The Link Between Liver Health and Diet – What to Eat for a Healthy Liver

The Link Between Liver Health and Diet – What to Eat for a Healthy Liver
September 28 05:57 2023 by admin Print This Article


The Liver is the largest and one of the most important organs of the body. Till date, over 500 functions have been attributed to the liver. Needless to say, maintaining optimum health of the liver is vital for overall health of the person. In this regard, diet and lifestyle play a very important role in liver health. In this article, we will examine what are the foods one can or must eat, and what are those one must avoid or restrict for good liver health.

Introduction to the Liver

The Liver is a large, pyramid-shaped organ found on the right side of the body in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen. It is present below the diaphragm, a wall of muscle which separates the chest cavity from the abdomen. All major organs of the abdomen such as stomach, kidneys, intestines, pancreas, gall-bladder, spleen and organs of the genito-urinary system are present below the liver, spread from the left to the right. The liver is reddish-brown in colour, weighs nearly 3 pounds (1.36 kgs) and has a smooth surface.

The liver is made of 2 lobes (left and right), each consisting of nearly 1000 small lobes or lobules. The lobules are connected to small ducts, all of which converge into a large hepatic duct. This duct carries the bile produced by the liver into the gall-bladder and duodenum. While pure (oxygenated) blood flows into the liver through the hepatic artery, nutrient-rich blood flows into the liver through the hepatic vein.

There are over 500 functions attributed to the liver till date. Research may uncover more functions in the future. Most significant functions include:

  • Produces bile. During digestion, bile breaks down fats in the small intestine and carries away waste products, into the large intestine
  • Produces certain proteins found in blood plasma
  • Produces cholesterol and special proteins which transport fats through the body
  • Converts excess glucose from the food into glycogen, which is then stored in the liver and can be used later to give energy, when the person is starving
  • Regulates amino acids in the blood
  • In the foetus, it helps produce blood, while in adulthood, it helps recycle blood
  • It stores iron and certain vitamins, and releases them into the blood when their levels drop
  • Filtering and cleaning the blood of toxic wastes
  • Regulates clotting of blood
  • Improves immunity by producing immune factors and eliminating bacteria from the bloodstream

Diseases that affect the liver

 Alcoholic and non-alcoholic fatty liver diseases are conditions in which fat starts accumulating in the liver at a rapid pace. The condition can proceed towards cirrhosis and liver failure which can be fatal. Hepatitis, a condition caused by a virus and liver cancer, are some of the other, more common diseases that affect the liver.

 While there are various causes and risk-factors that affect liver health, diet is one of the important ones. In this article, we will stay focused on how diet affects liver health.

What to Eat

A healthy diet that is rich in fibre, vitamins and nutrients from fresh fruits and vegetables, low in red meat, sugar, fat and processed food, and rich in Vitamin B, Vitamin C, minerals, and glutathione is vital for good liver health at any age, and all the more so, from the middle-ages.

