1 – Almonds
Almonds are a popular snacking option for a reason – not only do these small, creamy nuts taste delicious, they’re also a rich source of vitamin E. When it comes to your liver, vitamin E can be extremely beneficial: firstly, it can act as an antioxidant, protecting your liver from harmful free-radical molecules and oxidative stress. Secondly, studies have found that, in instances of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD), vitamin E may actually help to improve symptoms!1 That’s definitely worth thinking about the next time you’re looking for a guilt-free snack at work!
What’s the best way to eat almonds? There are plenty of ways of incorporating almonds into your diet! As I’ve mentioned, they’re an excellent guilt-free treat, but if you don’t fancy eating them on their own you could create your own trail mix by combining almonds with dried fruits and other nuts and seeds. You could even use almonds more in home baking – we have a fantastic recipe here for Coconut & Almond Granola that may help to kick-start your morning!
2 – Blueberries
When it comes to antioxidants, dark skinned berries take top position. They might be small but raspberries, cranberries and the like are extremely potent and blueberries especially are amazing when it comes to preventing oxidative stress. In fact, studies have found that blueberries may even help to strengthen your immune system thus benefitting your liver – just a few portions every week could help to protect your liver from damage and encourage the proliferation of antioxidant enzymes.2
What’s the best way to eat blueberries? Blueberries are extremely versatile but ideally, they should be eaten as fresh as possible – when juiced or blitzed they can sometimes lose their content of fibre. You could try having a bowl of blueberries topped with natural yoghurt or you could sprinkle them over your breakfast. I sometimes even make blueberry compote to drizzle over pancakes using this recipe for easy to make blueberry pancakes.
3 – Broccoli
Crunchy and high in fibre, broccoli might seem a bit bland at first but there’s plenty of ways you can enhance its flavour which is just as well for your liver. While most of the studies concerning broccoli’s potential benefits for the liver have been conducted on animals, a more recent study using humans has produced positive results. In this study, men with fatty livers were introduced to broccoli sprout extract and the trial found that this broccoli-derived ingredient was capable of increasing liver enzyme levels whilst combating free-radical damage.3
How should I eat broccoli? Broccoli isn’t the most attractive vegetable and most people consider it to be a dull addition to a meal. This doesn’t have to be the case though – broccoli can taste delicious when added to soups or grilled with herbs and spices. You could even try growing your own broccoli sprouts and sprinkling them over sandwiches or stir fries!
4 – Brussel sprouts
It turns out that Brussel sprouts aren’t just for the holiday season – ideally we should be eating a lot more of them all year round! Just like broccoli, this cruciferous vegetable is rich in vitamin C, fibre and antioxidants. Great if you’re looking to protect your liver from free-radical damage, but even better if you’re trying to reduce your levels of inflammation. Several studies have examined the anti-inflammatory benefits of Brussel sprouts, with test-tube and animal-based studies focusing on kaempferol, an antioxidant compound present in Brussel sprouts which is thought to have particularly powerful anti-inflammatory properties.4
How do you cook Brussel sprouts? When it comes to eating Brussel sprouts, most of us probably don’t give them the attention they deserve. They’re actually pretty versatile – you can roast them with spices, pan fry with seasoning or even incorporate them into tasty stir fries.
5 – Grapes
Grapes are surprisingly rich in nutrients, with dark red or purple in particular containing a bountiful amount of antioxidants, including resveratrol which can help to lower inflammation quite dramatically.5 It isn’t just the flesh or the skin of grapes that’s useful either –studies have found that grape seeds may also be beneficial too. One such study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology found that grape seeds, in addition to other parts of the grape fruit, were capable preventing liver damage6 whilst another smaller study discovered that supplementing with grape seed extract over a 3 month period actually helped to improve liver function in those with Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD).7
Which part of the grape is best? Grapes are good to incorporate into your diet but the seeds often pose a hazard, particularly to young children, so if you really want to reap the benefit of this part of the grape fruit, a supplement might be your best option. Fortunately grape seed extract is enjoying something of a popularity surge at the moment so there are plenty of options available – Solgar’s Grape Seed Extract is just one amongst the many you can find with our friends at Jan de Vries.
