Your liver works hard to remove toxins from your system— these foods support that effort.
We come into contact with toxins every day— in food, medications, chemicals, air pollution, beauty products and more. Our body even makes its own toxins in the form of the waste produced by digestion, cellular turnover and other normal biological functions.
Lucky for us, we have a built-in system for clearing out those toxins. One of the organs that bears the brunt of the work? The liver. “Think of the liver as your body’s master filter,” says functional nutritionist Dana Bodek, MS, CNS, LDN. “All those toxins contribute to the load that the liver has to filter out.”
Since we can’t always control our exposure to pollutants and chemicals, “making strategic dietary shifts can help to counter the effects and aid the liver detoxification pathway to lighten the load,” says Bodek.
Liver Function 101
If you’re wondering what goes on behind the biological scenes, here’s a quick explanation from Bodek: The liver is responsible for three major functions: detoxification, synthesis and storage. In detoxification, the liver removes the toxins (naturally occurring waste and other substances, such as alcohol and medications).
During synthesis, the liver produces bile to help break down fats, proteins and carbohydrates to produce energy and regulate blood sugar.
Finally, the liver stores key vitamins (A,D,E and K), minerals (iron and copper) and stored sugar (glycogens), which are released as the body needs them. Anything that isn’t stored or used gets eliminated.
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How Nutrition Can Hurt or Help
Eating a well-balanced diet of whole foods helps provide the key nutrients needed to support each phase of liver detox — converting toxins to waste, cleaning the blood and metabolizing everything passing through. “Too many trans fats increase blood sugar levels and fat deposits in the liver,” says Bodek. "They also hinder liver function by raising the ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL) and lowering the ‘good’ cholesterol (HDL).
Another big factor in supporting the liver? Eliminating added sugars. “Eating excessive sugar and starchy carbohydrates contributes to producing more fat in the liver. Fructose — a type of sugar found many highly processed foods and beverages — heads directly for the liver,” says Bodek. Over time, fat builds up in and around the liver “causing inflammation, triggering insulin resistance, pre-diabetes and increasing the risk for cardiovascular disease.”
RELATED: How to Cut Back on the “Big 3” — Sugar, Caffeine and Alcohol
How to Fuel Natural Detoxing
What to eat and drink to optimize your liver's performance.
To keep everything flowing and eliminating properly, you need to stay hydrated. Getting enough water is key, but “herbal teas with fennel, milk thistle, turmeric, ginger and lemon are delicious liver-supportive options,” says Bodek. “Milk thistle contains an amazing compound called silymarin, which provides powerful antioxidant protection to the liver.”
Medical herbalist Daniela Turley, founder of Urban Healing, adds: "Turmeric tea is beneficial for preventing liver damage because it stimulates liver enzymes to remove toxic metabolites."
You can also get your hydration from water-filled fruits and vegetables — load up on cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, celery and cauliflower.
“Protein supplies amino acids needed to assist with the liver’s natural detoxification process. Some of the toxins being released during the second phase of liver detox attach themselves to protein sources to be expelled from the body, Bodek explains.
Adequate intake of glycine (poultry, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, lentils and beef), taurine (meat and fish), glutamine (beef, chicken, spinach, parsley) and arginine (eggs, walnuts, turkey) are great helpers.
The Clean Green Detox Protein used in THE WELL Cleanse contains both the detoxifying herbs and the amino acids needed to perform both phases of liver detox.
Anti-inflammatory fruits, such as berries, apples, tangerines and cherries help maintain electrolyte minerals like magnesium, calcium and potassium, explains Bodek. Plus, the body uses these antioxidants to help alter toxins and prepare them to be eliminated from the body.
2 Non-starchy Vegetables
“Vegetables compliment protein by providing the essential phytonutrients and fiber needed for detoxification,” explains Bodek, who suggests eating cruciferous veggies such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, cabbage and kale to increase the production of enzymes called glucosinolates, which help flush out toxins.
3 Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices not only add flavor to food, they also “contain powerful antioxidants and increase digestive enzymes in the liver, gut and stomach,” explains Bodek. Turmeric, parsley, cilantro and oregano stimulate glutathione, the body’s master antioxidant.
4 Bitter Greens
Do your part to stimulate bile production and promote healthy digestion by eating bitter greens. “Arugula, dandelion greens and chicory activate beneficial enzymes that nourish the liver,” says Bodek.
But don’t stop there — beet greens, Swiss chard, watercress and collard greens are also great detoxifiers. Studies have shown that dandelion greens, in particular, may have a protective effect against toxic substances.
5 Probiotic-rich Foods
“Fermented vegetables, yogurt, and kefir all support a gut health by providing healthy bacteria,” says Bodek. Sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, natto and tempeh are other great sources of fermented foods. How much do you need? “Put a scoop or two of fermented foods on your plate a few times a week to feed your gut the probiotics it needs to function optimally,” suggests Frank Lipman, MD, the Chief Medical Officer of THE WELL.
6 Prebiotic-rich Foods
After filling your gut with good bacteria, you need to give that new population food to feast on — that is where prebiotics come in. “Onions, leeks, garlic, artichokes, radishes, Jerusalem artichokes and asparagus are all good sources, says Lipman.