The common belief is that if you drink too much alcohol, you could end up with liver disease. But with the rise of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) – 20 percent of the American population has it, according to estimates – other causes of liver disease are making headlines.
Even though a person may never have had a drink in their lives, they are still developing liver disease. So, the real question is, what’s harming our livers?
Why You Should Pay Attention to Your Liver Health
Your liver is one of your body’s most important organs. It’s right up there with your brain and your heart. Everything you ingest or take in, at some point, passes through your liver. It works nonstop to process and break down toxins, provides us with energy, cleanses our blood, regulates our hormones, and performs 500 other vital functions. Without it, we’re not left with much.
The good news is our liver is capable of cleansing not only our bodies but ourselves. It does its own natural detox! Yet even though it has this ability, if we continue to weigh it down with the bad stuff like the wrong foods, its performance will diminish, and we can become very ill.
The problem is, we may not know our liver is suffering. We get treated for symptoms we may feel, and the liver is overlooked as the cause of these symptoms. Since the liver is so involved in making our bodies run properly, a troubled liver can be the root of many ailments.
Foods to Avoid for a Healthy Liver
So, if you care about your well-being and want to give your liver some help doing its job, let’s start with the basics of food – and what not to eat! Here are foods to avoid for the sake of your liver:
1. High-sugar fruits
Fruits are essential to any diet, as they provide us with antioxidants, vitamins, and other nutrients. But even some fruit can pose a threat to our liver. All fruit comes with some level of sugar commonly referred to as fructose. Such items high in fructose are raisins, fruit juices (mind your morning OJ), and honey (not a fruit, but a type of sugar).
In research published in Hepatology, which is the branch of medicine that looks at liver, gallbladder, and pancreas health, fructose was linked to a fatty liver, as well as inflammation.
Besides fruits, fructose can also be found in many processed foods and beverages, such as soda, fruit snacks, even bread and crackers. With fructose being such a commonly used ingredient, it’s easier to ingest high quantities of it, so read the food labels when you’re shopping.
Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported high fructose corn syrup is found in soda and is made up of 55 percent fructose. They noted that all that fructose was not only harmful by increasing obesity, but it can lead to liver damage. The next time you’re thirsty, you may want to avoid the juices and the soft drinks and opt for some water. Better yet, add some fresh lemon to really get some liver-detoxing benefits.
2. Red meat
Red meat Protein in any diet is essential, but you may want to cut down on your red meat intake if you want to protect your liver. If you’re a healthy person, your liver can easily break down such protein. But if you already have any health issues, your liver may not be able to keep up.
Large servings of red meat are taxing on the liver, so your liver has trouble properly breaking down the protein. When this occurs, the excess protein builds up, becoming toxic. In turn, these toxins affect the brain, which can bring on dizziness, brain fog, and fatigue.
Although red meat does not affect everyone equally, keep an eye out for any changes in your mental state. Your best bet is to enjoy red meat sparingly, especially if you’ve already been diagnosed with some form of liver disease. White meat, like chicken, and fish are great options to still get the protein you require on a daily basis.
Although our bodies do require some level of salt, too much of it can have serious health consequences. Usually, we associate too much sodium with raising our blood pressure, but because of its ability to retain water, it’s also not good for our livers.
Salt can lead to fluid build-up and swelling within the liver, and too much of it can lead to a fatty liver as well. This gets worse if your body already has a greater likelihood of retaining water. The National Institutes of Health recommends no more than 1,500 mg a day if you are prone to water retention. You may also want to skip out on canned soups, deli meats, and soya sauce to keep your salt levels low.
4. Fast food
If you find yourself stopping by those golden arches quite often throughout the week, it can be causing your liver some despair. Fast food is generally not good for our health, but especially so for our livers. Fast food increases your risk for obesity and also raises cholesterol, which is bad for your liver and heart alike.
Trans fats are also lurking in your French fries and donuts. A 2013 study, published in Hepatology, found that trans-fat increases fat within the liver. So although these meals are quick, they will leave a lasting impression on your liver.
The goods news, though? Research has shown that the effects of fast food on the liver can be reversed by cutting down or eliminating these types of food. So it’s not too late to switch up your diet now and start working on a leaner liver.
5. Fatty foods
Speaking of fast food, these types of foods are usually considered “fatty foods.” Consuming too many foods that are higher in saturated fats can make it harder for your liver to do its job. Over time, this can lead to inflammation or scarring of the liver, known as cirrhosis.
Next time you are in the drive-thru, consider ordering one of the healthier options. Your liver will thank you for it over time.
Consuming too much alcohol can cause havoc with your liver. Even occasional binge drinking (four drinks in one sitting for women and five for men) can be extremely harmful. Alcohol can change the chemicals that break down and remove scar tissue. This means that scar tissue can build up in the liver, replacing healthy cells. Over time, the liver will start to fail, leading to death.
Remember to drink responsibly if you want to keep your liver healthy. Limit drinks daily, and stay away from binge drinking.
Let’s be honest, freshly baked bread is a temptation for anyone. Nothing beats the aroma and the texture when you break open a loaf fresh from the oven. However, as tempting as it may be, you will want to stay far away from food items like bread and pasta due to the white flour it is made from.
Highly refined grains such as white flour convert into sugar when consumed and will eventually end up as fat in the liver. As one of the major causes of fatty liver disease, you will want to opt for healthy alternatives that will help your liver stay as healthy as possible.
8. Whipped cream
Yes, it is delicious. But whipped cream contains a lot of calories, fat, sugar, and saturated fat. All of these ingredients are toxic to your liver. So, you will want to avoid topping your desserts or your blended coffees with this sweet white cream for the sake of your liver.
Like all dairy products, butter is hard on the liver. The high levels of saturated fat found in butter are the biggest problem and can exacerbate liver problems.
Replace butter when cooking with olive oil, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids and can reduce liver enzyme levels. It can also aid in weight loss and control.
10. Whole milk
Another dairy product to steer clear of is whole milk. One cup of whole milk has about 9.1 grams of saturated fat, which is not ideal for those worried about their liver. Switch to low-fat dairy, which is high in whey protein to avoid any future damage to the liver.
11. Ice cream
This one is not just bad for your liver. Limit ice cream consumption for your overall health. Most ice cream has high sugar and saturated fat levels, a deadly combination for your liver and other organs.
Switch out ice cream and other desserts for other healthier options such as low-sugar fruit. And definitely don’t top it off with whipped cream!
Protecting Your Liver for Life
Besides the obvious things you should avoid for a healthy liver – alcohol and smoking – these other food items still pose a threat to your liver’s health. By keeping a watchful eye on what you’re consuming every day, you can ensure your liver continues to perform at its best and keep you healthy for the long haul.