The food you eat has a powerful impact on your liver. Foods such as pumpkin, green tea, turmeric, and leafy greens have a natural cleansing ability which helps in detoxing the body of harmful chemicals, heavy metals, and toxins.
However, there are some food items that may damage the liver extensively. Examples include fatty foods, starchy foods, refined sugar, and alcohol. The liver often finds it hard to process such foods, resulting in their build-up. The more the build-up, the higher the risk of liver injury, damage, and liver diseases such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, hepatic steatosis, hepatic fibrosis.
Thus, it is essential to choose your diet with care. Mentioned below is a list of some of the best and worst food items for the liver to ensure you choose the right and healthy food benefiting your liver.
23 Best Foods For A Healthy Liver
For a healthy liver, it is essential to supplement the diet with liver-friendly foods. Some of the foods that benefit the liver include
Ginger, especially its roots, has long been used for therapeutic purposes.
Gingerol, the active compound present in ginger, may protect the liver from inflammation and cellular damage caused by non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (1).
The antioxidant activity of ginger helps to improve the overall functioning of the liver. Ginger is a superfood that helps boost your immunity.
Laden with monounsaturated fats (good fats), fiber, and phytonutrients, moderate intake of avocados may benefit the liver immensely (2). The antioxidant glutathione in avocados plays a crucial role in the Conjugate Pathway of liver detoxification to cleanse the liver of the harmful build-up of heavy metals and toxins (3).
Research suggests avocados contain certain liver protectants that work to lower the incidences of liver damage significantly (4).
Pumpkin is a highly nutritious and healthy food for the liver. The vitamins (Vitamins A, B1, B6, C, and E), minerals (calcium, magnesium, manganese, folate, copper), and fiber content in pumpkin may play a vital role in the detoxification process.
The pumpkin seeds come enriched with the goodness of fiber, flavonoids, omega-3 fatty acids, and omega-6 fatty acids and may benefit individuals with liver cirrhosis. The presence of omega-3 fatty acids in pumpkin seeds may protect the liver by reducing the deposition of fats and harmful triglycerides (5).
Research in adult rats suggests that the pumpkin seed oil may reduce the oxidative stress and subsequent liver damage triggered by sodium nitrate (6).
Apricots are an excellent source of antioxidants with hepatoprotective properties. Apricots are rich in flavonoids (quercetin, catechins, and chlorogenic acids), vitamins (A, C, and E), and carotenoids (beta-carotene).
Quercetin and catechins possess anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-carcinogenic properties that may reduce inflammation and liver injury (7). Catechins may be beneficial in alcohol-induced liver injury (8).
Carotenoids (beta carotene), with their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, may safeguard the liver from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (9). Thus, apricots intake in the diet may play a critical role in lowering the incidence of liver steatosis triggered by free radicals (10).
Watermelon is a superfood that benefits almost every organ of the body. Watermelon contains Vitamin C and lycopene, which exhibits anti-inflammatory, antioxidant properties. As a result, this superfood may protect the liver from the damaging effects of free radicals and oxidative stress (11).
Experiments in rats suggest that watermelon juice may elevate antioxidant activities. As a result, this may protect the rat’s liver and brain from injury and damaging effects of oxidative stress triggered by chronic alcohol abuse (12).
With more than 90% water content, watermelon is a great liver cleansing food. Watermelon exhibits diuretic activities (13) and aids the liver in processing ammonia (a toxic byproduct generated during protein digestion), followed by its elimination from the body.
The berries, be it blueberries, cranberries, or raspberries, are all enriched with anthocyanins, the phytochemicals that exhibit antioxidant properties. The presence of anthocyanins makes berries a healthy dietary choice for the liver.
Research suggests blueberries may protect the liver from injury caused by hepatic fibrosis (14). It may also contribute to lowering the incidences of liver damage caused by oxidative stress, lipid peroxidation, and inflammation.
Cranberries come enriched with ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) and anthocyanins (flavonoids) that exhibit strong antioxidant activities. As a result, cranberries may protect the liver from oxidative damage and inflammation.
A scientific study in obese mice (fed a high-fat diet) suggests that incorporating cranberry extract in a high-fat diet can reduce the inflammation that may result in steatosis progressing to steatohepatitis (15). Cranberries may also show hepatoprotective properties against non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (16).
