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 removing both internal and external contaminants our bodies come in contact with on a daily basis.
“These include air, water and food contaminants, drugs, alcohol, micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites, as well as internally produced toxins created by essential body processes,” says Michels. “Our liver is the primary organ responsible for detox and does so by converting toxins into compounds that can be easily eliminated by the body. The liver filters about one liter of blood per minute.”
She notes that when your liver is not working at optimal levels, it will have decreased detox efficiency, putting added stress on the body.
“The liver also produces bile, which helps with both fat absorption and carrying waste (including those converted toxins) out of the body via the digestive tract,” says Michels.
What you eat can have a big impact on your liver’s health. According to Michels, the best eating habit for your liver is limiting environmental toxin exposure through dietary sourcesespecially 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 disease and liver cancer risk,” says Michels. “It’s estimated that over 30% of the US population has the most common form of liver disease, called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.”
So how exactly can you do this? By being mindful of dietary and supplemental choices.
She explains that animal and fatty foods contain the highest levels of PCBs and pesticides because these contaminants are stored in fat, which becomes more concentrated as they move up the food chain.
“PCBs and pesticides also accumulate in rivers, lakes, and coastal area sediments then build up in fish,” explains Michels. “The FDA monitors food and drinking water levels; however, it would be a beneficial, proactive step to be aware of heavy metal food exposures. Fish, bone broth, rice, vegetable oils, peanuts, some root vegetables (like potatoes), food colors, corn syrups, and preservatives (such as sodium benzoate) are the biggest heavy metal culprits.”
Michels points to Consumer Reports data that suggests limiting rice food intake to less than seven points per week. Michels also suggests that it may also help to choose low-fat and/or organic dairy options, as well as whole foods versus processed.
Here are a couple more tips for limiting environmental food exposures when it comes to proteins.
Choose fish wisely.
“Choose fish wisely and be aware of fish containing high levels of PCBs, pesticides, and heavy metals,” says Michels. “Common commercial fish that are high in PCBs and pesticides include Atlantic or farmed salmon, bluefish, wild striped bass, flounder and blue crab. Fish highest in mercury and other heavy metals include bluefish, shark, swordfish, king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy , tilefish, ahi, and bigeye tuna. Remove the skin and trim the fat when preparing fish to reduce exposure.”
Choose lean protein.
“Choose lean animal protein sources and buy organic when possible because environmental toxins can accumulate in fat,” says Michels. “It’s a great idea to know your farmer and be aware of potential exposures.”
Michels also notes to be wary of fish oil supplements.
“Buy fish oil that has been third-party tested and that is guaranteed to be free of heavy metals such as mercury, lead, and other environmental toxins, like PCBs and pesticides,” says Michels. “Buy fish oil made from sardines, anchovy, mackerel, whiting, or pollock. And buy brands that disclose the source of oil.”