A recent study dove into the role of cruciferous vegetables on inflammation and the unsung hero of detoxing: the liver.

Jessica Ball, M.S., R.D.
February 10, 2020
Getty Images/DNY59

The liver is a crucially important organ. It detoxes our blood, helps us store energy and much more. Keeping it healthy can be crucial to longevity and chronic disease prevention. However, about 40% of US adults experience what is called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). This is when fat accumulates around your liver for reasons other than drinking alcohol, and can lead to health consequences such as cirrhosis and cancer, which can be life threatening. Lucky for us, what you put on your plate can help protect you from developing NAFLD, and also reduce disease progression if you already have it. Researchers from Texas A&M University took a deeper dive to see just what foods can lead to a happier liver and why they're helpful.

Check Out: What Is Fatty Liver Disease?

What They Found

A new study published in Hepatology, shed light on the relationship that vegetables have with liver health. But they weren't looking at just any vegetable, they focused in on cruciferous vegetables. This is a class of vegetables that includes cauliflower, kale, broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts.

This study not only looked at people with NAFLD, but also rats and cell cultures to get a clearer picture of how vegetable consumption effects the liver. What was it about this class of vegetables that reduced NAFLD risk? Researchers attributed their protective properties to the compound indole, which is particularly high in cruciferous vegetables and can also be produced by your gut bacteria. This compound is known for its inflammation-fighting properties and can also help reduce the risk of chronic illness like diabetes, heart disease and obesity. In humans, they found that higher levels of indole were associated with less fat around the liver and a lower body-mass index (BMI).

To back up these findings, they split lab rats into two groups: a high-fat diet group and a low-fat diet group. In the high-fat diet group, half were fed an indole supplement. Though all of the mice had similar body composition, the mice on a high-fat diet and an indole supplement had the most significant decreases in fat around the liver, insulin resistance and glucose intolerance, which can be risk factors for diabetes as well. Lastly, at the cellular level, indole made liver cells (called hepatocytes) less likely to accumulate fat and inflammation-related damage.

Related: The Anti-Inflammatory Diet: Is It Right for You?

What It Means

These results are exciting because eating more cruciferous vegetables may help prevent and potentially reverse symptoms of NAFLD. The Dietary Guidelines recommend at least 1 1/2 cups of cruciferous vegetables per week to get the most bang for you buck, and a minimum of 2 1/2 cups of vegetables each day. Plus, this gives you all the more reason to try our Feta, Kale & Pear Salad or Loaded Cauliflower Casserole, in the name of liver health. Type of fats are also important to consider when talking about liver health. Unsaturated fats, like olive oil, nuts and avocados, can help your body use indole efficiently, whereas saturated fats, like butter and fat on meats, contribute to inflammation throughout the body. Following an eating pattern like the Mediterranean diet that emphasizes healthy fats, lean protein and lots of vegetables is a great way to keep your liver in tip-top shape.

Bottom Line

Our liver is critical for overall health and longevity, from clearing out toxins to helping our body manage energy stores. Indole, a compound found in cruciferous vegetables, may help keep fat from building up on your liver and help reduce inflammation in your body. More reserach is needed, but we already know that cruciferous vegetables are good for us—so it can't hurt to chow down.

Prioritizing healthy fats and aiming for a healthy weight for your body are other ways to help keep your liver healthy. More research is needed to give specifics on how many cruciferous vegetables are the sweet spot for liver health, the recommendation of at least 1 1/2 cups per week is a good starting point. If you need us, we will be munching on Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Goat Cheese & Pomegranate.

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