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Your liver is important…
Your liver is one of the hardest-working, multi-tasking organs in your entire body. Its roles include:
- detoxifying the blood and cleansing the body of accumulated chemicals, alcohol, excess hormones, medications and toxins
- regulating blood composition to balance levels of protein, fat and sugar
- producing bile and enzymes needed for the digestion of fats
- breaking down and expelling excess hormones to prevent imbalances
- storing extra nutrients including iron, vitamins and minerals
- helping to balance electrolyte levels (like calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium)
What causes fat to accumulate in the liver?
Liver disease and other forms of fatty liver syndrome are caused when the liver stops being able to properly process the many different substances, including fats/lipids, that pass through it daily.
Once fat levels in the liver rise high enough to make up between 5-10 percent of the liver’s total mass, liver disease is diagnosed.
Liver disease is very serious and dangerous, even deadly, and most common among alcoholics, those taking medications long-term, smokers or drug users, and people consuming a poor diet for many years.
The two main types of fatty liver disease are alcoholic liver disease (caused by very heavy alcohol consumption) and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, caused by a combination of factors that are both genetic and lifestyle-related. Having high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, an autoimmune disease or being overweight/obese can all increase your risk for liver damage.
Liver damage causes fat accumulation because it changes the way that fat is absorbed, oxidized and exported from the digestive system. When blood passes through a damaged liver more fat than normal is absorbed, and at the same time not enough is disposed of as liver cells hold onto the excess fat.
Scarring can start to form in the liver, malnutrition and fatigue can increase, inflammation levels can rise and a host of symptoms can appear.
Which foods, drinks and chemicals make liver fat worse?
Both malnutrition and rapid weight loss can contribute to fatty liver disease. This means it’s important to eat fresh, real, nutrient-dense foods as much as possible and to skip fad or crash dieting, which usually only backfires.
Foods that can contribute to liver inflammation, scarring and fat-accumulation include:
- foods with trans or hydrogenated fats (fast foods, fried foods, and many packaged snacks)
- highly-processed meats which contain nitrates including hot dogs, salami, pepperoni and cold-cuts
- high-sugar foods and beverages
- processed carbohydrates and grains including bread, rice, grits and corn
- high-sodium packaged foods, which also tend to have artificial ingredients and refined vegetable oils which are difficult to break down properly (like sunflower, safflower, corn and soybean oil)
- “diet” foods which contain synthetic sweeteners, fillers, preservatives and flavors
- too much red meat, especially if it’s low-quality/farm-raised and the animals were given hormones and antibiotics
How can the Paleo diet help reverse liver damage and fat accumulation?
The Paleo diet eliminates many of the most problematic, modern-day convenience foods that drive up liver damage. While any way of eating that promotes eliminating package/processed foods is a step in the right direction, the Paleo diet takes things one step further by paying close attention to food quality.
For example, even though meat, fish and eggs are Paleo-friendly foods, not all types are created equally.
Low-quality animal foods can contain numerous toxics, hormones and antibiotics, and overcooking them only makes things worse.
Dairy products, processed grains and sugar carbohydrate foods are also replaced with starchy veggies and fresh fruit on the Paleo diet.
Foods such as bread, rice, grits and corn should be avoided because they provide little available nutrients, yet lots of junky ingredients that only spike blood sugar.
Studies have found that insulin resistance is a major contributing factor to liver damage and disease.
That’s why the Paleo diet also places sugary snacks and beverages (like sports drinks, soda, and most juices) off limits in place of plain water, herbal tea, bone broth, fresh veggies juice and organic coffee.
What kind of Paleo foods help prevent liver fat most?
Paleo-approved foods that can help improve liver function include:
- raw vegetables and fruits, especially beets, celery, greens, asparagus, berries, citrus and melon
- bitter foods, such as dandelion greens, horseradish, herbs
- foods high in electrolytes like magnesium and potassium. These include leafy greens, bananas, sweet potatoes, squash and avocado
- organic, grass-fed and pasture-raised meat and poultry
- bone broth and organ meats (like chicken liver or pate)
- wild-caught seafood that’s high in omega-3s, especially salmon, mackerel, halibut and sarindines
- herbs and spices including ginger, parsley and turmeric. You might also want to try including herbal supplements like milk thistle, burdock root and dandelion root which help improve with detoxification
Like with all health conditions, variety in your diet and balance are key.
Eat a variety of brightly colored, fresh plant foods (a sign they are high in antioxidants which helps prevent liver inflammation), plus quality animal products and healthy fats.
Healthy fats aren’t going to cause liver fat, it’s the processed kinds that are unnatural that you want to avoid most.
By sticking to a natural Paleo diet that’s very low in synthetic ingredients, allergens and toxins, you place the least amount of stress possible on your liver while also boosting its ability to detoxify your system.
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