Of the five vital organs, the liver stands out as the fuzziest in my high school bio memories. It doesn’t have its own songs à la “Achy-Breaky Heart.” And, let’s face it, it will never be the brain of the entire operation. Yet nutritionist Charles Passler, DC, founder of Pure Change, is pretty keen on giving the organ (which sits right above your stomach, BTW) a rebrand.
Why, you ask? The liver plays a vital role in shepherding out what your body doesn’t need. “When the liver is working optimally, it can take toxins stored throughout your body, convert them into their water soluble form, and efficiently excrete them from your body,” explains Dr. Passler. With the right food on your plate, he says, you can more easily flush out foreign chemicals—like the ones you pick up from the environment, beauty products, or processed foods.
The American Liver Foundation’s healthy eating guidelines echo Dr. Passler’s points. It also recommends a diet rich in fiber sourced from fruit, veggies, and whole grains. Small amounts of non-red meat, as well as low-fat dairy and healthy monounsaturated fats (like avocado!) are also on the menu.
Follow those broad nutritional guidelines and you’re already off to a good start—but let’s dive deeper on the foods the liver really, truly loves.
Keep reading for 8 powerful liver cleansing foods to give your bod an assist.
“Eating garlic helps activate the liver detox enzymes,” explains Dr. Passler. (Basically, these enzymes assist in breaking down toxins and eliminating them from your system.) Garlic also contains 39 different antibacterial agents, making it a great food for protecting your bod against illnesses.
To best make use of this flavor-packed food, opt for organic and fresh garlic whenever possible. “When eating garlic fresh, the allicin compound can help kill unfriendly organisms in your intestines that produce toxins in your gastrointestinal tract,” Dr. Passler says. Try sneaking an extra clove or two into your weeknight dinner veggies or Caesar salad.
If you’ve never jumped on the beet juice train, now is the perfect time to give it a try. (As if the veggie’s high antioxidant content and ability to improve exercise performance weren’t reason enough.)
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“Beets activate liver enzymes and [affect] bile, which helps break down and absorb healthy fats and fat-soluble nutrients like vitamin E,” says Dr. Passler. “When your liver transforms fat and soluble toxins into their water-soluble form for excretion, it binds many of those toxins to bile so they can be escorted out of your body in bowel movements.”
3. Organic apples
Adding sliced Granny Smiths to your snack rotation can be really beneficial for your gut. Apples, which contain lots of fiber, “can help with cleaning out your bowels and introducing friendly bacteria,” says Dr. Passler. (It’s important to go organic, however, since apples are a staple on the Dirty Dozen—the list of the most-pesticide-laden produce.)
To take your fiber game to the next level, make sure to leave the skin on your apples and try having them for breakfast with chia seeds—another key source of gut-friendly fiber.
4. Broccoli sprouts
Broccoli sprouts are “rich in antioxidants and boost up glutathione even better than straight broccoli, which means they support both phases of liver detoxification,” explains Dr. Passler.
Broccoli sprouts’ benefits go beyond just the liver. “They contain the precursors of a highly studied substance known as sulforaphane, which has been shown to help prevent certain cancers,” Dr. Passler points out. Sorry, Brussels sprouts—you’ve officially been one-upped.
Another fruit worth serving up for some liver love is watermelon. Fitting the bill for the American Liver Foundation’s fiber recommendation, a two-cup serving is just right. Watermelon also contains the antioxidant lycopene, which has been found to raise gluatathione levels in the body.
6. Fermented foods
According to Dr. Passler, if you’ve been feeling bloated or constipated for more than three days, it’s a sign that you could use some more fermented foods in your life. Kefir, sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi—all of these tangy treats introduce gut-friendly bacteria to colonize the intestines and promote healthy elimination. Plus, it’s really easy to prepare your own ferments at home. If you’ve got 24 hours to spare you can make this coconut rose kefir, and if you’re a little more patient, why not brew your own kombucha (and save a lot of money in the process)?
You may have already heard of the brain-boosting power of the mighty walnut. But did you know it’s also a whiz in the liver department?
“First off, walnuts help increase circulation and blood flow so toxins are more efficiently transported from different points in your body to your liver,” says Dr. Passler. (Cue the breakdown-and-elimination process.) So next time you head out for happy hour, make sure you’ve got this walnut crumble on hand for breakfast the morning after—your brain, liver, and taste buds will thank you.
Oh, avocado: the Beyoncé of produce. This green beauty comes with twofer benefits of fiber (about 3 grams per serving) and healthy fats. Meaning the American Liver Foundation would say check, check, and check to adding a myriad of avocado dishes to your meal lineup.