So what really is a healthy diet? In order to avoid the supplementation debate, lets assume that we can get all the vitamins and nutrients we need from our food. We start with the fact that the fundamental process is the bio-chemical flow mediated by the liver. The liver performs over 500 individual chemical reactions which are all important to your health so to simplify the problem, if we treat the liver well most other organs will do fine. In simple terms the goal is to avoid or minimize what stresses the liver and load up on foods that are nutritional or protective. Easy peasy right. Well let's take a look.
- limit alcohol consumption, no binge or daily drinking
- limit saturated fat to less than 10% of calories and go easy on red meat
- when possible use low fat or skim dairy products
- eliminate trans-fat and all hydrogenated oils
- eliminate all high fructose corn syrup
- cut way down on salt -- the goal under 2000 mg/day
- minimize added dietary sugar and simple starches
- limit the use of processed grains
- be aware that there are unknown health consequences for many chemicals
Well, that doesn't sound very easy. Not possible to enjoy life that way. OK, take a breath. The goal is to provide proper nutrition in a lifestyle that doesn't feel painful every day but allows your body to thrive. So what do you do?
- Make extra virgin olive oil your primary dietary fat, get 1 tablespoon per day minimum
- Don't buy prepared foods without reading the label, there isn't actually much that you can buy
- Eat lots of fruits and vegetables but keep salt in mind
- Learn to like kale, lima beans, brussel sprouts, etc.
- Look for fiber like whole wheat bread and use brown rice
- Eat fatty fish like salmon at least once a week
- Eat skinless chicken or turkey and lean pork
- Go easy on processed meats like ham
- Explore new foods like quinoa as a grain
- Eat plenty of vegetable protein like beans.
- Be aware that eating out is tough as very little of it is good for you
You get the idea. you might call this a type of Mediterranean diet but the olive oil is specifically a medicine. The rest is mostly nutrition. The salt limitation is good for you and lowers your blood pressure. So why should you think this might work for you? Without getting too technical your energy systems are built around triglycerides. Many oils can be used by the body to make them but if made with unsaturated oil they are better for the body. More importantly olive oil is mostly an omega 9 fatty acid. Good olive oil is a complex mixture of around 30 oils and phyto chemicals which support liver function and soothe inflammation. Just something to understand, good olive oil causes a burning feeling at the back of your throat when you take it straight. Those are the phyto chemicals and more is better if you ever go to an oil tasting bar you can try different grades.
There are a lot of good lists of things to eat that are healthy and sources of interesting recipes are plentiful, but one of our favorites for general good eating is Jen Miller, who does some very nice reviews. Here is a link to one about weight loss.
One note, Jen's review doesn't emphasize some of the liver specific things we talk about here but is good general advice.
DISCLAIMER: Be aware that I am not a doctor. I cannot give medical advice. I am a cirrhosis patient and I have apparently halted the progression of my disease following a more strict version of this strategy.