The liver is the primary site in the body for detoxification, and to help ensure that the liver is able to function as this cleansing organ, it's vital to support it through diet 1. The body continually cleanses itself through a two-stage process, with each stage requiring different nutrients. For a liver cleanse to be effective, it's important to eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods.

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The Process of a Liver Cleanse

A cleanse, or detoxification plan, refers to removing the buildup of toxic substances from the body. Many toxins are fat soluble, and they must be attached to a water-soluble molecule to be excreted in urine. The two stages of detoxification in the liver are known as phase I and phase II. Phase I makes changes to the toxin so that it can accept a water-soluble molecule in phase II and be excreted. Often, the by-products from phase I are more toxic than the initial toxins, and the completion of phase I results in the generation of many free radicals that can damage cells in the body. Therefore, it's essential that phase II is able to perform its function. The liver requires nutrient-rich foods to support both detoxification phases 1.

Macronutrients: Protein, Carbohydrates and Fat

Good-quality protein is necessary for both phases of liver cleansing. Such foods would include:

  • fish
  • meat
  • poultry
  • dairy products
  • eggs
  • beans

Carbohydrate consumption should be regulated, because too-high consumption prevents the amino acids in protein from activating an important enzyme involved in phase I. Complex carbohydrates, which include

  • whole grains such as brown rice
  • whole wheat products
  • barley
  • quinoa
  • are recommended
  • because simple carbohydrates
  • such as sugar
  • inhibit phase I

Dietary sources of fat provide important energy required for a liver cleanse. The best source of fat would be from medium chain triglycerides, such as coconut oil 4.

Foods Rich in Antioxidants

During a liver cleanse, a high number of free radicals will be produced. Foods rich in the antioxidant nutrients -- vitamins C and E, and also selenium -- help prevent these free radicals from causing damage to cells in the body. Choose citrus fruits, guavas, papayas, broccoli and peppers for vitamin C, whole-grain products and almonds for vitamin E and leafy green vegetables, such as:

  • turnip greens
  • spinach,which are rich in both vitamins

Fish, eggs, seafood and Brazil nuts are good sources of selenium. Flavonoids, a component of many berries, such as

  • blueberries
  • raspberries
  • blackberries
  • are also good antioxidants

Green tea has an abundance of catechins, powerful antioxidants that could provide support to the liver during a cleanse.

Other Dietary Considerations

Cruciferous vegetables are ideal to support the liver, because they contain B vitamins to assist with phase I, sulfur to support phase II and vitamin C to function as an antioxidant. Examples of such foods include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, watercress and spinach. Throughout a liver cleanse, it's vital to ensure sufficient consumption of pure water. The liver will be converting toxins to water-soluble compounds to enable their removal from the body, so adequate water intake is essential to ensure excretion of these toxins from the body in the urine, which is the fundamental purpose of a liver cleanse.