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Choosing the Right Pie for Liver Health

When faced with apple, pumpkin and pecan pie, learn how to make the best holiday pie choice for supporting your liver’s well-being.

As the crisper air of autumn settles in, awareness that Thanksgiving is around the corner makes many Americans’ mouths water. It’s the time of year when food favorites emerge from fragrant, busy kitchens – a smell frequently associated with fresh-baked pies. For many of us, the end of a Thanksgiving feast requires a hefty decision: choosing between apple, pumpkin or pecan pie.

Those concerned with their liver can bask in the knowledge that all three of these pies offer something beneficial to this organ’s health – but there is great variability in their overall healthfulness.

Even though we all want to protect our liver from incurring damage, there is no magical drug or food to accomplish this feat. However, exercising regularly, avoiding alcohol and other toxins, loading up on antioxidants, minimizing sugar and fat, and choosing liver-friendly foods all contribute to optimal liver protection. Taking these steps is especially important for those already living with chronic liver disease from a virus, alcoholism, fat accumulation or some other source.

Consuming foods that help the liver in some way is a sound strategy for fending off progressive liver damage, but pie does not exactly qualify as health food. As a sweet dessert, moderation is imperative for shielding the liver from an overload of fat and sugar. With the understanding that only a small amount is suggested, discover the liver benefits of the following traditional Thanksgiving pies:

  1. Apple – This all-American fruit is one of the top foods for preserving liver health. Because they contain pectin, apples help the liver with detoxification. Pectin binds to heavy metals in the body, allowing them to be secreted much more easily. In addition, apples contain phenolic compounds which are antioxidants. Antioxidants are valuable because they scavenge potentially damaging free radicals before they can injure liver cells. Apple peels are especially high in phenolic compounds.
  2. Pumpkin – Pumpkins are a low calorie squash that is high in dietary fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Pumpkins are rich in beta-carotene, a derivative of the carotenoids that are converted to Vitamin A in the body. Beta-carotene aids in slowing the aging process as well as reducing the risk of developing cancer. The bright orange color of pumpkin indicates its potent antioxidant content, one of the reasons experts suggest including pumpkin in liver detoxification diets.
  3. Pecan – Nutritional powerhouses, pecans are loaded with vitamins and minerals – especially gamma-tocopherols (a form of Vitamin E). A study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that after eating pecans, gamma-tocopherol levels in the body doubled and unhealthy oxidation of low density lipoproteins (bad cholesterol) in the blood decreased by as much as 33 percent. Thus, pecans are valuable in fighting against fatty liver disease. Besides Vitamin E, pecans are a great source of Vitamins A and B, copper, zinc, potassium, manganese, folic acid, calcium and phosphorous.

While each of these foods bode well for protecting liver health, the inclusion of sugar and fat in traditional pie recipes significantly detracts from their healthfulness. Looking at the nutrition of commercially prepared pies, the following grams of sugar and total fat per slice of each pie is approximately:

  • Apple pie slice –19.6 g sugar / 13.8 g total fat
  • Pumpkin pie slice – 15.1 g sugar / 10.4 g total fat
  • Pecan pie slice – 31.9 g sugar / 20.9 g total fat

Looking at this comparison, it appears that a commercially prepared pumpkin pie would be your best bet for a healthy liver dessert this Thanksgiving. However, there are plenty of recipes for making your own pie that could easily transform a pie into a more liver-friendly version.

Examples of modifications to your home-baked pies that would increase liver support include:

  • Keep the skins on when making apple pie, ideally using organic apples. Apple skin is very high in antioxidants.
  • When making pie crust, use crushed pecans, oat flour and dates to avoid shortening, sugar, bleached flour and butter.
  • Where palatable, include cinnamon in your recipes (ideal for apple and pumpkin pies). Cinnamon is known to lower blood sugar levels, which helps reduces fat accumulation in the liver.
  • Instead of sugar, let the flavor of your main ingredient shine. Consider using maple syrup or applesauce for sweetness instead of granulated sugar.

Although experimenting with these substitutions will yield a dessert that is kinder to the liver, not everyone is equipped to bake their own holiday pie. For those who don’t have a hand in making a liver-healthy apple, pumpkin or pecan pie, a sliver of pumpkin pie won’t cause harm… and it may actually give your liver a surprising antioxidant boost to protect against cellular damage.


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http://gigswwa.blogspot.com/2011/11/holiday-pumpkin-pie-with-superfoods.html, Holiday Pumpkin Pie with a Superfoods Twist, Dr. Ann Louise Gittleman, Retrieved August 4, 2013, GIG of Southwest Washington, 2013.

http://ezinearticles.com/?The-7-Ultimate-Best-Foods-for-Liver-Health---Foods-That-Help-Your-Reduce-Your-Livers-Workload&id=6374697, The 7 Ultimate Best Foods for Liver Health - Foods That Help Your Reduce Your Liver's Workload, John Helios, Retrieved August 3, 2013, SparkNet.com, 2013.

http://www.buysafegenerics.com/foods-that-promote-good-liver-functioning.aspx, Foods That Promote Good Liver Functioning, Retrieved August 4, 2013, buysafegenerics.com, 2013.

http://www.emailwire.com/release/87267-Health-Benefits-of-Cinnamon-Eating-Apple-Pie-Lowers-Blood-Sugar-Says-Natural-Health-Sherpa.html, Health Benefits of Cinnamon: Eating Apple Pie Lowers Blood Sugar Says Natural Health Sherpa, Retrieved August 4, 2013, GroupWeb Media LLC, 2013.

http://www.liversupport.com/wordpress/2011/12/four-nuts-that-support-your-liver/, Four Nuts that Support Your Liver, Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., Retrieved August 4, 2013, Natural Wellness, 2013.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12537430, Antioxidant Activity of Apple Peels, Wolfe K, et al, Retrieved August 4, 2013, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, January 2003.

http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/pumpkin.html, Pumpkin Nutrition Facts, Retrieved August 4, 2013, Umesh Rudruppa, 2013.

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?dbid=15&tname=foodspice, Apples, Retrieved August 4, 2013, The George Mateljan Foundation, 2013.

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About the Author

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM, Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM)®

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM is a long time advocate of integrating perspectives on health. With a Bachelor's degree in Neuroscience from the University of Rochester and a Master's degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Five Branches Institute, Nicole has been a licensed acupuncturist since 2000. She has gathered acupuncture licenses in the states of California and New York, is a certified specialist with the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, has earned diplomat status with the National Commission of Chinese and Oriental Medicine in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology and is a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology. In addition to her acupuncture practice that focuses on stress and pain relief, digestion, immunity and oncology, Nicole contributes to the integration of healthcare by writing articles for professional massage therapists and people living with liver disease.

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