  • CRUCIFEROUS VEGETABLES – These are a class of fibre-rich vegetables such as cabbage, Knol kohl, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli and mustard greens. These are rich in flavonoids, carotenoids and other phytonutrients which help neutralize toxins. Glucosinolates are sulphur-containing compounds which in turn are broken down to metabolites. These trigger specific reactions in the body that involve enzymes. Thanks to these reactions, heavy metals and carcinogens are removed from the blood. They also enhance digestion. Cruciferous vegetables are rich in glucosinolates. Further, broccoli is rich in vitamin E which acts as an antioxidant for the liver. Considering that cruciferous vegetables are rich in fat-soluble vitamins; one should consume them along with healthy fats in order to absorb these nutrients into the blood.
  • BEETROOT – In addition to fibre and iron, beetroot is rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, micronutrients such as betalains, betaine, pectin and folate, and minerals such as potassium and manganese. They boost bile flow and the activity of enzymes in the body. These functions help break down toxins in the body and eliminate them through excretion.
  • EGGS – Eggs are rich in various amino acids and are a great source of protein. They are rich in Vitamins A, D and E. They contain micronutrients such as glutathione precursors, sulphur compounds and methylation elements. They contain healthy saturated fat and fatty acids, all of which helps make strong and vibrant cell membranes.
  • CITRUS FRUITS – Lime and lemon are a rich source of vitamin C, citric acid, bioflavonoids and potassium. All this helps boost energy levels, enable detoxification of the liver, and reduce inflammation in the body. Grapefruit (not to be confused with grapes) is a fruit similar to orange, but with dark-red flesh inside. It contains high levels of potassium, vitamin C, phenolic acid, folic acid, iron, calcium and various antioxidants. Some of the flavonoids present in grapefruit, such as naringin protects the liver from bio-chemical injury (not physical injury).
  • GREEN LEAFY VEGETABLES – Indians have a long history of consuming leafy-greens such as amaranth, spinach, coriander, curry leaves, fenugreek, and other native greens. Thanks to a globalized economy, one can also find exotic leafy-greens imported from abroad such as kale, Bok choy, chard, Swiss-chard, arugula and collards. All these are rich in chlorophyll which helps the liver neutralize toxins and heavy-metals. They are also a good source of manganese, potassium and magnesium.
  • GARLIC – Garlic contains allicin, selenium, and vitamins such as B6 and C. All these are vital for detoxification. Allicin, which gives garlic the strong smell, is a sulphur compound which is known to have antibiotic, antifungal and antioxidant properties. Further, selenium reduces the burden on the liver by increasing the activity of antioxidants, thereby helping detoxify blood.
  • BERRIES – Berries such as tomato, eggplant, avocado, blueberry and cranberry are rich in a class of antioxidant phytonutrients called anthocyanins which gives them their strong and vibrant colours. Anthocyanins are known to have strong anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anticarcinogenic properties. They also contain vitamins and minerals that are known to reduce inflammation and enhance immunity.
  • HERBS AND SPICES – Various herbs, spices and aromatic vegetables such as ginger, turmeric, garlic, coriander, milk-thistle and dandelion-root all play an important role in detoxification.
  • COFFEE – Surprisingly, coffee, in-spite of its caffeine content is actually good for the liver. Coffee contains certain organic acids, polysaccharides and polyphenols which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Coffee is known to protect the liver from damage caused by alcohol, unhealthy food, and certain environmental toxins. This helps prevent cirrhosis. However, please note, caffeine has other drawbacks to it. So do not increase your coffee intake unless you are diagnosed with a liver condition and your doctor has advised you to do so. The regular 1 or 2 glasses of coffee per day is good enough.
  • FATTY FISH – Fatty fish, also called oily fish, are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids. This helps reduce inflammation and accumulation of fat in the body, and improve insulin sensitivity in the person. Some of them are swordfish, albacore tuna, wild or farmed salmon, mussels and Atlantic herring.
  • NUTS – Tree nuts such as almond, walnut, cashewnut, brazil nut, pistachio, etc, are a great source of polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats. This helps prevent accumulation of fat in the body. Further, walnut contains the amino acid called arginine which helps remove ammonia from the body. Nuts also contain Omega 3 fatty acids and glutathione. These compounds reduce inflammation, improve lipid profile and boost hepatic steatosis. Please note, peanut or groundnut is not a tree-nut but a legume that grows underground.

What to Avoid/Restrict

Foods that are high in sugar, salt, fat (including transfats), as well as alcohol are best avoided, or consumed in moderation. This includes:

  • Fatty foods: Fried foods, fast food, takeout meals, packaged snacks and condiments, are all high in fats and can lead to accumulation of fat in the liver over time. Eventually, this causes cirrhosis of the liver.
  • Starchy foods: Refined flour is rich in starch and low on fiber, and are best avoided. These are found in bakery products such as cakes, biscuits, bread and pasta. They are also rich in transfats.
  • Sugar: Digesting and metabolizing sugar puts a strain on the liver. So, it’s good to cut down on sugar which is liberally used in sweetened drinks, colas, candies, sweets, breakfast cereals and bakery products.
  • Salt: Salt is rich in sodium which not only affects the heart but also the liver. Packaged snacks and condiments, canned meats and vegetables, salted deli meats and bacon, which are all high in salt must be consumed in moderation.
  • Alcohol: If it is not possible to eliminate alcohol altogether, one should restrict it to a maximum of 1 drink per day for a woman and 2 drinks a day for a man.
  • Red-meat: Red-meats are rich in saturated fat and regular consumption of the same is neither good for the heart or liver. One must replace with lean meat like poultry, fish and seafood.

Kauvery Hospital is globally known for its multidisciplinary services at all its Centers of Excellence, and for its comprehensive, Avant-Grade technology, especially in diagnostics and remedial care in heart diseases, transplantation, vascular and neurosciences medicine. Located in the heart of Trichy (Tennur, Royal Road and Alexandria Road (Cantonment), Chennai, Hosur, Salem, Tirunelveli and Bengaluru, the hospital also renders adult and pediatric trauma care.

Chennai – Alwarpet/Vadapalani 044 4000 6000 • Trichy – Cantonment – 0431 4077777 • Trichy – Heartcity – 0431 4003500 • Trichy – Tennur – 0431 4022555 • Hosur – 04344 272727 • Salem – 0427 2677777 • Tirunelveli – 0462 4006000 • Bengaluru – 080 6801 6801

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