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Registered dietitians share the worst foods for liver health

Registered dietitians share the worst foods for liver health

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Your liver is important – so take care of it!

There are some parts of the body that you probably don’t think about regularly. (When was the last time you wondered how your spleen was doing?) That is, until something goes wrong. The liver is an organ that we often take for granted, but its importance cannot be underestimated.

“The liver produces bile, which is important for the digestion of fats. It also works to detoxify substances that are foreign to the body and store fat-soluble vitamins, among other functions,” says Dr. Jinan Banna, PhD, RD, registered dietitian and associate professor in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences at the University of Hawaii.

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Registered Dietitian Lindsey Hall, RD, emphasizes that the liver is vital. “One of its main roles is to process and metabolize the nutrients, hormones and substances – such as drugs – that pass through our blood to maintain balance in our bodies and eliminate potential toxic effects,” she says. Hall adds that the liver also serves as a storehouse of energy, otherwise known as glycogen (which is the stored form of glucose) and micronutrients.

Clearly, liver health is key. This is why it is so alarming that the rise in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is on the rise; approximately 25 percent people in the US have this chronic liver disease. NAFLD occurs when there is a build-up of fat in the liver cells that is not caused by alcohol.

How can you keep your liver healthy? Here, nutritionists share the best and worst foods for liver health.

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What is the worst food for liver health?

Both Dr. Bana and Hall say there’s one category of foods that really aren’t good for liver health: ultra-processed foods that are high in sugar or sodium. This includes things like cookieschips, sugary cereal, candy, hot dogs and french fries.

“When we consume sugar in excess, whether it’s from refined carbohydrates like white bread or candy, and our bodies don’t need it at the time for energy, we will store the remaining sugar as fat, and that fat can be stored in the liver,” says Hall.

As for foods high in sodium, there is also a strong association between high-sodium diets and NAFLD; people with a high-sodium diet are up to 60 percent more likely to be diagnosed with NAFLD.

Both experts also say that foods high in saturated fat should be kept to a minimum when eating for liver health. Foods high in saturated fat include bacon, sausages, red meat, butter, pastries and ice cream. “Some saturated fat is good in the diet, but saturated fat in excess can lead to fat accumulation in the liver,” says Dr. Bana.

Hall explains why foods high in saturated fat should be kept to a minimum because increased saturated fat intake is often associated with elevated blood lipid levels, obesity, and insulin resistance—all conditions that which may increase the risk of NAFLD. “The association between saturated fat consumption and these health conditions known to increase the risk of NAFLD is partly due to the creation of harmful ceramides [lipids]says Hall. “When saturated fat is consumed in excess, it can lead to the production of these ceramides, which are fatty molecules that can have harmful effects, increasing the risk of conditions such as insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.”

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What to eat instead to support liver health

Now that you know the worst foods for liver health, the question becomes what to eat instead. As you can probably guess, the same foods that are good for other parts of the body, including the brain, heart and gut, also support liver health. “Eating a balanced diet that’s rich in plant-based foods is a good way to keep your liver healthy,” says Dr. Bana.

Not sure where to start? She recommends focusing on fiber, a nutrient Dr. Bana says most Americans don’t get enough of and is found in foods including fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Scientific research has established a strong link between a high-fiber diet and improved liver health.

Unlike saturated fat, both experts say that unsaturated fat helps maintain liver health. “As much as it’s helpful to limit saturated fat consumption for liver health, unsaturated fat intake is becoming more important because our bodies do need some fat for metabolic processes,” says Hall. Foods with saturated fat include avocadoolive oil and nuts and seeds.

Hall regularly recommends Mediterranean diet for customers looking for a meal plan that supports liver health. This way of eating emphasizes foods rich in both fiber and unsaturated fats, as well as proteins derived primarily from plants and seafood.

It’s worth repeating that when you eat with liver health in mind, you end up supporting your entire body, including your brain, heart, and gut. If you have already been diagnosed with NAFLD, it is also important to know this can be reversed. That’s how powerful eating habits and lifestyle are. No one should have to live with NAFLD. This is one disease we can control. Pretty empowering, right?

next, see a list of 110 foods you can eat while following the Mediterranean diet.

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