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 reasons for 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, provide 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 itself. 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 4 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
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 buildup 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.
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.