Your liver is one of the most important organs in your body and performs over 500 functions in the human body, according to Brittany Michels, MS, RDN, LDN, with The Vitamin Shoppe. But one of its main functions is to remove the internal and external contaminants that our bodies come in contact with on a daily basis.
“These include air, water and food contaminants, drugs, alcohol, microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites, as well as internally produced toxins created by essential body processes,” says Michels. “Our liver is the main organ responsible for detoxification and it does so by converting toxins into compounds that can be easily eliminated from the body. The liver filters about a liter of blood per minute.”
She notices it when your liver is not functioning at optimal levels, it will have reduced detoxification efficiency, increasing the stress on the body.
“The liver also produces bile, which aids in both the absorption of fat and the transport of waste (including converted toxins) out of the body through the digestive tract,” says Michels.
What you eat can have a big impact on your liver health. According to Michels, the best eating habit for your liver is limit exposure to environmental toxins through food sourcesin particular insecticides, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and heavy metals (mercury, lead, arsenic and cadmium).
“Exposure to these three environmental toxins is associated with elevated liver enzymes, fatty liver and liver cancer risk,” says Michels. “It is estimated that over 30% of the US population has the most common form of liver disease, called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.”
So how exactly can you do it? Being aware of dietary and supplementary choices.
Explain that animal and fatty foods contain the highest levels of PCBs and pesticides because these contaminants are stored in the fat, which becomes more concentrated as they move up the food chain.
“PCBs and pesticides also accumulate in rivers, lakes and sediments in coastal areas, so they accumulate in fish,” explains Michels. “The FDA monitors food and drinking water levels; however, it would be a useful and proactive step to be aware of food exposure to heavy metals. Fish, bone broth, rice, vegetable oils, peanuts, some root vegetables (such as potatoes), food dyes, corn syrups and preservatives (such as sodium benzoate) are the biggest culprits of heavy metals. “
Michels points to Consumer Reports data suggesting limiting rice-based food intake to less than seven points per week. Michels also suggests that it might also help choose low-fat and / or organic dairy options as well as whole foods over processed ones.
Here are a couple more tips for limiting environmental exposure to food when it comes to protein.
Choose your fish wisely.
“Choose fish wisely and beware of fish that contain high levels of PCBs, pesticides and heavy metals,” says Michels. Common commercial fish high in PCBs and pesticides include Atlantic or farmed salmon, bluefish, wild bass, plaice and blue crab. Fish richest in mercury and other heavy metals include bluefish, shark, fish swordfish, king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, tilefish, ouches and bigeye tuna. Remove skin and cut fat when preparing fish to reduce exposure. “
Choose lean proteins.
“Choose lean animal protein sources and buy organic when possible because environmental toxins can build up in fats,” says Michels. “It’s a great idea to get to know your farmer and be aware of potential exposures.”
Michels also notes that she is wary of fish oil supplements.
“Buy fish oil that has been third-party tested and is guaranteed free of heavy metals like mercury, lead and other environmental toxins, such as PCBs and pesticides,” says Michels. “Buy fish oil made from sardines, anchovies, mackerel, whiting or cod. And buy brands that reveal the source of the oil.”