Spring and summer are the best times to start fresh and rejuvenate your body. According to Chinese medicine, warmer weather is also when your liver does its best cleansing. Take a moment to stop and recognize the amazing role that your liver plays in your health and understand why it’s so important to nourish it.
The liver is your main detoxification organ. It is responsible for filtering toxins out of the blood stream, so that toxins don’t build up in your body. You can think of your liver as the vent or screen in your vacuum cleaner. When the screen gets clogged with too much dirt, your vacuum is not as efficient in cleaning. Similarly, when your liver gets clogged up by too many toxins, your body often feels sluggish, your immune system is overworked, your skin isn’t as healthy, and your digestion slows down.
While your liver does an excellent job at filtration, it is constantly being asked to run on over-drive because of the high toxic load that you are exposed to in modern society, including air pollution, chemicals in water, pesticides, and harmful ingredients in skin-care products. In addition, a fast-paced lifestyle can add toxins to your body from the effects of stress.
Liver detoxification is one of many different functions that the liver performs in the body, including:
- Protein synthesis
- Bile production and excretion
- Assisting with metabolism of sugar
- Preventing blood clotting
- Storage of iron
The good news is that the liver has an incredible capacity to heal itself. Contrary to other organs, when a person has liver damage, the liver is able to regenerate tissue. Using a combination of nourishing, liver-healthy foods and liver-supporting ingredients, you can help protect your liver and allow it to do what it does best.
Show your liver some love and consume these six foods to help improve your liver health:
1. Warm Water with Lemon
Adequate water intake helps to flush out excess toxins from the body. When your body is well hydrated, it not only helps liver function, but it also helps all of the organs and cells in your body.
Drinking warm water with lemon in the morning is an Ayurvedic practice that helps to clear the digestive tract of toxins that have built up overnight. It also helps create a more alkaline environment in the body to balance out the acidity from toxins. Lemon water has antioxidants that help to stimulate the liver.
How to prepare it: First thing in the morning, pour 8–12 oz of warm or hot water into a mug, then squeeze the juice of half a lemon. Mix together and sip slowly.
2. Dark-Green Leafy Vegetables
Dark green vegetables contain powerful antioxidants that help to combat toxins in the body. They work hand-in-hand with your liver to help rid your body of toxins. Some dark, leafy greens and vegetables that are particularly helpful include kale, spinach, and collard greens.
How to prepare: Kale and spinach can be used in salads, smoothies, juices, or for a quick vegetable sauté.
Collard greens can be used to make great wraps, quinoa salads, and sautéed meat mixtures. First, remove the stems, do a quick blanch in hot water, and then dip the collard greens in an ice bath. Then, simply wrap the collard green with your favorite grain or ground-meat mixture.
3. Beets and Beet Greens
Eaten raw, cooked, or juiced, beets have been shown to help manage disease states due to oxidative stress, including liver disease.
How to prepare: Cut off the beet greens to use in a soup or a vegetable sauté. Wash your beets, peel them with a vegetable peeler, and roast them in the oven at 375F degrees for 30 minutes with coconut oil or olive oil and some sea salt. Make sure to flip them halfway through.
Research has shown that certain berries, including blueberries and mulberries, can help fight against liver cancer due to their high levels of antioxidants.
How to prepare: Berries can be eaten raw as a snack or they can be used fresh or frozen in smoothies.
5. Bitter Greens
Bitter greens such as dandelion greens, nettle, and arugula are particularly helpful for digestion and liver function. The flavor of bitter greens causes your mouth and digestive tract to secret enzymes and bile that help to break down your food, according to Dr. Elson Haas, in his book Staying Healthy with Nutrition. Bitter greens also stimulate your liver to help with detoxification. By incorporating more bitter greens into your diet, it can also help reduce sugar cravings, which will reduce the toxic burden that sugar puts on your system.
How to prepare: Dandelion and nettle are most commonly consumed through hot teas. You can find roasted dandelion teas or detox tea blends that have nettle in them. Make sure to look for an organic tea blend to avoid added toxins.
6. Milk Thistle
Milk thistle is an herb that can help support the liver. It contains silymarin, which is both anti-inflammatory and a powerful antioxidant. Milk thistle can be found in various detox teas as well as in tincture or capsule form.
How to prepare: Crush one tablespoon of milk thistle seeds and add boiling water. Steep for about 20 minutes and strain.
Foods to Avoid
Some foods that are helpful to limit or avoid when it comes to supporting your liver are:
- Sugar and refined carbohydrates
- Oils that contain polyunsatruated fatty acids, including canola oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil, peanut oil, and vegetable oil
- Fried foods
Throughout this spring season, remember to love your liver when making food and lifestyle choices—it does so much for you and your health. Go back to the basic principles of healthy eating: eat more nutritious foods and less processed foods. Fresh produce and a low-fat diet contain plenty of nutrients to support optimal function of your body’s organs.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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Yan, L. (n.d.). Dark Green Leafy Vegetables. Retrieved from https://www.ars.usda.gov/plains-area/gfnd/gfhnrc/docs/news-2013/dark-green-leafy-vegetables/