6 – Oily fish
Oily fish should definitely be top of mind for more of us meat-eaters as fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines happen to be rich in a variety of nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids. If you’ve read my blog, ‘9 incredible health benefits of omega-3’, then you should already have some idea about just how important these types of fatty acids are. Not only are omega-3 fatty acids naturally anti-inflammatory, they can also help to support everything from your mood, cognitive function, muscles and joints and eyes! However, research is now starting to suggest that omega-3 could help to improve liver function in some patients that suffer from NAFLD, helping to support insulin sensitivity and their metabolism of certain fats.8
How can I get more omega-3 in my diet if I’m vegan? Eating more oily fish is all very well if you’re comfortable eating meat but, if you’re not, how can you get more omega-3 into your diet? Well, a number of plant-based foods such as chia seeds, hemp seed oil and even Brussel sprouts contain a form of omega-3 fatty acids known as ALA. Unfortunately, while ALA can be converted into DHA and EPA (the types of omega-3 fatty acids that are often associated with the most health benefits) this process isn’t perfect. That’s why I tend to also recommend trying a vegan-friendly omega-3 supplement like BioCare’s Phytomega-3, which is derived from algal oil and contains plenty of DHA and EPA.
7 – Olive oil
The virtues of extra virgin olive oil are widely extolled and form the backbone of one of the world’s healthiest diets, the Mediterranean diet. The healthy monounsaturated fats present in olive oil are believed to have a wide range of health benefits; they are naturally anti-inflammatory and can actually lower your levels of harmful LDL cholesterol, reducing your risk of heart disease. Olive oil also contains potent antioxidants which will almost certainly help to protect your liver; in fact a few recent animal-trials have found that a compound usually found in olive oil, hydroxytyrosol, might just help to reverse the damage found in NAFLD.9 Of course, further human-based studies are needed but thus far these results are proving very optimistic.
How can I get more olive oil in my diet? When it comes to olive oil, the key thing to remember is that quality counts. Organic, extra virgin olive oil is always the preferred form of this food and, while you can definitely use it as a cooking oil, it’s also quite a nice idea to try drizzling it over salads or mixing with herbs and spices (as demonstrated in our Avocado and Grapefruit Salad recipe) to form your own dressing.
8 – Papaya
Popular for their creamy, sweet taste, papayas are extremely sought after during the warmer summer months and are often added to fruit salads and other dishes. They’re an excellent source of vitamin A and vitamin C, so it goes without saying that they can have powerful antioxidant actions on the body. One particular antioxidants that papaya contains might have some advantages for your liver according to a study published in the FASEB Journal. This antioxidant compound, known as pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ) may play a role in influencing the progression of NAFLD, although the exact mechanism isn’t quite realised yet.10 Still, including more papaya in your diet certainly isn’t a bad thing – in addition to containing potent antioxidants, papayas can also help to support the digestion of protein, preventing symptoms such as bloating and discomfort.
How can I get more papaya in my diet? Papayas are often compared to melons in terms of taste, but making sure you get them when they’re properly ripened is really important as they tend to lose their taste if they’re unripe. You can cook papayas or you can serve them in salads or even make them into chutneys – they’re extremely versatile so don’t be afraid to experiment!
9 – Prickly pear
This spiky exotic fruit has started to gain a favourable reputation in recent years, being touted for everything, from lowering high cholesterol to diminishing hangovers. When it comes to your liver though, prickly pear actually has some evidence to back up its claims. An article published in the US Library of Medicine, located within the National Institutes of Health, stated that prickly pear juice was capable of decreasing the amount of oxidative damage to the liver after drinking alcohol11 while another published in Scientific America examined a study. In this study, 55 healthy participants were given either an extract of prickly pear juice or a placebo five hours before consuming alcohol. The results revealed that the subjects who drank the prickly pear juice experienced a less severe hangover and had lower levels of C-reactive protein, which is often linked to inflammation.12
Where do I get prickly pears from? If you live here in the UK, the chances are you might not know where exactly to find prickly pears – they don’t exactly sound like something you can pick off the supermarket shelves. The good news is that many health food shops throughout the UK are now stocking these prickly fruits so it might be worth getting in contact with your local store to find out.
10 – Water
Okay, so technically not a food but I’m still including it on this list due its significance and how often this simple step gets overlooked! Unsurprisingly, staying hydrated is perhaps the most important thing you can do for your liver. If you’re drinking plenty of fluids (and by plenty, I mean around 1.5-2 litres of plain water a day!) then it will help to filter out all those nasty toxins. If you become dehydrated though, it can impact your liver’s ability to detoxify your body and place it under additional pressure as all those toxins and waste chemicals start to build up. That’s why you should be doing your liver a favour and making sure you’re hydrated – remember, tea, coffee and fizzy drinks don’t count!