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10 Detoxifying Foods That Will Support Your Liver All Winter Long

Nicole Visnic, CCN
Certified Clinical Nutritionist By Nicole Visnic, CCN
Certified Clinical Nutritionist
Nicole Visnic is a certified clinical nutritionist and the director of nutrition at LifeSpan medicine. She received a B.S. in health nutrition from Winona State University, and a master’s in human nutrition from the University of Bridgeport.
10 Detoxifying Foods That Will Support Your Liver All Winter Long

With the season of indulgences behind us, adopting a detoxification diet is a welcome (and necessary) change of pace. The effects of too many toxins and processed foods in your life can fly under the radar for a while, but eventually the effects will be palpable, and your quality of life will suffer. How do you know if you're in need of a detox? Some of the most common symptoms associated with toxic burden include fatigue, brain fog, headaches, and general aches and pains.

Fortunately, taking steps to detoxify your body and revitalize your health can be boiled down to two simple steps: First, remove known toxins, and second, add in specific nutrients that help support the body's detoxification pathways. In order to properly detoxify, you also need targeted nutrients to help your liver convert substances like caffeine, alcohol, medications, and even by-products of normal metabolism into neutral substances so they can be removed from your body before doing harm.

These 10 detoxifying foods have specific nutrients that enable your body to efficiently metabolize toxins and improve overall health. They're the perfect place to start if you're feeling like you need some extra detox support:

1. Green tea:

Liver detoxification has two primary stages, known as phase one and phase two detoxification. In phase one, toxins are made water-soluble through enzymes like the cytochrome P450 enzyme system. During phase two, toxins are bound to protective chemicals that neutralize the toxin or allow it to be excreted from the body through bile or urine. Green tea is a powerhouse beverage for a reason. It has a dual benefit when it comes to detoxification because phytochemicals in green tea have been shown to induce both phase-one and phase-two activity.


2. Tangerines:

Like green tea, tangerines induce phase-one and phase-two activity. The primary compound responsible for the detoxifying effects and for the chemopreventive activity is called D-limonene. Like tangerines, oranges and lemons (but not grapefruit) also contain D-limonene.

3. Sauerkraut:

Along with other members of the brassica family, cabbage has chemopreventive effects associated with the activity of phase one and two detoxification enzymes and other mechanisms triggered by compounds called glucosinolates and their derivatives. Fermented cabbage has a secondary perk: The beneficial bacteria produced during fermentation also promotes detoxification in the gut.

4. Broccoli:

Broccoli tops the list as one of the most well-researched detoxifying foods and chemopreventive foods. Just like cabbage, broccoli contains glucosinolates and derivatives called isothiocyanates (ITCs), which are known to activate phase two detoxification.


5. Asparagus:

No discussion of detoxification could be complete without covering the chief detoxifying compound glutathione. Glutathione is a tripeptide made of three amino acids—glycine, cysteine, and glutamine. This tripeptide is the master antioxidant and detoxifying compound in the human body. Glutathione promotes both phase one and phase two of liver detoxification. Many factors deplete glutathione, leaving you vulnerable to environmental insults, but consuming glutathione and its amino acid building blocks can help replenish your glutathione reserve. Asparagus is not only a source of glutathione, but it also contains additional detoxifying antioxidants.

6. Whey:

One of the best ways to increase glutathione is by consuming foods with all three amino acid building blocks. Whey (the liquid portion that separates from yogurt) contains glycine, cysteine, and glutamine! One study showed that alcohol-induced cell toxicity could be inhibited by the increase in glutathione from whey protein supplementation.


7. Beets:

Beets contain two unique compounds that improve liver function: betaine and betalaine. Betaine has been shown to reduce accumulation of fat in the liver, whereas betalaine activates the phase-two pathway that binds toxins to glutathione allowing them to be excreted.

8. Garlic:

There are plenty of reasons why garlic is one of the world's most used medicinal foods. The organosulfur compounds found in garlic are associated with numerous health benefits ranging from anti-platelet aggregation to cancer prevention. The sulfur-containing compounds in garlic have also been shown to support the detox process by activating glutathione enzymes.


9. Artichoke:

Bile flow is a unique detoxification process, separate from phase one and two liver detoxification. Bile helps to transport toxins so they can be removed from the body, and an impairment of bile flow can result in the buildup of toxins and liver injury. Artichoke contains phenolic derivatives that have been used for centuries to stimulate bile flow and to protect the liver.

10. Chlorella:

Chlorella’s impressive detoxifying effects make it a must for anyone trying to reduce their toxic load. Like artichoke, chlorella has detoxifying properties that are separate from phase one and two liver detoxification. Chlorella has chelating properties, which means it can mobilize heavy metals bound to cells. Chlorella has also been shown to absorb metals in the gut, allowing them to be removed instead of stored in the cells.

If you're not sure a detox is right for you, here are 16 signs it's time to give your liver some extra attention.

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