Your liver is amazing. It is one of your most versatile organs, performing over 400 different functions to help your body remain in good health. It filters your blood, balances hormones, fights infections, metabolizes fats and carbohydrates from your diet, and controls your blood sugar. Keeping it in tip top condition is essential for your wellbeing. And the good news? It’s much easier to support your liver than you might think! All it takes is including certain key nutrients in your diet. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the liver’s many vital functions, and list the best foods for liver health.
A Living Filter
The most important function your liver carries out is filtering your blood. Every minute, 2 liters of blood flow through it. Any toxins or bacteria that have been absorbed into the bloodstream are carried to the liver, which then breaks down and removes them. Our modern lifestyles subject us to a myriad of various toxins—the pollution particles in the air we breathe, the chemicals in our toiletries, the additives in our food. What’s more, the body’s processes also create by-products that need to be eliminated.
If the liver is overloaded, for example during periods of excess, or if it has too many toxins to deal with through medication and poor lifestyle choices, it no longer works properly. The result is an accumulation of toxins in the body that can lead to several health issues, from a decreased ability to fight infections to cancer. Poor liver function can also result in jaundice—this happens when the liver is unable to process the byproducts of red blood cell formation, called bilirubin, resulting in the person’s skin taking a yellowish tinge. It’s therefore vitally important to support the health of your major detoxification organ.
Turning Food into Energy
Aside from filtering and cleansing your blood of toxins, the liver processes carbohydrates, fats and proteins from your diet into usable substances. It converts glucose and fructose from food into glycogen—this helps to keep your blood sugar levels stable. It also converts fructose into triglycerides, which are used for energy production. A healthy liver removes the bad cholesterol from your blood, and transforms dietary fat into energy for your brain and muscles.
The liver makes and stores many essential vitamins and minerals, like Vitamins A, E, K and B12, which are released into the bloodstream as needed. Glutathione, also known as “the mother of all antioxidants”, and one of the most important antioxidants for detoxification, is also produced and stored in the liver. This is important because, as confirmed by studies published in the journals Nutrition & Cancer, and Molecular & Chemical Neuropathology, low levels of glutathione are linked to premature aging, cancer and Alzheimer’s, while healthy levels are understood to protect the body from free radicals and the diseases that go hand in hand with oxidative stress.
Clearly, the liver is an organ we need to nurture and look after, as it does so much for our health. But, aside from minimizing your consumption of processed foods, trans fats and sugar, what can you do to support this essential organ?
Liver-Friendly Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables are vegetables from the Brassicaceae family, like cabbage, Brussel sprouts and broccoli. Research published in the Journal of Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology confirms these liver-friendly foods contain glucosinolates that support the liver in its functions, and help it filter and detoxify the blood. What’s more, cruciferous vegetables contain sulfur, a sticky molecule that attracts toxins and heavy metals and transports them out of the body. Sulfur also supports the production of glutathione, which as we’ve seen is essential for fighting free radical damage caused by our modern lifestyles.
Aim to eat at least one portion of cruciferous vegetables every day—there are plenty to choose from:
- Broccoli and tenderstem broccoli
- Brussels sprouts
- Kolhrabi (German turnip or turnip cabbage)
- Collard greens
- Pak choi (Chinese cabbageor bok choy)
- Rocket (Arugola)
- Swap your usual salad leaves for watercress or rocket. They have a pleasant peppery taste that works really well with a little olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.
- Opt for steamed broccoli or cauliflower as a side dish. Sprinkle on a few sesame seeds to bring out their natural earthy flavor.
- Make a stir-fry using pak choi, collard greens or kale. Add protein (lean poultry, fish or tofu) and a splash of soy sauce for a healthy, liver boosting meal.
- Instead of using potatoes, mash turnips and swede for a healthier side dish. Their nutty flavor works well with thyme or mustard.
Support Your Liver
Your body could not function properly without your liver’s constant hard work. Help support its processes by giving it foods that nourish and strengthen it. What cruciferous vegetables will you eat today?