The liver is a resilient organ and constantly in a state of regeneration, but excessive alcohol consumption, toxin substances, viral infections such as hepatitis, and diets high in fat can damage your liver and reduce its ability to regenerate. Here expert nutritionist Shona Wilkinson explains the best foods that help clean and detox your liver.
What does the liver do?
Your liver is involved in around 500 reactions in your body, from filtering and cleaning your blood to fighting infections, producing bile to help digest fats, and getting rid of waste from your body.
Your liver breaks down carbohydrates and protein into forms that are stored in your body for later use, and synthesises fats like cholesterol.
Best foods for detoxing your liver
Onions and garlic
Onions and garlic both contain the nutrient sulphur. This is a substance needed for every cell and is particularly required for liver detoxification. There are many detoxification pathways in the liver and each one detoxifies a different category of toxins.
Sulphur is needed for the sulphation pathway, which is where toxins are joined to sulphur, before being excreted from the body. Toxins that are bound to sulphur include toxins from bacteria, BPA and other oestrogen mimickers. Raw is always better but in the case of onions and garlic your friends might prefer that you cook them first!
Artichoke and Milk Thistle
Artichokes and milk thistle are related. They contain the substances cynarin and silymarin. Cynarin is a compound which supports the liver in producing bile. Bile is essential to the detoxification process as it is used to carry toxins out of the liver and into the gut for elimination. Silymarin is the active ingredient in Milk Thistle and is a substance that provides protection to the liver cells and encourages detoxification.
Both cynarin and silymarin help to regenerate liver cells. Silymarin helps to protect the liver from the effects of alcohol, and increases the rate of alcohol detoxification, making it a popular hangover cure. The best supplements for your liver will contain 80mg of Silymarin as well as Milk Thistle root powder, alongside other herbs and nutrients.
Brazil nuts, brown rice, chickpeas and lentils
These foods are rich in an amino acid called methionine, and particularly Brazil nuts. Methionine is essential for a process called methylation, which removes toxic metals from the body. Toxic metals can be found in a wide range of products, and if not excreted by the liver can build up and cause health problems. Brazil nuts are also excellent for improving your mood - find out more in our nutritionists article '5 foods to improve your mood'.
Glutathione is another substance which is made from the methylation process. Glutathione is a major detoxification compound with rids the body of solvents, herbicides, fungicides and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Try to incorporate these foods into your diet as much as possible to help your liver do its job.
Broccoli and cauliflower
These two vegetables contain a very important vitamin-like substance called choline. Choline is responsible for keeping the liver clear of fats which can build up and cause harm. Choline also regulates the gene expression of pathways in the body needed for liver detoxification. Broccoli and sprouts are exceptionally high in sulphur and can be added to most meals. Broccoli is also a powerhouse food for brain health - learn more in our blog 'What foods and supplements to take for brain health'.
Grapefruits contain a substance called naringin which helps to protect the liver from damage from toxins – useful when doing a detox. Grapefruit helps to protect the liver from the damaging effects of alcohol and can be used as a hangover remedy. Learn more about grapefruit in our article 'Best foods for thyroid health'.
There are a lot of medicines that don’t mix well with grapefruit however, so beware if you are taking any medicines before adding too much grapefruit to your diet.
Beetroot contains a substance called betalains which reduce inflammation in the liver and promote detoxification. Betalains is particularly useful for the detoxification of xenobiotics, which are environmental toxins and include drugs, pesticides, cosmetics, flavourings, fragrances, food additives, industrial chemicals and environmental pollutants. Roasted beetroot is a delicious accompaniment to meals and can be served hot or cold.
Discover our Avocado, Beetroot and Pea Shoot Salad recipe.
Lemon peel contains a substance called limonine which promotes detoxification of carcinogens. Lemon peel can be added to drinks and chopped up small in foods. Add the zest to foods to add flavour as well as health benefits. Don’t forget the buy organic lemons as pesticide residue may be hard to remove.
When it comes to a hangover, pickle juice may just be the remedy for supporting detoxification! Pickle juice is good for a hangover because it contains many electrolytes which promotes proper hydration which allows the body to excrete toxins effectively. Give it a go!
What should vegans take for liver support?
A good liver supplement will contain Silymarin from Milk Thistle. Milk Thistle isn’t really a food that is eaten widely and may be easier to take in supplemental form.
Choline is another nutrient to look for in a liver support supplement. Vegan diets can be low in Choline because it is mainly found in eggs, even if plenty of broccoli and cauliflower are consumed. Learn more in our blog 'The benefits of Choline and where to find it'.
During a detox, higher levels of choline are desirable, so a supplement can accompany a good detox diet. Dandelion and peppermint are two other great nutrients to look for in a liver support supplement. Try to incorporate as many of the above foods into your daily diet as possible for maximum liver support and consider taking a good quality supplement.
By Shona Wilkinson, RN, mBANT, CNHC
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