How pub grub hurts your liver

Salty fish and chips, burgers and beer warm the cockles, but too much pub grub can be bad for your liver, kidneys and heart.

When winter comes around, do you find it hard to resist heart-warming “pub grub and grog” and other comfort foods? You’re not alone. Research shows that we tend to crave fatty, carbohydrate-rich foods in winter – a time of year when many of us experience the blues.

“There’s considerable research showing that seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – which affects 1% to 3% of the population – is linked to increased appetite and carbohydrate cravings,” writes Dr Melina Jampolis on CNN.com. “This is likely due to changes in brain chemistry brought about by the change in seasons and alterations in circadian rhythm, the body’s biological clock.”

Even if you don’t have SAD (a type of depression), the cold weather may still have an impact on your mood and appetite, which unfortunately often translates into overeating. Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Medical School in the USA found that, when the temperature dropped in autumn, study participants consumed an additional ±360 kilojoules (86 kilocalories) per day.

How our indulgences affect our bodies
While an increased appetite for a few months per year may not seem like a big deal, you may be doing damage to your body. The high fat, carbohydrate and salt content of comfort foods like burgers, salty chips and pizza, and overindulging in wine, beer and spirits, can do long-term damage to your liver, kidneys and heart.

A winter of overindulgence can easily lead to overweight and fat build-up in the liver – a condition called fatty liver disease. This can lead to cirrhosis of the liver and even heart problems. Diabetes and high cholesterol also often go hand in hand with fatty liver disease.

As far as overindulging in alcohol goes, The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) urges you to consider your liver. If the liver is repeatedly subjected to high quantities of alcohol, it starts forming scar tissue. Irreversible damage can occur, as this scar tissue can eventually prevent the liver from functioning normally.

What’s more, research has shown that salt increases the amount of urinary protein – a major risk factor for developing kidney and cardiovascular disease. A high salt intake is also linked to kidney stones, according to Worldactionsalt.com.

Tips for healthy winter eating
Is it time for you to ease up on the pub grub? Could you be putting your health at risk? The good news is that healthy food can still be comforting and delicious.

Follow these tips when you’re eating at a restaurant or pub this winter:
• Go for a hamburger with tomato, barbecue or chilli sauce. Avoid the other creamy sauces on the menu and steer clear of chips, cheese and mayonnaise. Choose a flame-grilled chicken burger instead of a beef burger.
• Avoid cream-based soups and opt for less creamy soups (e.g. minestrone). Don’t eat the rolls/bread.
• Instead of chips, choose a baked potato or rice.
• Keen on a sandwich? Choose whole-wheat, health or rye bread (instead of white bread) and go for beef or ham, and mustard. Avoid processed meats and mayonnaise. Other healthy toppings include avocado, cottage cheese, chicken, tuna, vegetables and pickles.
• Choose wraps made with chicken and salad or stir-fried beef and vegetables. Avoid dressings.
• Share a pizza with someone and order a side salad for the two of you.
• Go for grilled instead of deep-fried fish or calamari, and choose salad over chips.
• Order a bottle of mineral water and have just one glass of wine or a light beer, or no alcohol at all. Avoid cocktails and mixed drinks.

Also take extra care to avoid salt, fat and refined carbohydrates when you’re preparing food at home. The Australian Institute of Fitness shares these tips:

• Prepare oven-baked instead of deep-fried foods.
• Use lean mince and add extra vegetables to spaghetti Bolognese.
• Reduce salt in stews, gravies, soups and pies.
• If you must use salt, limit it to one teaspoon per day.
• Use less sugar in cakes and other desserts.
• Use low-fat ricotta in your macaroni and cheese and add vegetables.
• Layer shepherd’s pie with healthy sweet-potato mash instead of creamy potato mash.

Detox for good health
From time to time, we all overindulge. That’s just life. If your liver needs a quick detox, you don’t have to look far. Your kitchen or bathroom cupboard may already be stocked with one or more of these detox remedies, suggested by celebrity nutritionist Keri Glassman:

Artichokes. The antioxidant plant compounds in this vegetable help treat liver disorders.
Avocado helps with glutathione production, a powerful antioxidant that’s good for liver cleansing.
Beetroot contains betalains that promote cell structure, repair and regeneration in the liver.
Dandelion root increases urine production to cleanse the bladder. Use it as a supplement.
Milk thistle is one of the most frequently researched herbal supplements for liver detoxification. It’s been shown to assist liver cells in removing toxins from healthy blood cells.

Other complementary and alternative experts also suggest celery seed, aloe vera, alfalfa, wheat grass, barley grass and yacon for detox.

Of course, you don’t need an expert to tell you how good water is for flushing out toxins. Drinks lots of water throughout the day: roughly 3 litres of fluids if you’re a man, and 2.2 litres of fluids if you’re a woman.

REMEMBER: Always consult your doctor before making major changes to your diet, and before using a supplement or alternative remedy.

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