Reduce Dietary Toxins
These include artificial preservatives, colours and flavours. These substances were not meant to be part of our diet and have been added to packaged foods to increase their shelf-life, palatability or appeal. Essentially preservatives are included in foods in order to sell more products, not to increase their nutritional value. The best way to avoid these dietary toxins is to minimise all processed and packaged foods, opting instead for fresh foods or homemade dishes. If homemade is not possible, especially because we are time poor, choose packaged foods that have been labelled as containing no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives. Doing this will go a long way to reducing the burden on your liver.
Also avoid products containing mono-sodium glutamate (MSG), which is added as a flavour enhancer. This is sometimes labelled as flavour enhancer 621 on the ingredients list. This not only causes liver issues in susceptible individuals but also headaches, hyperactivity in children, a dry mouth, rashes, abdominal pains and irritability. Look for products labelled ‘no added MSG’, which will contain no or very little MSG. In the latter case the MSG found in the products will be the MSG found naturally in some foods in small amounts.
Other additives to avoid are artificial sweeteners e.g. aspartame, phenylalanine and sucralose. These are factory-made substances aimed at sweetening our foods without the calories that sugar contains. They promised to be the solution to not gaining weight but in fact have had the opposite effect. They are still thought to have an effect on the liver, as if they were pure sugar, and lead to fatty liver disease and weight gain. They are a toxin to the liver and are not natural at all. Avoid products containing artificial sweeteners and instead, if you wish to sweeten your food, try a small amount of honey, rice bran syrup or rice malt syrup. Keep in mind that these are still sugars and so use in moderation. Keep your intake to 1-2 teaspoons per day for the duration of the detox.
Sweet alternatives considered safe for the liver and not lead to weight gain are stevia and xylitol. Both can be found from health-food stores and most supermarkets. These can be added to baking and to tea and coffee. Keep in mind that they will still stimulate your taste buds like sugar and, in essence, keep you addicted to sugar. If you are trying to reduce your sugar intake it is a good idea to slowly wean off all products that stimulate your taste buds towards sweet foods.
Other toxins found in food are hormones and chemicals such as antibiotics in animal products. Choose grass-fed beef and hormone-free, free-range chicken and eggs. Opt for organic where possible as these contain fewer chemicals than non-organic foods. As for fish, choose fresh and wild-caught where possible and opt for low-mercury containing species; avoiding those that contain a higher amount of mercury such as shark, orange roughy, swordfish and ling. Canned tuna also tends to contain high amounts of mercury due to the source of the fish as well as the size of the tuna caught (larger tuna species contain more mercury). If having canned tuna, limit to 2-3 small cans per week. Keep in mind that a healthy body and liver will clear mercury as long as it’s not overloaded with mercury build-up.
Try not to store your food and drinks in plastic containers. Plastic containers can leach hormone- disrupting chemicals into the food, which can then enter our bloodstream. These have been linked to metabolic syndrome and infertility 18. Where possible, store your food in stainless steel or glass containers. The same goes for water bottles. For lunchboxes, choose either stainless steel or BPA-free plastic containers. Avoid heating your food in plastic containers and avoid covering with cling wrap.
Reduce Lifestyle Toxins
Lifestyle toxins include substances such as alcohol and caffeine. The safe consumption of alcohol has already been touched on in the chapter ‘Liver Lovers’. Alcohol excess is one of the major liver-damaging toxins. Keep alcohol to within safe limits. Drinking more than this will undo all your other diet and lifestyle efforts to stay healthy. Keep in mind that you may need to avoid alcohol altogether for a period of time if your liver is very damaged. Even if your normal alcohol intake is only a few drinks per week the liver may already be overloaded and unable to withstand further toxin insults.
As for caffeine, although it is a liver stimulant in small amounts and in a healthy liver isn’t an issue, in an overloaded liver it can potentiate liver disease. The enzyme that breaks down caffeine in the body can work more slowly in certain individuals, even taking up to twelve hours to clear one cup of coffee or tea. Keep coffee as an occasional treat, to prevent liver issues just in case you are a person with the slow enzyme. You know you are this individual if you find it difficult to sleep after having even one cup of coffee or tea past midday. The speed of your liver enzymes to clear caffeine (as well as other toxins) can actually be tested via comprehensive liver detoxification testing. I occasionally undertake this testing but find that a comprehensive study of someone’s dietary history will let me know how their liver is functioning.
The other lifestyle toxins that are commonly present are found in medications –prescribed and over-the-counter. Although many are safe, some can potentially harm the liver as mentioned in the list in the chapter on ‘Liver Haters’. Minimise the amount of medication you are taking where possible. As your liver health improves you may find that you are able to reduce the amount of prescribed medications you are taking such as diabetes medication, cholesterol or blood pressure medications. This of course must be done under the supervision of your doctor but is a major incentive for many individuals to improve their liver health.
Reduce Environmental Toxins
Environmental toxins are those that we are commonly exposed to in our day-to-day lives and can overload the liver if cumulated. These include cleaning products, pesticides, cosmetics and personal-care products. Where possible, choose products that contain the least amount of chemicals possible.
As for deodorant, choose labels that are aluminium-free. Aluminium is added to deodorant to prevent sweating under the arms but is thought to possibly accumulate in the body over time leading to health issues19. If you perspire noticeably, choose to only wear deodorant during the day and not apply it after your evening shower.
Choose organic produce were possible to reduce chemical load from pesticides in your fruit and vegetables. If cost is prohibitive go organic for lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, strawberries, blueberries etc –foods that do not have a thick skin or peel that can be removed and, with it, most of the chemicals. Even taking your shoes off and leaving them at the door can prevent pesticides and other environmental chemicals from coming inside the house. Make your house and your body a chemical-free zone as much as possible.
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