The compounds quercetin and ellagic acid in raspberries possess powerful antioxidant properties. Research suggests quercetin may have some role to play in reducing liver fibrosis and inflammation (17).
As per a scientific study (2013) published in the Journal of Pharmacology & Pharmacotherapeutics, ellagic acid may be instrumental in alleviating the liver damage that is drug-induced, in mice.
The licorice roots, in particular, are known for their therapeutic properties.
Licorice roots are packed with antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties that aid in effective detoxification of the liver.
Research suggests that licorice may stall the progression of liver injury caused by alcohol abuse (18).
The antioxidant activities of ginseng help to enhance the functioning of the liver (19). It may also shield the liver from injury triggered by viral infections, alcohol abuse, and toxin build-up.
Research suggests ginseng may also boost the regeneration of liver cells, especially after surgery (20).
The anti-inflammatory property of ginseng may significantly reduce inflammation in individuals with liver dysfunction.
9. Dandelion Roots
Dandelion comes with immense therapeutic properties. Be it the roots or the flowers, dandelion is laden with nutrients and antioxidants (such as beta carotene) that improve liver health and its functioning significantly.
A scientific study shows that dandelion not only reduces oxidative stress but may also prevent or slow down the development of carbon tetrachloride (CCl4)-induced hepatic fibrosis in rats (21).
A scientific study in rats concluded that dandelion root extract exhibits nephroprotective and hepatoprotective properties. These properties make dandelion roots a potential therapeutic agent to mitigate acute hepatic and renal inflammatory injury (22).
10. Milk Thistle
Milk thistle is also referred to as Silymarin. It is an excellent supplement to boost liver health (23).
The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of milk thistle may reduce inflammation of the liver significantly.
It may also help in the regeneration of healthy liver cells. Milk thistle may also safeguard the liver from injuries triggered by alcohol abuse.
11. Fatty Fishes
Rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, fatty fish may reduce inflammation of the liver cells. The healthy fatty acid content in fatty fish may also be instrumental in reducing fats and triglycerides deposition in the liver (24).
Salmon contains a high content of omega-3 fatty acids such as docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid. Both these omega-3 fatty acids enhance the metabolism of hepatic lipids and reduce oxidative stress.
A scientific study in rats suggests that the dietary intake of these healthy fatty acids may reverse the non-alcoholic fatty liver disease triggered by a high-fat diet (25).
Sardines come loaded with vitamins (vitamin B12, niacin, D), minerals (selenium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, calcium), proteins, and omega-3 fatty acids. As in all other fatty fish, sardines also exhibit anti-inflammatory properties that may improve liver health by lowering the inflammation brought about by oxidative stress and free radicals.
Papaya is considered a healthy food for the liver. Rich in lycopene and beta-carotene, papaya may impede the damaging effects of oxidative stress on the liver cells (26).
The antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-lipogenic activities of papaya contribute to its hepatoprotective properties in reducing the damage caused by high-fat, diet-triggered hepatic steatosis (27).
Research from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus using a high-fat diet (Western-style) fed mice offspring came up with an interesting observation. The study suggests that papaya, along with kiwi, parsley, and celery, contain pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ). PQQ is an antioxidant that can stall the development of fatty liver disease (28).
Coffee is a popular beverage that can do the liver a world of good. Scientific studies show that drinking coffee may lower the risk of liver cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma in individuals with chronic liver disorders.
Regular consumption of coffee may lower the severity of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and the inflammation associated with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (29)
Studies also show that regular consumption of coffee may reduce the accumulation of collagen and fats in the liver. It may also enhance the antioxidant activity by elevating glutathione levels. Glutathione plays a vital role in the conjugation pathway and thus facilitates an effective liver detox (30)
Loaded with fiber, oatmeal may be considered an excellent food option for a healthy liver. Oatmeal contains beta-glucans.
Studies show that beta-glucan stimulates antioxidant and phagocytic effects. This property of beta-glucans may go a long way to reduce oxidative stress and hepatic damage triggered by obstructive jaundice in rats (31).
In rats, beta-glucan may also reduce the accumulation of fats in the liver, mitigating the harmful consequences, including the development of fatty liver diseases.
Studies involving high-fat-fed rats suggest that incorporating oatmeal into the diet may not only help to lose weight but reduce the severity of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (32).
