We are well and truly into the silly season. Summer has come out of hibernation, Christmas is fast approaching and the party invites come rolling in. One too many late nights and a little overindulgence can leave you feeling a little worse for wear. Our liver usually bears the brunt of it. Fortunately, there are some liver loving foods that can help support your liver throughout the Christmas period and into the new year. No restrictive detox diets in sight.
The liver is the key detoxifying organ of the body. It works around the clock to filter out and break down chemicals, byproducts and toxins, which can then be safely eliminated from the body. The liver is consistently detoxifying our bodies on a daily basis, however, it requires a regular supply of nutrients to do so. And this is where we often trip up during the silly season. We overburden our detoxification system with processed foods, sugary drinks, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes and other indulgences and often neglect to replenish those essential nutrients required for optimal liver function.
The good news is that you don’t need expensive supplements or detox regimes to ensure your liver is in good shape. Eating plenty of fresh, plant-based foods is your golden ticket. Practicing moderation is also worth mastering.
Liver loving foods
Ideally, we should just avoid overindulging during the silly season, however, we are only human and it happens. Don’t beat yourself up. But do make an effort to address the collateral damage. Here are my top 5 liver loving foods and beverages.
#1 — Water
Water is required for so many functions in our body, as I have talked about in a previous blog post. During the festive season, the risk of dehydration significantly increases. It is easy to get swept up in the festivities and forget to keep our fluid intake up during the day. When we do get around to quenching our thirst, it is likely to be with an alcoholic beverage. Throw a hot summers day into the mix, and you have yourself a recipe for dehydration.
Water is an important solvent for metabolic waste products, that are transported to the liver for processing and then excreted through the bowels, kidneys and bladder or the skin. If you are dehydrated or not replenishing fluids adequately these detoxification systems can slow up, leaving you feeling sluggish and fatigued. So, drink up buttercup — water, that is.
#2 — Cruciferous vegetables
The cruciferous family, or Brassica family of vegetables includes cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, radish, turnip, rocket (arugula), kohlrabi, collard greens and mustard greens. This diverse class of vegetables are rich in natural plant compounds that have varying health benefits. Glucosinolates are a particular group of phytochemicals found in cruciferous vegetables, that activate detoxification enzymes to support liver detoxification processes and protect the liver from oxidative damage. The cruciferous vegetables are also rich in B vitamins, which are required enable the liver to perform its detoxification duties. Be sure to get at least 2 servings of these powerhouse crucifers into your diet every day.
#3 — Turmeric
Turmeric is the ultimate medicinal food. It has a wide range of therapeutic applications from inflammatory arthritis to depression. Curcumin is the main active compound in turmeric, and research has shown that it may provide protection against alcohol-induced liver damage and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. While this golden spice might sound like the perfect antidote to binge drinking your way through the festive season, I wouldn’t recommend it. The research is only in preliminary stages and has mostly been done in rats, so we cannot assume it will be as effective in humans. Curcumin has been shown to increase production of detoxification enzymes in the liver and has systemic anti-inflammatory effects. This is a fantastic all-rounder to include in your diet.
*Curcumin from fresh or ground turmeric root is not particularly well absorbed in the digestive tract. To overcome this issue, make sure to have it with some healthy fats ( as curcumin is fat-soluble) and a good helping of cracked pepper (the piperine in pepper enhances absorption of curcumin).
#4 — Garlic, onion, leek and chives
These flavourful, pungent vegetables belong to the Allium family. Their pungent heat comes from organosulphur compounds, and it is these compounds that account for the majority of medicinal properties the Alliums offer. Organosulphur compounds activate detoxification enzymes in the liver, in a similar way to the cruciferous vegetables and turmeric. The Alliums also have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which help to protect the liver (and other organs) against oxidative stress and inflammation.
If you are feeling a little under the weather or congested after a string of late nights, then tuck into some garlic and onions, preferably raw if you can stomach it. The pungent heat will help with decongestion and the immune-enhancing and antimicrobial properties will ward off lurking pathogens.
#5 — Coffee
Yes, that’s right. Coffee is on my list. This delightfully bitter beverage seems to have earned itself a not-so-great reputation in the wellness industry — a little unfairly, in my opinion. Coffee contains a number of chemical compounds including caffeine, that need to be metabolised by the liver. However, these chemical compounds also activate the detoxification enzymes required for their metabolism. Plus, coffee provides an abundance of antioxidants. In looking at the science, it seems that coffee has some spectacular health benefits to offer, particularly in regards to protecting the liver.
Research has found that moderate consumption of caffeinated coffee is associated with decreased markers of liver damage and NAFLD liver fat scores. Other studies have shown that coffee consumption may prevent fibrosis of the liver and reduce the risk of liver cancer. It is thought that the antioxidant properties of coffee protect the liver cells from oxidative stress.
The bitter component of coffee also has its own benefits. Bitter tasting substances are great for stimulating release gastric juices, digestive enzymes and bile — making it a little easier to digest that Christmas pudding. Just be careful not to drown out the bitter goodness with too much sugar or artificial sweeteners. And again, practice moderation.
I am passionate about the food-as-medicine philosophy and it is something I incorporate into my practice as a naturopath. Healthy eating should always involve variety, colour and enjoyment. Enjoy the festivities this season, indulge a little, practice moderation as often as you can and get plenty of those liver loving foods. I love this quote from Michael Pollan, it sums up my approach to food in a nutshell:
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Livers. Love. Plants.
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