Eating for a Healthy Liver

I was recently reading a NY Times online article about a woman describing the moment when her liver failed her, and not from alcoholism (what most of us tend to think of first), but from something completely different. One line in her story grabbed my attention and really had me thinking about how we don’t know how our liver is really doing until it can’t function anymore; and, what can I do nutritionally to ensure my liver is on the healthy side.

“[The liver’s] functions are so vital that nature endowed it the power to completely regenerate within months of injury. But if the liver fails, a transplant is the only option short of death.”

Your liver has several functions, two of which are to help digest food and store energy to be used later.  What and how you eat can determine whether you have a healthy or “fatty” liver. Being described as “fatty,” you can already guess that foods high in saturated fat should be limited (I once heard someone refer to eating beef as a child only on “special occasions” and thought that was such a clever way to think about how often to eat less-than-lean meats – I’m still working on cheese being a special-occasion food!) While spices such as ginger and turmeric are beneficial (and add flavor), eating foods high in fiber, such as whole grain breads and cereals, fruits and vegetables are key. Cutting back on processed foods, refined sugars, alcohol, caffeine and, as always, smoking also help keep your liver strong and healthy!

Breakfast is a great time to load up on whole grains as they digest slower, keeping you feeling full longer. If you haven’t made the switch yet, or need a change, here are just a few quick options:

  1. steel cut oatmeal – you can always make a large amount ahead of time and heat up individual servings with added milk of your choice (I love almond milk) or water
  2. granola (with low- or non-fat greek yogurt and fruit) – choose a low-sugar brand like “Back to Nature” or make your own using rolled oats, flax seed, chopped nuts and a dash of honey or agave for sweetness
  3. Whole grain tortillas or pita bread stuffed with an egg, low-fat cheese, and veggies
  4. if boxed cereal is faster and easier for you, make sure to choose one that has at least
    • 4 grams (g) of fiber
    • 13 or less g of sugar per serving

Remember that a serving is usually 3/4- to 1-cup. Adding fruit or sliced almonds and low- or non-fat milk can increase the nutritional value and staying power, but be sure to take caution if you are counting calories.

Dreamstime.com

© G Barskaya

You can also keep your liver in tip-top shape by increasing your activity level, which tells your liver to burn – instead of store – the fat inside of it. “Liver cleanses” seem to be the new fad, with everyone either doing one or offering one. That’s another discussion for another day, but you can get similar results by spending one day eating nothing but raw fruits and veggies, or drinking their juice without adding sugar or milk. However, if you are diabetic or have other chronic digestive disorders, talk to a doctor before doing anything this drastic.

Finally, October is Liver Awareness Month. I hope you will take a few minutes out of your day to make at least one change for a healthier liver.

Resources

Learn more about liver disease and its symptoms at The Liver Foundation

Healthy breakfasts from The Mayo Clinic

The Night My Liver Started to Run My Life – NYTimes.com

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