Fuel your liver by picking the right kind of ‘liver food’
‘Is life worth living? It all depends on the liver.’ These words by American philosopher William James serve as a reminder that the health of your liver is of utmost importance in living a healthy life. If you want to live, you must have a liver.
Of the approximately 500 functions of the liver, the most important include synthesis of amino acids and cholesterol; metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats; and the production of bile, which assists in digestion in the small intestine. The liver plays several roles in the regulation of the blood, breaks down insulin and toxic substances, and allows them to be excreted. In short, the liver supports almost every other organ in the body.
In Chinese medicine, the liver is the yin organ of the wood element. Since spring is the season of the year in which wood energy is at its peak, spring is the best time to support this organ.
Why is the liver so critical?
The liver is one of the largest organs in the human body, with functions so complex and vast that to date no device, machine, or equipment has been designed to replicate its function, unlike dialysis for kidney or ventilator for lungs.
Broadly speaking, the liver is responsible for processing almost all the food that we consume, all that we drink, and more. Over 90% of the medicines that we have are ultimately processed by the liver. Our liver is responsible for synthesizing proteins, cholesterol, bile, and lot many other chemicals, which are essential for the normal homeostasis of our day-to-day functioning.
What food is considered good or healthy for our liver?
A simple answer to this is “balanced diet”; in that case, one may ask, what is a balanced diet? Any diet with 10 to 35 % of calories from protein, 20 to 35 % from fat, and 45 to 65 % from carbohydrates is a balanced diet, with enough sources of essential minerals and micro-nutrients added to it. A caveat here is that the source of our consumption and what forms part of our daily diet is variable, and changes per regionalities and ethnicities. Depending upon geographic locations and food sources, people from one specific region may get deficient in certain micro-nutrients which could lead to some disorders. For example, people living at high altitudes and consuming non-iodinated rock salt report more of goitre.
Another important thing to note here is the lifestyle we follow: the above numbers and percentages may change for those having an active physical lifestyle to those with moderate activity to those who primarily follow sedentary lifestyles.
Bringing the focus back to “healthy liver food”, some of the other important factors to consider are adequate sleep and consumption of antioxidants.
How can we prevent liver diseases?
Fatty liver is a common term , which we all hear every now and then. It is also known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Considered to be a silent epidemic in itself, instances of NAFLD have increased to such large volumes in last few years that liver failures that require liver transplant to the tune of 15%, today are because of NAFLD.
But these can be prevented with the help of healthy food. Plant-based food (like avocados, bananas, barley, broccoli, beets, brown rice, carrots, figs,etc.), coffee (providing protective antioxidants), oatmeals (for the fibre), berries and fatty fish or fish oil supplements can help protect and strengthen our liver in a huge way. Many reviews and studies conducted across the world indicate adding protective antioxidants, specific fibre, antioxidants (specially from dark berries like blueberries, raspberries and cranberries that contain antioxidants called polyphenols), can prevent liver from fatty liver diseases, by reducing fat build-up in the liver.
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Fibre, on the other hand, is an important tool for digestion. Beta-glucans from oats help reduce the amount of fat storage, which in turn, helps protect the liver. Berries help alleviate liver fibrosis. Antioxidants such as naringin and naringenin, widely present in grapefruit, help protect the liver from injury by reducing inflammation and protecting the liver cells. Greens such as kale and collards, lemons, papayas and watermelons are highly efficient in managing liver functions and can be easily included as a part of the daily diet.
Consuming fatty fish and fish oil also help reduce the impact of conditions such as NAFLD.
Fatty fish that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, is a provider of good fats that help reduce inflammation. These fats may be especially helpful in the liver, as they prevent the buildup of excess fats and maintain enzyme levels in the liver.
Last, but certainly not the least, ‘nuts’ are the simplest and surest way to keep liver healthy and protect against NAFLD. Nuts generally contain unsaturated fatty acids, vitamin E and antioxidants. These compounds help prevent NAFLD and reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.