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The Mediterranean Diet and Your Liver

Four Holiday Food Swaps Your Liver Will Love

Since many holiday recipes can aggravate liver disease, consider swapping them out for dishes that are conducive to the liver’s well being.

Known collectively as the holidays, the stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year’s can pose a dilemma to those with chronic liver disease. Although there are various contributing factors that make this time of year hazardous to the liver’s health, typical holiday foods in and of themselves can make a healthy liver wince. With a little intentional planning, your culinary customs could aid your liver instead of injuring it. Thankfully, there are liver-friendly foods that can help those wanting to shield their liver from harm enjoy a worry-free holiday season.

Even though the food may not be very healthy, many of us look forward to the customary dishes prepared over the holidays. Regrettably, the ingredients in many of these foods are processed, extremely sugary, fatty or fried. These substances overwork and overload the liver, impairing its ability to break down and filter out toxins and fat. This impairment creates a backlog of toxins and fat in the liver, increasing the likelihood of inflammation and injury to nearby liver cells.

A study in a 2000 edition of New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated that the average person puts on a pound during the holidays – and never loses it. This weight gain is progressive and can contribute to excessive fat accumulation in the liver. Casually referred to as fatty liver disease, an estimated 25 percent of American adults have excessive fat accumulation in the liver. This growing problem has the potential to cause serious liver damage and can exacerbate other forms of chronic liver disease.

Consider swapping out the usual version of these holiday classics with the following four recipes. By doing so, your liver will have a better chance of making it through the New Year without being any worse for the wear:

1.    Green bean casserole is a holiday staple. Typically prepared with butter, cheese, cream, loads of salt and fried onions, this “veggie” puts a tremendous burden on the liver. Swap out the green bean casserole for steamed broccoli with fresh squeezed lemon. Broccoli will increase the amount of glucosinolate in your body, enhancing enzyme production in the liver. Glucosinolates are natural enzymes that help flush out carcinogens and other toxins from the body – a process that helps the liver with detoxification and lowers the risk of cancer. Fresh lemon juice is loaded with Vitamin C, a potent antioxidant. In addition, lemon helps stimulate liver activity.

2.    Sausage stuffing is another frequent holiday crowd pleaser. Unfortunately, this turkey accompaniment is usually made with lots of butter, salt, white bread and processed meat. Besides the rapid rise in blood sugar resulting from white bread consumption, the other ingredients weigh down a liver’s ability to function properly. Swap out sausage stuffing with a more healthful version made with wild rice, low-sodium chicken broth, apples and walnuts. The wild rice is high in fiber and does not cause a spike in blood sugar, a precursor to fat accumulation in the liver. Apples are high in pectin, a substance that reduces the load on the liver by helping to cleanse and release toxins in the digestive tract. Walnuts are full of arginine, an amino acid that helps the liver detoxify ammonia. In addition, walnuts have lots of glutathione and omega-3 fatty acids – both of which support normal liver cleansing actions.

3.    After a holiday meal, pecan pie is a favorite dessert. Usually sweeter than candy, pecan pie always has copious quantities of sugar and butter, a dependable combo for causing sluggishness in the liver. To get your fill of this delectable nut, include some toasted pecans in a liver-friendly salad made with dandelion greens and avocado. Pecans are a great source of Vitamin E, magnesium, protein, fiber and healthy fats. Dandelion greens aid in liver detoxification by increasing the creation and flow of bile, while avocado encourages the body’s production of glutathione, an antioxidant necessary for the liver to cleanse harmful toxins.

4.    Usually served warm, egg nog is a traditional holiday beverage. Based on its heavy and sweet ingredients, egg nog has also been widely criticized. It may take the chill out of the air, but egg nog is a virtual nightmare for anyone with liver concerns. To begin with, egg nog includes a distilled spirit (brandy, whiskey or rum) in its mix, all known liver toxins and liver disease accelerators. In addition, the other ingredients (eggs, cream and sugar) all contribute to overloading and stressing the liver. Although it may not be traditional, consider drinking green tea to warm you up instead. Green tea is full of plant antioxidants known as catechins, substances known to improve liver function. In addition, some research has demonstrated that green tea consumption prevents fat accumulation in the liver.

Taking the preceding four holiday staples as an example, think about how you can tweak your favorite holiday meal into nourishment, protection and support for your liver., 10 Healthy Holiday Superfoods, Emily Dorn, Retrieved November 6, 2011, Meredith Corporation, 2011., 14 Foods That Cleanse the Liver, Dr. Edward Group, Retrieved November 6, 2011,, 2011., A Prospective Study of Holiday Weight Gain, Yanovski, Jack A, et al, Retrieved November 6, 2011, New England Journal of Medicine, March 2000., The Naughty List of Holiday Foods Slideshow, Retrieved November 6, 2011, WebMD, LLC, 2011.

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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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