15. Sunflower Seeds
Sunflower seeds are a superfood to keep fatty liver diseases at bay. Sunflower seeds are laden with vitamin E. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant and shows hepatoprotective properties.
Oxidative stress and the damaging effects of free radicals are the main factors that trigger the progression of steatosis into a more severe non-alcoholic steatohepatitis. The Vitamin E-laden sunflower seeds may safeguard the liver from oxidative stress.
Studies in mice show that in non-cirrhotic and non-diabetic adults, Vitamin E may prevent or slow down the development of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (33).
Grapes may play a significant role in liver detoxification. The effectiveness of grapes mainly comes from resveratrol, a polyphenol found in grape seeds and skin. Resveratrol has antioxidant properties and may contribute to the prevention as well as treatment of various liver disorders.
Scientific studies suggest that by regulating the lipid profile and insulin resistance in rats, resveratrol can lower hepatic steatosis quite appreciably (34).
Another study showed that when individuals with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease were given grape seed extract for three months, there was an improvement in their liver function (35).
Cilantro is a popular herb used in many cuisines. In addition to being a taste enhancer, cilantro comes with many health benefits. Cilantro is rich in vitamins ( vitamin A, C, E, and K), minerals (potassium, magnesium, iron, and calcium), and many phytonutrients, including carotenoids (quercetin, lutein, and zeaxanthin).
Cilantro leaves may act as a chelating agent, a property that plays a pivotal role in detoxing the body of heavy metals, such as mercury, lead, and arsenic. In doing so, cilantro protects the liver from the severe consequences the heavy metal build-up might trigger (36), (37).
The carotenoids, be it quercetin or lutein, possess anti-inflammatory, antioxidant properties and may protect the liver (concluded from animal studies) from inflammation and damages brought about by free radicals (38), (39).
18. Chicory Roots
Chicory roots (roasted and grounded to brew) often serve as a healthy and caffeine-free alternative to coffee. Rich in vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals such as flavonoids, tannins, inulin, sesquiterpene lactones, chicory roots come with humongous therapeutic properties (40).
Research suggests that the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antihepatotoxic, and antihyperlipidemic properties of chicory roots may go a long way in treating non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (41).
Studies in animals show that chicory roots may come across as a possible therapeutic agent in treating acute oxidative stress-induced hepatic damage (42).
Kefir is a nutritious, probiotics-laden, healthy drink made of fermented milk. Rich in probiotics, kefir primarily keeps the gut healthy by restoring the healthy balance of the gut flora.
An experimental model using obese (ob/ob) mice with fatty liver showed that kefir consumption inhibits the hepatic lipogenesis pathway, resulting in some significant improvement in the incidence of fatty liver syndrome (43).
Another experiment using mice with fructose-induced hepatic steatosis showed that the kefir peptides might play a pivotal role in alleviating the symptoms associated with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (44)
When you talk about probiotics, the first thing that comes to mind is yogurt. Be it enhancing the gut or exhibiting hepatoprotective properties, the benefits of yogurt are immense.
Despite being nutritionally enriched, not all yogurt contains the probiotic strains responsible for the optimal maintenance of gut health. Many yogurts available in the market come with additional strains of probiotics, such as L. acidophilus, enhancing their efficiency by several folds. Such yogurts, known as probiotic yogurt, can benefit liver health immensely.
Research suggests that intake of probiotic yogurt may lower the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease by improving the insulin level (fasting) and the body mass index (45).
Chronic liver problems generally trigger an imbalance in the intestinal flora. A scientific study in patients with chronic liver disease showed that the consumption of probiotic yogurt improved the imbalance in the intestinal flora to some extent. Probiotic yogurt also exhibited some therapeutic effects in individuals with chronic liver disorders (46).
For maximum benefits, make sure you buy natural, unsweetened Greek yogurt.
21. Flaxseed Oil
Flaxseed oil is a rich source of ALA or alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid that exhibits many health benefits. Flaxseed oil shows antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Experiments in mice show that flaxseed oil can attenuate the inflammation and damage caused by hepatic oxidative stress. Thus, dietary intake of flaxseed oil may be instrumental in preventing the progression of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (Western-Type Diet-Induced) (47).
