What’s Good For The Liver?

One of the most important questions people ask at their doctor’s office regards any trends in diet and exercise that are good for them and their liver. With so much information available, people just don’t know what to believe.

October is National Liver Awareness Month so here are some of my basic beliefs on weight loss and dieting. First, anything done in the extreme usually is ineffective and can potentially be dangerous. I would call this dietary relapse. People go on fad diets that dramatically change their eating habits and help them lose substantial weight over a four to 12-week period. Many of the carbohydrate-free diets see these results, however, once the desired weight loss is achieved, people go back to what they were originally eating and the weight is rapidly regained leading many to plan when they are going to go back on the diet, which helped them lose weight. This can lead to gallstone development, fatty liver and other medical problems.

My second belief on weight loss and dieting is that no diet program can be successful without exercise. The changing of what we eat is not sufficient to continue to lose weight and keep that weight off. Most people do not get enough exercise. A diet program should be associated with at least a 30-minute exercise program every other day to help burn off calories. This time needs to be incorporated into the diet program. Simple exercise such as jogging, walking and swimming help tremendously. More strenuous exercise such as the use of a treadmill or elliptical machine or regularly playing some sort of active sport such as tennis will really help people lose weight and keep it off.

My third belief is that most of the diet programs have a fatal flaw: that they attempt to drastically change people’s eating habits. Unfortunately, the human being is a creature of habit. Each individual person has developed their own dietary likes and dislikes over the course of their lifetimes. For example, it is very difficult for a 40 or 50 year-old that has eaten pasta every day of their life to all of a sudden cut all carbohydrates forever. It is also cost prohibitive for most people to have a chef deliver three meals a day for the rest of their lives in order to ensure dietary compliance.

First and foremost, there is no such thing as a liver cleanse. Despite all the advertising, this type of supplement does nothing good for the liver and has the potential to do harm. Apple cider vinegar, another commonly used dietary supplement, is diluted acetic acid, which has been shown to be harmful to both the liver and kidneys. The keto diet, low in carbohydrates and high is fat, can lead to fatty liver and therefore this diet should be avoided by anyone with liver issues.

What is good for the liver? Foods such as fish, fruits, whole grains, nuts, olive oil, vegetables, legumes and coffee are all good for the liver. These foods are all components of the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in polyunsaturated fats, polyphenols, vitamins and carotenoids and this diet has been shown to have both anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects. It is considered to be the healthiest diet for people with liver disease. This diet is low in saturated fats and animal protein, high in antioxidants and fiber with an adequate omega 3–6 balance and has been shown to reduce the risk of developing the metabolic syndrome, of which non-alcoholic fatty liver is a component. Other potentially liver healthy diets include the DASH diet, the MIND diet and the flexitarian diet.

Protecting the liver through diet and exercise should keep the liver healthy. Eating the proper foods and avoiding those food and drinks that can cause fatty liver or liver scarring is important and can be accomplished with relative ease if desire is present. Diets such as the Mediterranean, DASH, MIND and flexitarian are liver friendly, but it is always important to discuss with a health care provider.

David Bernstein
David Bernstein, MD, is a columnist for Long Island Weekly and chief of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition at North Shore University Hospital and Long Island Jewish Medical Center.

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