Though people rarely consider it, food is medicine. So one of the best ways to heal your body is through a nutritious diet. And because your liver is a critical organ for processing what you eat, it makes perfect sense to eat foods that support its health.
Caring for your liver is especially important when your gut is imbalanced. Your liver has to filter, process, and break down harmful compounds in the foods you eat, as well as toxins that are created in your gut by yeast or bacterial overgrowth. Alcohol, drugs, and environmental pollutants can take their toll on your liver too, causing it to become inefficient and sluggish.
Fortunately, there are plenty of foods that can protect your liver and help it function at its best by stimulating the production of glucose and bile. Antioxidant-rich foods also shield your liver from free radical harm, while other plant-based foods can help cleanse the liver by increasing its ability to flush toxins from the body.
Foods That May Harm Your Liver
First, a quick note about the foods to avoid if you’re concerned about your liver health.
Your favorite bread might be a bad choice too! Many breads and pastas are full of refined carbs that can contribute to fatty liver disease. Best to stick with whole grains.
Foods That Can Improve Your Liver Health
In the long-term, a healthy diet can help to maintain and improve your liver health. Let’s take a look at the top nine liver-friendly foods.
Garlic is a powerful medicine and almost a pharmacy in itself for treating a poorly-functioning liver.
Garlic causes your liver to activate specific enzymes that stimulate detoxification, helping clear harmful toxins from the body.
Garlic also contains selenium, an important mineral and antioxidant. Selenium plays a role in activating the liver enzymes that keep your liver functioning optimally.
Garlic may even help to speed recovery from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). This chronic liver disease has become more common in recent decades. Studies have shown that garlic can reduce body weight and body fat mass, which significantly reduces the burden on the liver.
Grapefruit, lemons, and limes are great for boosting the liver’s cleansing powers. And a little goes a long way! Citrus has been found to help in the production of important detoxification enzymes, particularly ALT and AST.
A study on mice found that lemon juice was helpful to those with liver impairment. The mice were first given ethanol then treated with lemon juice, which was shown to raise their liver enzymes back to normal. This significantly improved the histopathological changes in their liver. It was also found that other harmful effects of the ethanol were reversed by the lemon juice, such as increased lipid peroxidation and increased liver triglyceride levels.
It appears that other citrus fruits (grapefruit, oranges, lemons, and limes) are all excellent at improving liver function. This may be due to the variety of compounds including vitamin C, essential oils, pectin, and flavonoids. As an antioxidant, Vitamin C helps to prevent oxidative damage and lipid peroxidation, while pectin benefits the integrity of the gut lining.
Cruciferous Vegetables and Leafy Greens
Eating vegetables was never so important. Cruciferous veggies such as broccoli and cauliflower are rich in glucosinolate, a compound that helps the liver to produce detoxifying enzymes. At the same time, the sulfur in these plants is great for supporting liver health.
Leafy greens such as spinach and kale are packed with chlorophyll, a powerful antioxidant. Chlorophyll helps to protect liver cells and other body tissues by increasing phase II biotransformation enzymes. These are the specific enzymes that work to optimize liver functioning and support your body’s natural elimination of harmful toxins. Try to include salads in your diet wherever possible—they don’t need to be boring or expensive.
A number of animal studies have found that chlorophyllin may even reduce the risk for both liver cancer and aflatoxin-induced liver damage, thanks to its ability to increase these phase II enzymes. It’s also believed that they play a part in neutralizing heavy metals that have entered the body.
One of the most important herbs of all, turmeric’s liver-loving properties means that it is often included in liver tonics. As a potent antioxidant, turmeric helps to prevent oxidative damage to the liver and ward off free radicals.
Numerous studies have shown that the active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, can help to eliminate lipid radicals in the cell membrane of the liver, making it a lipid-soluble antioxidant.
In addition, curcumin has anti-inflammatory and antifibrotic properties that protect the liver against damage. It can help to treat and prevent fatty liver, hepatic inflammation, alcoholic hepatitis (necrosis) and progressive alcoholic cirrhosis (fibrosis).
A fantastic source of the amino acid arginine, nuts are a perfect addition to almost any diet. They help the liver in clearing out toxins like ammonia, as well as boosting levels of glutathione and omega-3 fatty acids, which all support natural liver cleansing.
Nuts contain a blend of fatty acids, bioactive compounds, and essential nutrients. Although they have a high-fat content, most of this is from beneficial monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Nuts are also rich in vitamin E, a valuable antioxidant. The phytosterols and polyphenols in nuts are helpful in reducing low-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) concentrations and free radicals.
Bright red beets are rich in betaine, a compound that encourages liver health and can help to reverse fatty liver disease.
Betaine helps to defend the body’s bile ducts which are vital for assisting in healthy digestion. Bile breaks down food in the stomach and keeps the liver functioning properly. By allowing bile to flow more freely, betaine supports the movement of food through the intestines and assists indigestion.
Beets also increase oxygen efficiency in the blood, which in turn helps the liver cleanse the blood of harmful toxins.
As a good source of vitamin C and fiber, beets can promote the natural cleansing of the digestive system and lighten the burden on the liver.
Green tea leaves are rich in catechins, a specific type of antioxidant known to boost liver function.
Green tea’s particular catechins work to protect your body from harmful free radicals that are known to cause cellular damage and inflammation. They are especially beneficial for assisting liver function and have been found to protect your liver from the damaging effects of toxic substances such as food chemicals and alcohol.
It’s also been found that concentrated green tea extract can help to block the amount of fat stored in the liver. Studies on obese mice showed that daily ingestion of green tea prevented them from developing severe fatty liver disease. It also improved their liver function and reversed any decline in their antioxidant levels.
Although green tea contains a small amount of caffeine, it’s possible to take caffeine-free green tea supplements to benefit your liver.
Of all the fruits, blueberries are perhaps the most beneficial for liver health.
Blueberries are packed with powerful plant compounds called phytonutrients which can help prevent urinary tract infections. They’re also known for their anti-inflammatory properties and high vitamin C content, which helps to keep the capillaries and blood vessels of the liver healthy. Their fiber and potassium content also support normal liver function.
But most importantly, blueberries are an excellent source of anthocyanins, the particular type of antioxidants that make them blue.
Anthocyanins are incredible antioxidants that have been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells in the liver. Cranberries are also a good source of anthocyanins.
Fish such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel are some of your best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. These are the healthy fats that work to reduce inflammation and keep cholesterol levels in balance. In this way, omega-3 has been found to help prevent ‘bad’ fats from accumulating in the liver.
These bad fats are a major cause of fatty liver disease, which can be fatal.
Omega 3 fatty acids help normalize liver enzymes, reduce inflammation, and improve insulin resistance. Eating plenty of omega-3-rich foods is important for keeping omega-6 in balance. Many of us exceed our recommended intake of omega-6 fats, which are present in plant oils and tend to promote disease-causing inflammation. Too much omega-6 in the diet is a serious risk factor for the development of liver disease, so it just makes sense to eat as much oily fish as possible!
Lisa Richards is a nutritionist and the creator of the Candida Diet. She has been featured on Today, Women’s Health magazine, Reader’s Digest, and Shape, among others. Through her website, theCandidaDiet.com, she explains the benefits of a low-sugar, anti-inflammatory diet.