Detox Your Liver for Vitality

Your liver is frequently under appreciated, yet is one of the most important organs in your body! The liver has hundreds of different functions, two of the primary being to store vital nutrients for your body and to filter and breakdown chemicals that would otherwise be harmful to our bodies. As our world has become more industrialized, we are now more commonly exposed to both natural and unnatural substances that our livers must filter. These substances can come from a variety of sources, be it chemicals (pesticides, industrial chemicals, solvents, toiletries etc.), drugs and medications, or poor diet (including alcohol, caffeine, and sugar). Exposure to these substances can lead to your liver being overburdened, and an overburdened liver can lead to chronic fatigue, allergies, improper digestion of food, body aches, headaches, brain fog, depression, and fatty liver disease. Some, including myself, argue that an overtaxed liver will result in a toxic body, promoting the ideal environment for almost all chronic diseases and disorders!

There are a number of options to consider when it comes to finding a protocol to help detoxify and cleanse your liver. Some protocols are more extreme than others, so always choose the option you feel most comfortable with. Small changes in your lifestyle can have a dramatic effect on how you feel and your quality of life. That being said, some of the more ‘extreme’ options can be more effective than other ‘less extreme’ options.

Diet and exercise are the foundation of a quality life and is one of the most important protocols for keeping your liver in tip-top shape. Processed foods lack essential nutrients your body requires to function optimally — this includes allowing your liver to work its magic and keep your body clean! Additionally, most processed foods contain preservatives in the form of chemicals, which put a great strain on your liver to eliminate. Usually, they also contain sugar, another substance your liver must eliminate. Keep your foods as simple and whole as possible to provide yourself with the most amount of nutrients, and test yourself for food intolerances and allergies — these foods can put an enormous strain on your entire body, not just your liver. Be sure to include high quality fats in your diet, such as olive oil, coconut oil, or even butter! Your liver works in conjunction with your gallbladder, the organ responsible for digesting fats. If you give your body the proper fats it needs, your gallbladder will release bile for digestion. The magic is that bile is actually created from the toxins your liver removes from your body! Limiting or eliminating alcohol, caffeine, and sugar consumption will also take tremendous strides in detoxifying your liver.

Milk Thistle

Herbs and cleansing foods are another facet to consider to detoxify your liver. Milk thistle is one of the most well known and well researched herbs when it comes to aiding and cleansing your liver. It contains numerous antioxidants and compounds that not only help your liver function more optimally, but also help prevent your liver from absorbing any dangerous compounds it filters while it works. Two other herbs include artichoke and dandelion, both which have been used for thousands of years to promote better digestion and aid the liver. These three herbs can be found at health food stores in whole, capsule, or tincture form, and are frequently placed together in various tonics. Adding specific foods known to help cleanse the liver can also be a great asset to liver detox. Such foods include dark leafy greens, including the three herbs above in their whole form, other green vegetables (such as cabbage and asparagus), garlic, turmeric, citrus fruit, carrots, beets, and apples in their various form. Apples contain two important substances for helping to detox the liver: pectin, a form of soluble fiber, and malic acid, which can help fat digestion and help break down gallstones in your gallbladder.

Dandelion

Liver cleanses and fasting are the more ‘extreme’ methods of detoxifying your liver, and different variations can also be more ‘extreme’ than others. Such variations can include the olive oil liver cleanse, coffee enemas, apple juice fasting, vegetable juice fasting, and water fasting. Each of these techniques deserves their own post, as each requires its own unique protocol while being conducted. Look for a series of upcoming articles beginning this week, starting with the olive oil liver cleanse!

The Health Benefits of Kale

Dark leafy greens are widely known to be the most nutritious of vegetables, but even among the greens, kale may stand alone as the single most nutritious vegetable! In recent years, kale has gained tremendous popularity as a go-to vegetable for its outstanding nutritional profile, versatility in dishes, and delicious flavor.

As with most vegetables, kale is grown in a number of varieties: leafy green, dinosaur, curly, and even ornamental for your garden. Kale belongs to the Brassica family of vegetables, which includes other cruciferous vegetables known to be nutrition all-stars, such as asparagus, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli. Among vegetables, cruciferous vegetables are widely touted for their anti-cancer properties. Numerous studies have been conducted and repeated showing a strong correlation between the consumption of eating cruciferous vegetables and a lower risk of all forms of cancer. This lowered risk is regularly attributed to the phytochemicals found in cruciferous vegetables, of which kale is especially abundant.

