A healthy diet is essential for the well-being of the liver. Consumption of processed and refined food rich in unhealthy simple carbohydrates could lead to the deposition of excess glucose and fat as internal (visceral) fat that could lead to multiple liver diseases including fibrosis, fatty liver and liver inflammation.
Experts recommend these liver-friendly food items to ensure good liver health:
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Whole grains should be preferred over refined ones. Cereals like oatmeal, barley and bran are high in fibre which helps lower cholesterol levels and reduces liver inflammation.
“Whole grains, millets and wheat have an outer covering of fibre, called bran which helps in reducing the blood sugar levels. It reduces the insulin response because the release of glucose from all these grains is more sustained when compared to the ones that do not have the bran layer,” says Samreen Sharieff, a Bengaluru-based nutritionist.
Legumes and pulses
Indian legumes, like black channa (Bengal gram) and horse gram, are good sources of carbohydrates, proteins and dietary fibre. “They have resistant starch in them, a type of starch that gets converted into short-chain fatty acids by the gut microbiota. They help in improving the barrier present between our gut and blood and also prevent toxins to be released from the digestive tract to the blood,” says Sharieff.
Sharieff adds that legumes and pulses have a positive effect on blood sugar levels. Adding legumes to the diet helps to keep visceral fat under control and keep the liver healthy. A protein-rich diet is good for liver health.
Meat, poultry and fish
Food like fish (salmon), vegetables, walnuts and seeds (flax seeds, rapeseed) and olive oil contain omega-3 fatty acids that are good for the liver, says Dr Sonal Asthana, lead consultant, hepato-pancreato-biliary and liver transplant surgery, Aster CMI Hospital, Bengaluru.
“Omega 3 fatty acids have antioxidant properties. When oxidation happens in the body, a lot of free radicals (unstable molecules) are produced. These fatty acids scavenge all these free radicals and make it easier for the liver to eliminate them,” says Sharieff.
Foods with monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) are recommended for liver health. Sharieff also adds that food rich in unsaturated fats including MUFA are healthy fats as they lead to a minimum amount of fat deposition in our liver. “Saturated fats in the body trigger deposition of fat in the liver, which is the main cause of fatty liver. But when it comes to unsaturated fats, the chances of deposition of fat is reduced.”
Most of the nuts and seeds including pistachios, hazelnuts, cashew, almond and peanuts are rich in MUFA. She also adds that most unsaturated fats have an anti-inflammatory effect and thus are good for liver health.
Oils like mustard oil, sesame oil, rice bran oil and olive oil are also good for the liver when consumed in a safe amount. These oils are also rich in monosaturated fatty acids. However, experts point out that oil should always be used in moderation.
“It is advisable not to reheat the same oil again. Rotate your oils on a weekly basis. For instance, on Monday and Tuesday, you can use mustard oil and on the rest of the days, you can use rice bran oil. The essential fats you get from each oil are different. So, you should make sure you get the best from each of these ingredients,” adds Sharieff.
Fruits like apples, blueberries, grapes, grapefruit, lemons, oranges, pineapple, strawberries and tomatoes are rich in nutrients and antioxidants that protect the liver from damage. “Citrus fruits like grapefruit and lemon are good sources of vitamin C,” says Dr Asthana.
Fruits should also be consumed in moderation as it has fructose and water. Excess ingestion of glucose and fructose-rich food could lead to blood sugar fluctuations. Sharieff points out that excess fructose could lead to visceral fat deposition in the liver.
Vegetables like beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, green beans, onion, spinach, turmeric and garlic are rich in antioxidants, minerals and vitamins. Leafy greens specifically help in the detoxification of the liver.
“Cruciferous vegetables like brussels sprout and broccoli are rich sources of plant protein,” says Dr Asthana.
Coffee has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which are associated with a lower risk of liver diseases. There are studies which say coffee alone can reverse fibrosis and make the liver normal again,” says Dr Somashekhar Rao, gastroenterology, consultant hepatologist and gastroenterologist, Apollo Hospitals, Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad.
“Coffee is a big super food for the liver. It decreases inflammation in the liver and promotes antioxidants within. People with an infection in the liver tend to do better when they consume coffee,” says Dr Asthana.
Samreen says the recommended caffeine intake is between 200mg and 400 mg per day.
The liver is responsible for filtering out toxins from the body. Any condition that affects our liver would have a direct bearing on our metabolic and hormonal health. Visceral fat deposition could also lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. However, avoiding processed and refined food, following a balanced diet with minimum simple carbohydrates and controlling alcohol consumption could help keep the liver healthy.