tofu, nuts, seeds, beans and grains.
Sulphur-containing foods daily – onions, leeks, spring onions, fennel, cabbage, Brussels, broccoli, garlic, beans, eggs, fish, nuts and seeds.
Include vegetables daily the from mustard family and cruciferous family such as cabbage, kale, Brussels, cauliflower, radish, swede, turnip, watercress, kohl rabi and broccoli. These contain Indole-3-carbinol (I3C) and sulphorophane which support detoxification processes (see soup recipe below)
Fat – a small amount unsaturated fat is best. Choose from raw, organic nuts and seeds, cold-pressed seed oils, grains, beans and fish.
Fibre – a high fibre diet helps to eliminate toxins via the bowel. Eat raw and cooked fruits and vegetables, beans, lentils, and wholegrains.
Vegetable juices – are great for providing many nutrients in an easy to use form for the liver and help to alkalise the body. Try apples, carrot, beet, celery, parsley, cabbage, ginger. Organic tofu for lecithin which helps the liver break down fats and reduce cholesterol levels. Lecithin also helps maintain healthy membranes around liver cells.
Vegetables – alfalfa sprouts, globe artichoke, bean and seed sprouts, beetroot, broccoli, Brussels, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, collard and kale, fennel (helps with flatulence and overall digestion), garlic, Jerusalem artichoke, lettuce, leeks, mushrooms, onions, garlic, parsley, radish, turnip, watercress, cauliflower, kohlrabi, seaweeds. Bitter vegetables such as artichoke, dandelion and chicory help to stimulate bile production.
Fruits – apples, pears (both high in pectin, a soluble form of fibre which is good for the bowel), apricots, avocado, banana, blackberries, cherry, cranberries, grapefruit, grapes, lemons, oranges, papaya (contains papain a protein-splitting enzyme which aids digestion), peach, pineapple (contains bromelain a protein-splitting enzyme which aids digestion), raspberries, rhubarb, strawberries, watermelon (high water content helps hydrate the body).
Herbs – turmeric, basil, bay leaf, fennel, dill, ginger, black pepper, horseradish, rosemary, mint, lemon balm.
Herbal teas – are a great alternative to tea and coffee helping to reduce caffeine intake. Dandelion, chicory, nettle, green and ginger teas are particularly good for the liver.
Eat as much organic produce as you can afford to buy – non-organic produce contains more residues of pesticides, hormones etc. which the liver has to eliminate from the body.
FOODS TO HELP LIVER REJUVENATION
Chlorophyll rich foods including cereal grasses e.g. wheat/barley grass juice. Micro-algae such as spirulina, wild blue green algae, chlorella.
Other green foods – parsley, kale, watercress, alfalfa, spring greens.
Superfoods – nettle, whole almonds, walnuts, blueberries.
Milk Thistle is a powerful liver protector and antioxidant. The herb’s active component, silymarin, can help prevent liver cell destruction, and stimulates the replacement of liver cells.
Standard dose 80% standardised milk thistle 60 to 120mg twice daily with food.
The body eliminates quickly so it is best to take it 2 x daily with each meal.
Start the day with half a lemon squeezed into hot water, before food, to cleanse the liver and promote bile flow. Add a pinch of cayenne if this suits you.
Avoid alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine. These substances all speed up the first phase of liver detoxification and slow down the second phase, which is responsible for actually releasing toxins from the body. Also excess alcohol can create fatty deposits in the liver, which affects its overall health and function.
Drink plenty of water – helps eliminate toxins and keep cells hydrated. Also helps to cleanse the kidneys.
Eat moderate amounts of food and avoid late meals. This allows the liver and gallbladder time for regeneration during the 4 hour cycle between 11 to 3am.
Avoid/greatly reduce foods high in saturated fats (meat and dairy), hydrogenated fats, poor quality fats, excesses of nuts and seeds (avoid roasted and salted nuts), chemicals in foods, prescription drugs, all intoxicants, highly processed refined foods, very fiery foods and sugar. These foods may all put added strain on liver function.
Rest the digestive system where possible. Don’t eat too late at night or early in the morning. Don’t eat when not hungry and never over eat.
Keep elimination channels open - it is vital that the bowels are functioning well to provide a route of elimination for toxins the liver has processed. If constipated the toxins released by the liver are simply reabsorbed back into the system. Exercise daily and ensure at least 1 bowel movement daily. To improve bowel movements increase water consumption to about 6-8 glasses a day, and for fibre increase fresh fruit and vegetables (especially raw), wholegrains and flaxseeds (ground on cereal, in soups). If still constipated, eat 6 stewed prunes half an hour before each meal. Also soak 1 tbs of linseeds in a glass of water overnight and drink the seeds and water first thing in the morning. Adding psyillium husks to smoothies may also help constipation.
Stress – also speeds up the first phase of detoxification and slows down the second phase. Stress responses in the body use up B vitamins, magnesium, vitamin C and sulphur which are all required for good liver function.
Exercise – helps boost blood circulation and oxygen supply to the liver, helps us to deal with the effects of stress and also increases the elimination of toxins via helping the peristaltic action of the bowel and through elimination in sweat.
Healing With Wholefoods by Paul Pitchford
Liver Detox Plan by Xandria Williams
Natural Therapies for Your Liver by Christopher Hobbs
Kale and Brussels soup with walnuts
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion chopped
1 tbsp ground cumin, lightly toasted
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
450g Brussels sprouts, topped and quartered
1 potato, peeled and chopped
400g (curly) kale, chopped
1 ¾ litre good vegetable stock
Pinch of garlic salt
Freshly ground black pepper
150g walnuts, chopped
100g green lentils
1 tbsp mustard
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and add the onion, cumin, celery, carrot and 2 tbsp of water with the lid on. Soften the ingredients over a low heat, then add the potato, Brussels sprouts, kale and three quarters of the walnuts. Once the kale has wilted, add the hot stock, season with the garlic salt and pepper and put the lid on. Allow the ingredients to simmer until tender. Add the mustard and liquidize the soup. Return the soup to the pan. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Serve topped with the chopped walnuts.