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Diet and your liver – Healthy Individuals

A look at how diet and exercise impact on the liver of normal individuals
Diet plays a very large part in looking after our livers and keeping us healthy. There are some very important aspects in what we eat, but also in what we drink. So alcohol is key, and very well associated with liver disease, as we know. There are some safe limits for alcohol intake. So 14 units a week for women and 21 units a week for men. Trying to include some alcohol-free days and avoiding binge drinking, so not saving your units, necessarily, for a night out. There’s some good guidance available from the government about what constitutes the unit, because there can be a lot of confusion about a glass of 13% or 14% strength wine.
People may assume that just a class is a unit, but that can be two to three units in a large glass. So it’s good to make ourselves aware of what we’re drinking. From a dietary point of view, overall, the amount of food, if you’re eating more than you need and not burning it off, it will be stored, and sort of spare food, if you like, is stored as fat, which can then cause weight gain. And if you put weight around your middle, you are far more likely to put fat in the liver, and to have problems with fatty liver that has the potential to cause problems in later life. So food, overall, and the amounts eaten, but also the quality.
We need fruit and vegetables to keep us healthy and provide vitamins. And we’re rarely at risk of overeating on those. It’s more the fats and sugars, which are very, what we call, energy dense. So per gram of fat, you get nine calories. And per gramme of sugar, you would get four. And it’s easy to eat a lots of grammes of both of those types of food. So excess fat, because it’s a very concentrated source of calories, is hard to burn off in our daily needs, and can be stored in the liver, which, again, could lead to problems with fatty liver.
Again, sugar, sugary drinks, probably one of the worst things we can have, but extra sugar, again, is stored as fat. The body, if it can’t burn it off, it wants to put it somewhere. And it will put it as fat under the skin, but also in the liver. So that, the three key things, alcohol, fat, sugar, but also thinking about the overall amount of food.
Well, we can all be aware of what we’re eating. Now that sounds easy, but it’s a very difficult thing to do when we’re faced with rows of nice looking foods in supermarkets and shops and going out for meals. And food is a very important part of our social life– socialising around food, having treats. And none of that has to stop when you’re thinking about eating carefully– none at all. It’s just being sensible and paying a bit more attention to the amounts of things you’re having. So the balance of foods is important. Fruit and vegetables provide fibre. They provide minerals. They provide vitamins, which are sort of key in maintaining a healthy body.
Sometimes trying to increase your intake of those automatically reduces other snacks. And our aim is to have five portions of fruit and veg a day. Now a portion doesn’t have to be an enormous amount, like one melon. It is a slice of melon, or an apple, or two small satsumas, a handful of berries, a few strawberries. So it’s not huge portions of fruit and veg. And just trying to have– salad obviously counts in that five portions a day– can displace some of the other foods that we eat. So it’s not just about cutting things out, it’s about including, as well. Having more whole grain fibres and cereals and breads. Again, they can fill you up more than the white versions.
So trying to include some. If you hate them, you don’t have to eat them. It’s about picking the ones that you can manage and enjoy eating.
So if we think about meat, there’s often the thought that you shouldn’t having much red meat, shouldn’t be having dairy, because they’re high in fat. In actual fact, you can buy much leaner cuts of red meat. Lamb is inherently fatty, but if it’s oven cooked, you lose a lot of that fat. And again, have it occasionally. When it comes to red meats, you can buy mince that is extra lean. Or if that’s too expensive, you can buy the option with more marbled product, but you can dry fry it and pour off the fat. So there are ways of managing the fats that are in meats. Again with dairy, very important for protein, also for calcium and other minerals.
So just choosing lower fat options. It doesn’t have to be skim milk. If you would prefer semi-skimmed and you can manage that, it’s better to choose what works for you. So that it’s more fine tuning of the diet. Things like chicken and fish, obviously, are much lower in fat. And to include those as many times as meat is a good option. So it’s not about stopping anything, it’s about balancing with lower fat products. A big downfall, potentially, is chocolates and cakes and sweets and biscuits– which we all love– and crisps, of course, but are very high in saturated and processed fats, and overall fat. And again, it’s not about stopping eating these, at all. It is simply about moderating them.
So if you have more than one of each a day, just try and make it half the amount over the week. Or if you’re not that bothered about one thing, such as sweets, stop those, but have crisps when you fancy them. So it’s about doing deals with yourself to see what you can reduce in your diet to try and reduce the amount of fat. Likewise, sugar, again, it’s added to a lot of products, such as cakes, sweets, and biscuits– the processed foods. So they make for very high calorie eating. You can buy reduced sugar versions. You can buy lower fat versions of these products, as well.
So if you do enjoy those on a regular basis, trying to have a lower fat option is better. Drinks can be very deceiving. Some of the fruit juices have lots of natural sugar. So you think you’re being healthy by having a fruit juice, but it could actually be 80 calories in one small carton of 200 mils. So a couple of those over the day can be a couple of hundred calories a day, which, over a week, can add up to 1400 calories. And it takes about 3,000, 3,500 to actually either put on or lose a pound in weight. So you can see the significance.
The other thing to think about with healthy lifestyle is exercise. And it doesn’t mean that we’ve all got to run out and join the nearest gym, or take up a sport that we don’t enjoy, and force ourselves to do it, because you can’t continue that. You get fed up with it, eventually. It’s important to try and include exercise into day-to-day activity. So doing an extra flight on the stairs, taking the stairs instead of the lift. If you’re on the bus, get off a stop earlier. If you’re at the supermarket, instead of trying to do what a lot of people do is park nearest the door, park further away. So you’ve just got that extra little stretch to walk.
If there’s a local shop you can walk to to buy something instead of driving, walking makes a big difference. So it’s trying to incorporate things into what our day-to-day life. Even housework, sort of putting the music on, dancing around doing the Hoovering or the dusting, particularly if you’re on your own, nobody can see you, then these sorts of things can increase our energy expenditure on a daily basis, which can help prevent weight gain.
Your task: Watch this video, in which Jill Johnson, a Specialist Dietician for Liver Patients explains how important a healthy lifestyle is for your liver. Reflect on any new information or ideas and share your thoughts with other learners in the comments area.
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Liver Disease: Looking after Your Liver

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