Spring has arrived, ushering in longer days, warmer temperatures and a sense of renewal and optimism. For many, this change of season also brings with it a desire to make a fresh start in our health and well-being for the year ahead.
There is no better place to begin to refresh your body than by giving a little love and attention to one of our most important — and possibly underappreciated — organs: the liver.
In fact, every single thing that we eat, inhale or absorb enters the bloodstream and is eventually filtered by our liver. Among its countless, crucial roles are metabolizing carbohydrates and forming metabolic proteins, regulating blood sugar levels and hormones, filtering the blood from the digestive system, metabolizing drugs and chemicals, breaking down alcohol, producing bile for digestion and storing vitamins and minerals such as iron.
There are many factors that can affect the efficiency of this vital organ, but our hectic and often stressful lifestyles as well as poor diet choices (think: sugar, trans- fat, processed foods, excess alcohol and drugs) can have a big impact. Exposure to exogenous chemicals like pesticides, pollution and chemical-laden body products can also be taxing on the liver.
Over time, these lifestyle choices can make our liver sluggish and result in a depressed immune system — and along with it, a slew of health problems (think: digestive issues, hormonal imbalances, weight gain, fatigue and skin problems).
There are many different approaches marketed to help our liver function optimally. We hear about weekly cleanses, supplements such as milk thistle and dandelion or specific short-term diets that incorporate fasting, juicing or creative menus.
Some people swear by these methods and feel the results. However, they can be stressful on the body, expensive and, more importantly, they often offer short-term solutions instead of long-term ongoing maintenance.
Regardless, the reality remains that life can be busy and we may not always make the best food choices. But if we slow down our pace of life just a bit and add some liver-friendly foods into our diets daily, we can help our liver to do its job more efficiently all year while still enjoying some guilty pleasure along the way.
Try some of these liver supportive foods daily to keep your liver in tip top shape:
These powerhouses of nutrition are high in both soluble and insoluble fibre, which helps the body to clear excess toxins, cholesterol and may help to block excess estrogen as well. Flax makes a great egg replacement in baking or a great yogurt topper.
All leafy greens including spinach, romaine, are good sources of chlorophyll, which helps to clean the blood and also to support optimum cellular function. Bitters such as arugula, dandelion, kale and endive help stimulate the liver function and are especially potent. Toss them in olive oil with some heart friendly nuts, add them raw as a pizza topper or blend them in a green drink.
Brassicas such as broccoli, cauliflower or turnip are your liver’s best friend. Not only are they high in fibre, but they contain enzymes, antioxidants and glucosinolate compounds that are responsible for eliminating carcinogens and toxins within the body. Steam lightly, cook into a soup, or serve them with a freshly made dip.
Pucker up because these beauties provide quality enzymes as well as ample vitamin C, both needed for the liver to clear toxins. Lemon juice can be added into an oil and vinegar dressing, drizzled over freshly steamed vegetables, made into a delicious lemonade(sugar-free, of course) or added into a glass of tepid water for an alkalinizing morning digestive aid.
Garlic contains the sulfur compound allicin, which helps the liver to eliminate hormones and chemicals. It is also a source of selenium, a potent antioxidant. Inexpensive, it is best eaten freshly minced into an olive oil and herb salad dressing, added to a pasta sauce or roasted and added to a dish.
This root vegetable is full of vitamins and minerals including beta carotene and glutathione that help the liver to eliminate contaminants and assist the gallbladder. Beets can be juiced with other vegetables to make a super healthy pick-me-up, pickled, blended into a baked good, or simply steamed and tossed on a salad or with a meal.