The health benefits of kale are attributed to its large concentration of various vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Kale is incredibly rich in Vitamin K, an important fat-soluble vitamin that can dramatically reduce of your chances of developing cancer, but is also important for numerous bodily functions, including helping to regulate blood clotting and reduce blood pressure. A single cup of cooked kale can contain as much as 1300% of your recommended daily intake! Kale is also abound with beta-carotene, the precursor to Vitamin A, another important nutrient connected to reducing your risk for cancer, as well as nearly all other age-related and degenerative diseases. That single cup of cooked kale can contain as much as 350% of your recommended daily intake! Kale is also a nutritional powerhouse when it comes to Vitamin C, manganese, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and iron. Potassium and magnesium are crucial minerals for optimum bodily function, especially when it comes to regulating blood pressure and lowering your risk for heart disease. Recent studies suggest that the calcium contained within kale is easily absorbed by the human body, making it an ideal food for those looking to maintain bone health.

Dark leafy greens, including kale, have been revered throughout history for their medicinal properties. They are frequently considered to be ‘liver cleansing foods,’ perhaps in part to their large concentrations of folate, a vitamin known to strengthen your liver, which in turns helps to cleanse and detoxify your body as a whole. Dark leafy greens are also widely known for their anti-inflammatory properties, helping to reduce all degenerative diseases, but also help remedy conditions such as arthritis and pain, and reduce your chances of heart disease and high blood pressure.

Kale can be prepared in a variety of ways. One of the most common methods of preparation is the lightly steam it, perhaps alone or accompanied by other vegetables. Likewise, you can also saute it lightly in a vegetable medley. A method of preparation that is gaining popularity is to create ‘kale chips.’ These ‘chips’ are created by wetting your kale and coating it in various ingredients, such as other vegetable powders (onion, garlic, carrot, bell pepper, etc.), ground seeds or nuts (sunflower seeds and cashews being the most popular), and nutritional yeast. After coating, the kale is then either dehydrated or cooked at a low temperature as to not burn. This is a unique, delicious, and nutritious method for eating kale. While you can make your own kale chips, they are now more easily located at numerous health food stores. You may find you like them more than potato chips!

Feeling Full and Satisfied with Food

The latest fad diets are hard to ignore. They are plastered in front of our faces on magazine covers, commercials, blogs, internet ads, books, and grocery stores. Low Carb? Low Fat? Paleo? Separating carbs and protein? Raw Food? HOW DOES A PERSON KNOW WHAT TO EAT????

There’s a lot of misinformation out there, but luckily science can come to the rescue. Nutritional studies come out with new findings every year, but there are some basic facts that can help sort through the endless information available. One tool: the basics of energy metabolism. This can be quite simple, and doesn’t have to be a long, boring science lecture.

The basic idea: To get the most satiation and satiety (fullness right after a meal, and the length of time you stay satisfied), it is beneficial to have carbohydrates, protein, fat and fiber in your meals. Different foods serve different purposes, and you can have eat a snack with only protein or only carbs and survive. But if you want to feel satisfied and full, it’s important to include a bit of everything. (Also, vegetables are the magic ingredient!) Here’s why:

Vegetables: They contain a lot of fiber and very few calories. The fiber and bulk of vegetable roughage causes a feeling of fullness and satisfaction, and supplies the body with a range of nutrients.
Eating only vegetables: You may feel full initially, but your body will quickly use the calories and you will soon be hungry. Also, with so few calories, a meal of purely vegetables lacks the energy it takes to be active.
Too few vegetables: You may take in too many calories, since it will take a lot of protein and fat to feel full. Fiber is super important for digestion, and the diverse micronutrients will satisfy your body’s needs, making you feel more satisfied.

Carbs: Starch and Carbohydrates provide the most immediate energy source. The body breaks them down quickly, and the calories are soon available for use. This means that you feel more full faster, and can start using the energy right away.
Too many carbs: If your meal contains too much starch, you will have a lot of energy available immediately; but if you don’t use it quite quickly it will be stored as fat.
Too few carbs: If you eat too little starch, it will be more difficult to feel full, and you may eat too many calories before feeling satiated (satisfied).

Quiche with goat cheese and spinach, salad with basil pesto dressing. A beautifully balanced meal from my new favorite restaurant, WeHo Bistro.

Protein: This includes any complete amino acid chain, including vegetables sources. Beans, hemp, soy, and eggs all count as protein. Protein takes longer to digest than carbs, so the energy becomes available awhile after you eat. To feel fuller longer, this is a good thing. If protein is in your meal, once the energy from a carb spike drops, the energy spike from protein kicks in.
Too much protein: Too much protein (especially animal protein) causes free radicals in your blood. Free radicals are bodily chemicals that will run free and ravage the body, causing various diseases and harm. Most Americans test too high in blood protein.
Too little protein: If you don’t have enough protein in a meal, (i.e. your meal is purely starch), your blood sugar may drop, and you can become irritable and hungry faster.

