You probably never really think about your liver and all it does to keep you going. Every second you’re alive, your liver is performing many vital functions in your body (over 500!), including detoxification. In fact, the liver is the most important detoxification organ in your body. It acts as a filter of things like pesticides and other chemicals (from cleaning products to food additives and hydrogenated oils), medications, air pollution, heavy metals, excess cholesterol, and so on. Exposure to many of these types of substances is unavoidable in our modern day-to-day living. As a result, the liver can easily become overburdened with the toxin load (hence why we’re seeing increasing incidences of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease around the world, especially in Western countries where it has been directly linked to the Western diet and lifestyle habits).
When the liver is functioning well, it’ll help you to experience increased energy, a more positive general mood, focused concentration, clearer skin, a stronger immune system with fewer infections and allergies, better digestion and bowel regularity, fresher breath, and balanced menstrual cycles with reduced PMS.
Since your liver does so much to support you, show your liver some love by choosing foods that give your liver a boost. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, the liver is most active in the spring, which makes now the perfect time to do some internal “spring cleaning”, starting with adding more of these top liver-lovin’ foods to your daily meals.
Dandelion & Other Bitter Greens
It’s no coincidence that Mother Nature provides an abundance of the most potent plants for supporting the liver come springtime when the liver is most active. Dandelion (the so-called “weed” that grows all over your yard) is an excellent liver cleanser. Dandelion and other bitter greens help increase bile flow, which is one of the main ways the liver gets rid of toxins from the body. Dandelion root is often available as a tea or tincture, but you can also include the green leaves in your diet by adding them to soups, salads, or try my Mixed Greens Spanakopita recipe that features dandelion greens.
Dark Leafy Greens (Spinach, Kale, Chard, etc.)
Dark leafy greens are chlorophyll-rich, which assists your liver in neutralizing pesticides, heavy metals, and other toxic substances. They are also high in antioxidants that help deal with any free radicals formed during the detox process. Aim to add at least one type of dark leafy green vegetable to your plate each day and buy organic because you’ll want to avoid pesticides that are contributing to an overburdened liver.
Lemons are beneficial for digestion, cleansing, and detoxifying. In culinary terms, it’s often used to cut through fats like oils in salad dressings, and it does the same thing in your body (i.e. it assists the liver with fat metabolism). Drink a glass of freshly-squeezed juice from a quarter of a lemon in warm or room-temperature water first thing in the morning as part of a daily detox routine.
Beets contain a substance called betaine that protects liver cells and assists in liver regeneration. They are a nutrient-dense food that helps flush out toxins from the liver and blood. Word of caution – if you eat a lot of beets, don’t panic if you see red-looking stools. It’s the beets, not blood! It seems the reddish-purple colour is a natural cue about it’s blood purifying properties.
Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables have phytonutrients that increase production of certain enzymes that help with liver detoxification, especially in getting rid of carcinogens and heavy metals from the blood. The best way to keep these phytonutrients intact is by eating the veggies raw or lightly steamed. Keep in mind though, if you have an underactive thyroid, raw cruciferous veggies will block iodine absorption and utilization that your thyroid needs for proper functioning.
Research also shows that eating broccoli is also an effective way to protect against fatty liver disease because it aids in regulation of fat levels in the liver.
Garlic & Onions
Garlic and onions have sulfur-containing compounds (which gives them their pungent smell) that are critical in helping to neutralize pesticides, herbicides, food additives, drugs/medications (like acetaminophen), and they deactivate many hormones in the body (like estrogen, testosterone, and thyroid hormone) to keep things in balance. Garlic and onions are most potent when eaten raw or lightly cooked.
Apples, especially the green tart ones, contain malic acid which is used by the liver to remove heavy metals (like aluminum) from the body. Malic acid is effective at dissolving any stones in the liver and gallbladder too, which is important because an accumulation of stones blocks bile flow (again, a key way your liver transports toxins out of the body). Apple pectin also has a detoxifying element that helps the liver to do its job in removing toxins and cholesterol from the blood.
Beyond dietary adjustments, I also have experience with liver flushes and other liver cleansing protocols. If you’re interested in doing more for your liver, book a one-on-one consultation with me and I’ll provide you with the know-how for you to successfully do it yourself.
Bellentani, Stefano, et al. "Epidemiology of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease." Digestive Diseases 28 (2010): 155-61. PubMed. Web. 1 Apr. 2017. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20460905>.
Haas, Elson M., MD., and Levin, Buck, PhD, RD. Staying Healthy with Nutrition. 21st-Century ed. Berkeley: Celestial Arts, 2006. 268-9, 303, 305. Print.
Lessard-Rhead, Brenda, BSc, ND. Nutritional Pathology. Third ed. Richmond Hill: CSNN, 2015. 220-25. Print.