Ramadan is not only one of the most cherished months of the year, but it could also be an opportunity to take advantage of the benefits of fasting. Fasting can help boosting cognitive performance, reducing inflammation, supporting weight loss as well as improving overall fitness.
Family gatherings, delicious feasts and festive desserts are all a big part of Ramadan. While the food can get tempting, it is important for us to balance our diet to avoid any health issues and maintain our livers. The liver performs hundreds of functions. Symptoms of most unhealthy liver develop slowly, making it hard to catch the disease in an early stage. Prioritizing liver health by eating right, especially during Ramadan, is important to ensure that this organ can continue to perform vital functions without hindrance.
For instance, regulation of chemicals like bilirubin and excretion of bile. Your body cannot properly digest food or dispose of toxic substances without a functional and healthy liver. The liver also has the greatest regenerative capacity among all organs, which means that it can repair its own cells.
However, this does not mean that your liver is immune to damage and diseases. There are several preventable conditions that can affect liver health. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is one such condition. It is a common and chronic liver disease that affects non-drinkers. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease causes excessive storage of fat in liver cells. Factors like high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, high blood sugar and obesity increase the risk of developing this disease.
A healthy diet that consists of nutritious meals is one of the best preventive actions you can take against liver disease. There are several foods that have specific benefits for your liver that can be included when breaking your fast.
Dr. Ahmed AK Hassoun, Clinical Professor & Senior Consultant Endocrinologist and Mrs. Reshma Devjani, Clinical Dietician at Fakeeh University Hospital shares some insights on the most liver-friendly foods that you can enjoy during Ramadan:
Coffee helps prevent the buildup of fat and collagen, both of which contribute to the development of liver diseases. Liver diseases can lead to scarring called cirrhosis as well. Studies have shown that drinking coffee lowers the risk of cirrhosis in people who have chronic liver disease. In people without liver diseases, it offers protection against liver disease development. People who prefer tea can also enjoy some benefits for their liver. Studies have shown that in people with NAFLD, drinking green tea rich in antioxidants can improve liver enzyme levels. Tea can also reduce fat deposits in the liver. During Ramadan, you can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee after Iftar time.
Fatty fish like tuna, salmon and trout are very rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These are healthy fats that are needed by the body. Studies show that omega 3 fatty acids help lower liver fat in those with NAFLD and another liver condition called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). Omega-3 also reduces a type of fat called triglycerides. The human body turns excess calories, fats, and sugar from food into triglycerides which are stored in fat cells. Excess storage of these fats is dangerous and contributes to fatty liver disease, diabetes and weight gain. Foods that help reduce triglycerides are very beneficial for liver health.
Suhur is crucial during Ramadan, including fruits such as dark berries, blueberries, raspberries, and cranberries contain a substance called polyphenols. Polyphenols are packed with antioxidants that help protect the liver from damage. Consuming berries as part of your diet improves the overall immune response of the liver and increases antioxidant enzymes as well. Adding a small serving of berries or adding them to smoothies is a good way to add them to your diet.
Vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are called cruciferous vegetables. These are high in fiber content and vitamin K. Research shows that consumption of broccoli and brussels sprouts leads to an increase in detoxification enzymes that keep your liver healthy and protected from disease or damage. Cruciferous vegetables can easily be roasted or blanched and added to salads.
Olive oil has healthy fat that can improve liver and metabolic health. Consuming around one teaspoon of olive oil daily can lower fat accumulation and improve better blood flow in the liver. Olive oil can be used for cooking and as a salad dressing for meals. Recent studies have also found positive effects of olive oil consumption including improved insulin sensitivity that prevents Type 2 diabetes and improved levels of liver enzymes.
Garlic is popular for its ability to detoxify the liver and other organs as it is rich in allicin, a compound that has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibiotic properties. A study has shown that a diet incorporating garlic helped reduce body weight and fat. This is prominent as high body weight is a major risk factor that worsens liver wellbeing and general health.
Nuts are high in nutrients like vitamin E and other beneficial plant compounds. Nuts are also a good source of healthy fats like omega-3 polyunsaturated fats. Among all the nuts, walnuts are the best source of antioxidants and healthy fats, which can help keep fatty liver disease at bay. You can eat a small quantity of nuts by themselves or add them to soups and salads.
“During Ramadan various individuals tend to over-eat. Be it at family gatherings or a hangout. An average meal during Ramadan consists of soup, salad, a main course, and dessert which can be heavy on people who have fasted for over 12 hours a day. Ensuring we include the above-mentioned foods and consumed is small doses is essential for a healthier diet.” said Devjani.
Below is a list of foods which should be kept at a minimum during Ramadan:
Unlike omega-3, some fats like saturated and trans fats are detrimental to the liver’s health. Processed fried foods and snacks like chips are high in fats. Overconsumption of fats makes it harder for the liver to perform its functions and can lead to liver inflammation that can potentially cause cirrhosis.
Apart from using less sugar in cooking, you also need to watch the amount of sugary cereal, baked food, and snacks that you eat. The liver converts sugars into fat for storage and excess sugar can lead to fatty liver disease. Excess sugar consumption is associated with increased body weight which should be avoided for good liver health.
This includes potatoes, white rice and white bread, which are digested rapidly by the body. Upon digestion, these goods can cause a sharp increase in blood sugar level, which is a risk factor for NAFLD. As most of these foods are a regular part of our eating habits, if you are unable to fully avoid them, try reducing the quantity. Food high in starch include cakes and baked goods as well.