Fat: Poor dietary fat. It has gotten the worst rap among “health food” and diet advocates. But, our body needs a certain amount of dietary fat. Fat gives us energy, and fatty acids (like Omega 3) promote brain activity. Plus, fats make us feel more full for longer. Studies show that people who follow a low-fat diet get hungry faster, feel unsatisfied, and end up eating more calories in a day than those who don’t eliminate fat. Since the “low-fat” craze of the 90’s, heart disease has actually been on the rise.
Fat takes the longest to provide energy to our body, so after your carb energy spike and protein energy spike have subsided, the energy spike from fat kicks in. So this provides a longer satiety (length of satisfaction and fullness from a meal), and may make you less likely to reach for unhealthy snacks in between meals.
Too much fat: Before you pour cream and bacon on your pasta in excitement, know that you can eat too much fat. It is 9 calories per gram (compared to protein and carbs which have 3 calories per gram), so you can go overboard. It may make you feel sluggish or overly full, and excess calories can be stored as body fat. Plus, fat quality is important. Cold-pressed olive oil and coconut oil are different than toxic margarine, canola oil, and bacon fat. So choose quality of quanity.
Too little fat: Your cells need fat for energy, building, and repair. Too little fat means you may get hungry too soon after a meal, and reach for unhealthy snacks. The minerals and hormones produced by your thyroid can also become off-balance. Too little Omega 3 can result in memory problems. So, add some olive oil to your brown rice, or some raw butter to your asparagus.

Sugar: Energy from sugar is the available the quickest, but this is only beneficial if you need immediate energy without the desire of a full belly (like when you’re running a marathon or riding a bike.) The sugar provides immediate energy for use, without the body needing to “waste energy” digesting. But if you don’t use the energy immediately, it will cause an insulin spike and store the extra energy as fat!

What is a Carb?

Carbohydrates are molecules composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen that all plant foods (beans, grains, fruits, vegetables, etc) contain. There are four different types of carbs, which all serve a certain purpose:

“Simple Sugars:” Monosaccharides and Disaccharides : The simplest forms of carbohydrates, simple sugars are immediate sources of energy. All other forms Simple Sugarsof energy (fat, protein, starch, complex carbs) need digestive enzymes in the stomach to break them down before they’re converted to energy for our cells. Sugar enters our blood stream as soon as it dissolves in our saliva. (This can be useful when running a marathon or riding a bike, since our body doesn’t have the energy to digest, but needs the calories.)

Sugars

What kinds of foods constitute simple sugars? Many foods contain sugar (even milk, which contains lactose), but pure simple sugar is usually extracted from a whole food (except honey.) “Concentrated fruit syrup,” table sugar, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, etc., are almost pure sugar. Many foods contain sugars, but most of them contain fiber, protein, and/or fat as well, so the sugar will not absorb into the body as quickly.

The prebiotic: Oligosaccharides: Oligosaccharides are carbohydrates made up of 3-10 simple sugars linked together, and humans cannot fully digest them. That can actually be beneficial…the undigested bits serve as food for intestinal microflora, (bacteria in our gut!)

Chicory Root

What kinds of foods contain oligosaccharides? They are found in plants in small amounts. Chicory root and Jerusalem artichokes contain the highest amount, but they’re also found in: wheat, jicama, the onion family, asparagus, burdock root, and other plants.

“Complex Carbs,” Polysaccharides: “Complex Carbs” release their energy more slowly than simple sugars, since it takes longer for our bodies to break them down. This causes a less severe spike in blood sugar, and gives your body more time to “burn off” or “use” the energy. The scientific definition of polysaccharides is a chain of monosaccharaides (sugars) linked together by glycosidic bonds. There are different kinds of polysaccharides, which are “structure” or “storage” related: Starch

Starch: Starch is the way that plants store excess glucose (energy). Almost all vegetables and grains contain starch in varying degrees-common food sources include potatoes, wheat, rice, corn, taro root, yams, cassava, barley, and rye.

Fiber (or Cellulose): Cellulose is supposedly the most abundant substance in the living world. It is present in almost all plant foods. Cellulose is classified as “dietary fiber.” It is actually indigestible to humans and most animals. (For instance, wood, cotton and paper are almost pure Dietary Fibercellulose.) That may seem odd, since fiber is supposed to be good for us. But it’s indigestibility is actually its function…it changes the nature of our digestive tract, binds to bile acids to lower cholesterol, and changes how nutrients and chemicals react in the intestines. Fiber is extremely important, and I will devote an entire blog post to explain it.

Glycogen: Humans store “extra” energy in their livers and muscles in the form of glycogen. It is a kind of carbohydrate that can be broken down in glucose, or blood sugar, when the body has been deprived of food. All the glycogen in our bodies can be used up in one 24-hour period of fasting, or an intense workout. Luckily, it is replenished by the ingestion of carbohydrates.

There are other forms of fiber (structural polysaccharides) such as chitin, the compound that shellfish exoskeletons are made from, or pectin, a form of soluble fiber found in fruits.  Most plant foods contain a combination of starch and fiber, and humans have consumed these foods throughout history, (although the amount we should consume is a hot debate). I will bring in anthropology sources as a response to that question in a later post….