If you feel groggy, crave sugar, have joint pain or are overly stressed or anxious, it may be time to do some spring cleaning — on your body.
What might a little internal housekeeping involve? You can start by giving your liver some love. The liver is your largest internal organ that performs literally hundreds of functions in the body. One important function is to eliminate unwanted toxins.
Anything that is eaten or consumed, whether it’s food, alcohol, medicine or toxins, gets filtered by the liver. Fortunately, the liver is super-smart. It knows when it’s time for a good cleanse. It knows when to usher the toxins out of the body through urine or stool, when to save nutrients and when to release them back into the blood. Although there’s no such thing as detoxing or cleansing the liver itself, you can support what your liver does naturally and protect it from external stressors by being careful about what you consume.
One of the best ways to support the liver and its important detox work is through the foods you eat. Here’s how to give your liver a hand at the hard work it does:
Artichokes possess liver-cleansing nutrients that stimulate bile flow and protect the liver. Bile is important to liver health because it helps with the transport of waste products and toxins, so they can be swept away from the body. Without bile flow, toxin buildup or harm to the liver could result.
Artichokes are a great addition to pastas and salads. Or just roast them with lemon, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper for a simple side dish.
Deep-hued berries such as blackberries, blueberries and raspberries contain strong antioxidants (anthocyanins) that contribute to the detoxification process and reduce overall inflammation. It’s easy to get your daily serving of these detox helpers. They make a sweet add-on to green salads, oatmeal and yogurt bowls.
Beets contain several compounds — betalains, betaine and pectin — that aid in toxin elimination and keep the liver healthy. With a sweet, yet earthy flavor, beets brighten up green salads and can even serve as the star ingredient in soups and dips.
Vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and watercress are not only full of fiber and nutrients for overall health, but they also contain sulfur-containing phytochemicals (glucosinolates) that support the clean-up of toxins. There are limitless ways to add cruciferous vegetables into your diet, so get creative and enjoy. For a low-carb version of potato salad or hummus, steam a head of cauliflower and use that as your base. Add arugula or broccoli to your pizza, and make the crust out of cauliflower. Most of these veggies also taste incredible “naked” — roasted with just a little olive oil, salt and pepper. What could be simpler?
Pumpkin seeds contain amino acids that support the detox process. They also have a lot to offer in the flavor department. Sprinkling these nutty little seeds on oatmeal, in homemade trail mix or on a big green salad is a great way to liven up traditional meals and snacks.
Turmeric is a vibrant yellow spice used to flavor up food and beverages. Curcumin, a compound found in turmeric, contributes to the synthesis of glutathione, a liver-protecting antioxidant that helps bind toxins and sweep them out of the body via urine or bile. Sprinkle turmeric powder on eggs, roasted veggies, rice, or in a warm golden milk recipe.
Note: by itself, curcumin is not well-absorbed by the body. To boost absorption, combine turmeric with black pepper, as some supplements do.
Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, lacto-fermented pickles, kefir and yogurt are packed with probiotics that aid the liver in the cleansing process. It’s actually easier than you think to give your diet a fermented fix. At the grocery store, look for refrigerated pickles that specify that they’re “naturally fermented.” Add sauerkraut to your grass-fed burger or veggie patties. For breakfast, go for Greek and/or full-fat yogurt, from grass-fed cows. And on sushi night, order miso soup.
Green tea is a popular way to get a caffeine jolt, without the crash, while giving your body the benefit of antioxidants and phytochemicals that can support liver detoxification. For a liver-nourishing change-up, try substituting green tea for your morning coffee several times a week. Add a spoonful of raw honey for an extra dose of liver support.
Healthy whole foods that are packed with potassium include sweet potatoes, tomato sauce, spinach, beans (white, kidney and lima), blackstrap molasses and bananas. Add a teaspoon or two of blackstrap molasses to your morning coffee to give it rich body. For a well-rounded vegetarian dish, stuff a baked sweet potato with sauteed spinach and cannellini beans and top with cheese. For dessert, blend a frozen banana with a tablespoon of cacao powder and a dash of vanilla extract in a blender until smooth.
Lastly, for the effective elimination of toxins, you should be drinking a lot of water every day. Liver detoxification transforms toxins into water-soluble compounds, so they can be flushed out of the body (through urine). Need a bit of encouragement to drink more H2O? Buy a fun, brightly-hued bottle you’ll actually like to use and set ‘sip’ reminders on your phone.
The most impressive herbal supplement for liver health is milk thistle, also called silymarin, which is an extract of the seeds of the flowering milk thistle plant. It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, among other benefits. Look for a milk thistle supplement that's standardized to contain 70 to 80 percent silymarin, a flavonoid, and follow the dosage instructions on the manufacturer's label (always consult with your doctor first!).
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