Scientific studies in mice suggest that dietary intake of flaxseed oil can improve the homeostasis of lipids at the adipose tissue-liver axis quite appreciably. In doing so, flaxseed oil may prevent or alleviate acute alcohol-induced hepatic steatosis in mice (48).
22. Jerusalem Artichokes
Jerusalem artichokes come laden with inulin, a dietary fiber with powerful prebiotic activities. The role of Jerusalem artichoke in keeping the gut healthy and suppressing the growth of malignant cells in the colon are noteworthy. However, this tuberous vegetable may also provide some benefits for the liver.
Experiments in mice fed with a high-fat diet show that the inclusion of Jerusalem artichoke in the diet may impede glycogen and fat accumulation. It may also enhance the overall hepatic lipid profile and glucose tolerance quite appreciably.
Thus, Jerusalem artichoke may lower the probability of fatty liver progressing into fatty liver diseases such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease or the more severe non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (49).
23. Beans and Soy
Beans, be it navy or kidney beans, are rich in proteins and dietary fiber. Research suggests that beans and other legumes (such as lentils, peas) may play a significant role in lowering the incidence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (50).
Soy proteins, especially β-conglycinin, may exhibit hepatoprotective activities. Research in mice shows that β-conglycinin in soy protein may be instrumental in preventing the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease triggered by a high-fat or high-sucrose diet.
The study further suggests that fish oil and β-conglycinin can inhibit the development of the alcohol-triggered fatty liver (51).
5 of the Worst Foods for the Liver
Mentioned below are a few food choices that may harm the liver and are best left avoided.
1. Fatty Foods
Not all fats exhibit similar effects on the body. Unsaturated (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) or “Good/Healthy Fats” benefit the body immensely. Saturated or the “Bad Fats,” on the other hand, may harm the body and should be avoided. Most fried foods, fast foods, packaged snacks, and chips are rich in saturated fats (52).
Research suggests that regular intake of saturated fats may adversely affect liver functioning. There may be an increased build-up of fats that may trigger inflammation and tissue damage resulting in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) (53).
In extreme cases, the extent of the damage may be so severe that it may give rise to liver cirrhosis.
2. Starchy Foods
Foods rich in starch such as potatoes, pasta, rice, bread, cakes, and baked foods may have a deleterious effect on the liver.
Research suggests that high-carb foods are generally low in dietary fiber and may result in an increased accumulation of triglycerides in the liver.
The higher the triglyceride accumulation, the more the chances of impaired liver function, inflammation, and fatty liver disorders such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (54).
3. Added Sugar
Increased intake of refined sugar or foods with a high level of added sugar (cakes, pastries, candies, ice-cream, desserts, aerated drinks, and beverages) can harm the liver beyond imagination.
Research suggests that regular intake of added sugar (for example, high fructose corn syrup) may increase fat deposition in the liver. The increased fat deposition may serve as a precursor for fatty liver disease such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). The intake of added sugar may also aggravate cirrhosis in individuals with NAFLD (55).
A diet high in salt content may affect many body organs, including the liver.
Research in animal models (mice and chick embryos) suggests that a high salt diet may elevate the risk of liver fibrosis and damage in developing and adult embryos by several folds. The damaging effects may be oxidative stress-induced (56).
Avoiding canned foods (vegetables and meat), limiting the intake of bacon and salted deli meat, and eating out less frequently are simple yet effective measures to cut down on the salt intake.
Alcohol consumption in excess (five drinks or more for men and four drinks and more for females) may harm the liver immensely.
The liver, through a series of enzymatic reactions, breaks down alcohol into water and carbon dioxide, which then gets eliminated from the body. One of the byproducts of alcohol breakdown is the highly toxic acetaldehyde.
Acetaldehyde can be detrimental to the liver, causing severe alcoholic liver diseases, including liver cirrhosis. It may also increase the probability of liver cancer (Hepatocellular Carcinoma) (57).
Alcohol abuse may also increase the risk of alcoholic hepatitis by slowing down the regeneration of new cells by the liver (58). Thus, giving up on alcohol consumption or drinking in moderation is essential to keep the liver healthy.
The food that you eat can be a boon or a bane to the liver. Many foods serve as a natural cleanser for the liver, keeping it healthy and disease-free.
However, a few food items, such as alcohol, fatty foods, may have adverse effects on the liver and its functioning.
To ensure optimal liver health, one needs to be careful with their diet and choice of food items.