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The liver is the largest and one of the most complex organs in the body and performs many important functions. As part of your body’s filtration system, one of the liver’s main jobs is to clean toxins from your blood. But it also supports digestion, helps regulate the body’s blood clotting ability, and stores energy.
Unfortunately, liver diseases are at an all-time high. According to the American Liver Foundation, 30 million Americans have some form of liver disease. Fatty liver — the most common liver disease and the leading cause of transplants — causes fat to accumulate in the liver.
Many factors affect liver health, particularly diet and lifestyle. Too much alcohol, saturated fat, sugar, and unhealthy food ingredients are primary causes liver disease and inflammation.
Fortunately, following a healthy diet and making smart lifestyle choice encourages a healthy liver. If you’re wondering what foods are best for your liver, the answer is simple — plant-based foods. Plants are rich in antioxidants — nutritional power-ups that prevent oxidative cell damage, especially in the liver. Let’s take a look at a few of the best foods for your liver.
1. Leafy Green Vegetables
One of the best, all-around health-promoting foods, leafy green vegetables can cleanse your liver, and they should be the foundation of everyone’s diet. High in chlorophyll, greens like lettuce, spinach, mustard greens, and arugula are a magnet for toxins, thus protecting the liver. Leafy green vegetables are versatile and easy to use. You can eat them raw, cooked, or juiced. They’re great in salads, or try adding a handful to the blender when making a fruit smoothie.
2. Olive Oil
Many people pick extra virgin olive oil as their go-to healthy oil and with good reason — it is rich in unsaturated fatty acids and other liver-supporting nutrients. According to a study published in World Journal of Gastroenterology, making olive oil part of your diet can reduce oxidative stress and stimulate healthy liver function. Pair it up with other foods that are good for the liver; add a little lemon juice and fresh crushed garlic and toss it with your salad greens! Garlic is high in allicin and selenium — natural, inflammation-reducing compounds that help cleanse the liver — and lemons stimulate the liver, too.
Not only are lemons robust in flavor, but they’re also a good source of liver-boosting nutrients. Lemon juice is naturally acidic, supporting digestion and stimulating digestive juice production. Squeeze some lemon juice into your water first thing in the morning for an invigorating liver tonic that will help metabolism, digestion, and detoxification. For a bonus, add a sprinkle of cayenne. Cayenne contains capsaicin, which also helps the liver and, in some cases, may even reverse liver damage.
When it comes to nuts and seeds, it’s hard to make a bad choice. But walnuts specifically are one of the best. High in glutathione, omega-3 fatty acids, and the amino acid arginine, walnuts are a fabulous food that strengthen the liver. Toss a handful of raw walnuts into your salad to take it from good to great. They’re also easy to add to a smoothie, or just enjoy them on their own as a healthy snack.
Turmeric — the root from the Curcuma longa plant — has gained a reputation as a superfood. It’s high in potent antioxidants that offer a long list of health benefits. Turmeric aids the liver in its mission by assisting enzymes that actively flush out toxins. Turmeric also soothes inflammation in the liver (and elsewhere). Turmeric combines effortlessly in many recipes and turmeric supplements are also readily available. Just make sure to take turmeric with black pepper, which contains piperine, a nutrient that helps the body absorb turmeric.
Make These Foods Part of a Balanced Diet
These are only a few of the foods you can add to your diet to help your liver, and sticking to a few fundamental concepts of a good diet will help keep you pointed in the right direction. As much as you can, make your meals from scratch using fresh, whole, plant-based foods. Refined sugar and saturated fat are detrimental to liver health and should you should avoid them. Minimize your salt intake. Avoid red meat and processed meat. And, of course, anyone who wants to do what’s best for their liver should minimize or eliminate alcohol.
Diet Isn’t the Only Thing
Although diet has a tremendous impact on your liver, it’s not the only influence. A healthy lifestyle can magnify the benefits of a healthy diet, or hold it back. If you’re able, exercise regularly. Studies show that exercise is terrific support for the liver, and it’s good for both physical and mental health. Exercise helps the mind, which in turns helps the liver.
While it’s important to be active, it’s also important to get enough rest; poor sleep quality and not getting enough sleep significantly increase your risk of liver disease.
Take a probiotic supplement, eat fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut, and avoid high-sugar, high-fat foods.
The Big Picture
Following a healthy diet and lifestyle are the best strategies for supporting your liver — and every other component of your health. When you get your diet and lifestyle in check, not only will it be reflected by better test results at the doctor’s office, but you’ll also feel it. Having more energy, feeling younger and lighter, a radiant complexion, mental sharpness, improved digestion, and just feeling better are all happy byproducts of eating smart and living right.