(Try It With Tess) -- As many as 40% of Americans have something called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD.) It's when the liver accumulates fat, leading to inflammation. A fatty liver can lead to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH, which is the precursor to liver failure. Right now, there is no treatment for NASH except for dietary changes and weight loss.
Inspired by an article from this month's EatingWell Magazine, local registered dietitian Stephanie Espinoza clears up what the liver does for our bodies. Espinoza says how well your liver works comes down to what you put in your body. These days, more people are finding themselves with elevated liver enzymes that are not related to alcohol liver disease. She says it's because of the typical American diet- the fast food, the processed food, and the larger, over-indulgent portions.
Let's talk about the liver. It's actually like a big sponge and can hold up to 10% of your body's total blood volume. It filters 1.5 liters of blood every minute. Fatty liver causes it to harden, which impairs its function. The main function of the liver is to detoxify -- filter -- the blood that is coming from our digestive tract before passing it on to the rest of the body. It participates in the process of digestion by making and storing energy for the body, producing plasma proteins used for clotting and fluid balance. It stores fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, K, vitamin B12, copper, and iron. It also helps control blood sugar and is responsible for clearing out many different types of substances, including alcohol, chemicals and medications.
Espinoza says that's why it's so important to put the right fuel into our bodies, so the liver works the way it's meant to. There are certain foods we can eat to help the liver be a more efficient natural cleanser of toxins, including cauliflower, broccoli and other crucifers. Cruciferous vegetables contain a phytochemical called sulforaphane. A 2019 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at broccoli consumption and its impact on levels of air pollution chemicals in the bodies of adults living in China. The study showed that consuming 1 cup of broccoli a day for 10 days cleared out 63% or more of the pollutant benzene. Sulforaphane appears to boost levels of enzymes required for the liver to eliminate contaminants.
Another good nutrition tip for the liver: eat more whole grains instead of refined grains. A 2019 study published in the Journal of Nutrition showed whole grains also can improve liver health. Eating 5 servings a day of whole grains (barley, quinoa, whole wheat, brown rice, farro) versus refined grains for three months showed much improved liver enzyme profiles. The phytochemicals we get from whole foods are essential for good health.
Healthy eating doesn’t have to be time consuming or difficult. Try this easy-to-follow, delicious recipe for Broccoli Salad.