The liver is an incredible multitasker. You can think of this vital organ as a filtration system. It helps your body get rid of toxins while harvesting nutrients from the foods you eat. When it comes to liver health, not all foods are created equal. This is especially true if you have a condition like cirrhosis or hepatitis C, which can prevent your liver from filtering nutrients and waste products as it should. Eating liver-friendly foods, like those listed below, can help lessen the damage caused by liver disease. Remember that before making any major changes to your diet, consult your doctor or a registered dietitian.
Avocados are staples in many cuisines. They are technically part of the berry family and offer many health benefits, including better liver health.
Research from 2015 looked at the role of certain foods in people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Researchers report that avocado may help lower blood lipids, or fats, and prevent liver damage. More research is needed to know for sure if people with NAFLD can benefit from consuming avocados.
What is known is that people who eat avocados are more likely to have lower body mass index (BMI) and lower waist circumference. According to a 2013 study, they may also have higher levels of HDL (good cholesterol). Some of these effects are thought to be related to the high fiber, healthy fat, and water content of avocados. A 2014 study on rats suggests that avocado oil may help the liver heal from damage. And eating fiber-rich foods is a good way to support liver health.
Your daily cup of coffee may play an even more vital role in your health than you might realize. When it comes to the health of your liver, some studies suggest that coffee reduces the risk of cirrhosis and liver fibrosis. Regular and moderate consumption could even help slow the progression of current liver diseases. Research from 2021 indicates that coffee consumption may reduce the risk of developing liver disease or fatty liver disease by approximately 20%. The key to these benefits is drinking coffee daily. For your general health, it is best to avoid adding artificial sugars and creams. Instead, try replacing the coffee with cow’s milk, unsweetened soy milk, almond milk, cinnamon, or cocoa powder.
In the 2021 study above, drinking more than 3 or 4 cups of coffee per day appeared to provide slightly less liver protection.
3. Oily fish
Fish may also provide some underlying health benefits to your liver, especially oily fish. Fatty fish like salmon can help reduce inflammation and fat buildup in the liver while promoting a lower overall BMI. Oily fish is also high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for heart and brain health. The authors of this review found that oily fish was beneficial for lowering blood lipids when eaten two or more times per week. If you cannot eat fish, fish oil supplements may be an option to discuss with your doctor or a registered dietitian. According to a 2021 study, a diet high in fatty fish may reduce the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma. People who ate oily fish at least twice a week had a 54% lower risk.
4. Olive oil
When consumed over a long period of time, olive oil has been found to improve heart health. A large 2020 study suggests that eating more than half a tablespoon of olive oil each day could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by 14%. A number of small studies suggest that olive oil may help reduce liver enzymes and liver fat that contribute to disease. Olive oil may also increase the amount of HDL (good cholesterol) in your blood, which could benefit your liver. Olive oil is high in calories, so it is advisable to use it in moderation. You can sprinkle olive oil on your salads instead of greasy dressings, sauté vegetables with it, or roast root vegetables in the oven with a drizzle of oil. If you’re trying to reduce your calorie intake, olive oil can also make your meals more filling, which will allow you to consume fewer calories.
Nuts, when eaten in small amounts, are nutrient-rich snacks and healthy fats. In addition to supporting cardiovascular health, walnuts may also help reduce the incidence of liver disease. Of all the types of tree nuts, walnuts are among the most beneficial for reducing fatty liver disease. This is due to their higher content of antioxidants and fatty acids. Nuts contain the most omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as antioxidant polyphenols.
In a 2021 study, participants were given 28 grams of nuts each day as part of a Mediterranean diet. People who ate nuts at least 5 or 6 times a week had significantly more hepatic (intrahepatic) fat loss than those who ate nuts less often. This fat loss was associated with overall anti-inflammatory and metabolic health benefits.
6. Complex carbohydrates
Although your entire diet shouldn’t consist of carbs, you want to eat a balanced mix of carbs, protein, and healthy fats. Complex carbohydrates are better than simple carbohydrates because they are metabolized more slowly and prevent large blood sugar fluctuations. This is why it is better for people with NAFLD to prefer complex carbohydrates over simple carbohydrates. Unrefined carbohydrates also contain essential nutrients such as zinc, B vitamins and higher levels of fiber, all of which are important for liver and metabolic health. The key is to choose carbohydrates made from whole grains, such as:
- wild rice
- whole wheat bread and pasta
- brown rice
- whole oats
As a general rule, whole foods are best for your liver and the rest of your body. When it comes to adding foods to your diet, your doctor or a registered dietitian is your best resource for knowing the best foods for you. Some liver conditions may require a more specialized diet. In some cases, people with advanced liver disease may not be able to absorb the fats they eat and need to limit oils and fatty fish. In general, people with hemochromatosis are recommended to avoid consuming iron, while people with hepatitis C may need to limit their iron and salt intake. Your doctor or dietitian can tell you more about which foods to eat and which to avoid.
Contact your doctor if you lose a lot of weight in a short time despite eating a liver-friendly diet. It could mean that your liver is not processing nutrients efficiently. You may be referred to a dietitian who will advise you on changes to your diet. Besides eating liver-friendly foods, your doctor may recommend that you lose weight if you have fatty liver disease or abstain from alcohol if your liver is damaged by alcohol consumption.