11 Foods That Are Good For Your Liver
The liver is a powerhouse of an organ.
It performs a variety of essential tasks, ranging from producing proteins, cholesterol, and bile to storing vitamins, minerals, and even carbohydrates.
It also breaks down toxins like alcohol, medications, and natural byproducts of metabolism. Keeping your liver in good shape is important for maintaining health.
This article lists the 11 best foods to eat to keep your liver healthy.
Coffee is one of the best beverages you can drink to promote liver health.
Studies have shown that drinking coffee protects the liver from disease, even among those who already have problems with this organ.
It’s even associated with a lower risk of death in people with chronic liver disease, with the greatest benefits seen in those who drink at least three cups per day (4).
These benefits seem to stem from its ability to prevent the buildup of fat and collagen, two of the main markers of liver disease (2).
Coffee also decreases inflammation and increases levels of the antioxidant glutathione. Antioxidants neutralize harmful free radicals, which are produced naturally in the body and can damage cells (2).
Tea is widely considered to be beneficial for health, but evidence has shown that it may have particular benefits for the liver.
A smaller study including people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) found that drinking green tea high in antioxidants for 12 weeks improved liver enzyme levels and may also help reduce oxidative stress and fat deposits in the liver (7).
Furthermore, another review found that people who drank green tea were less likely to develop liver cancer. The lowest risk was seen in people who drank four or more cups per day (8).
For example, one study in mice found that black tea extract reversed many of the negative effects of a high fat diet on the liver, as well as improved blood markers of liver health (11).
Nevertheless, some people, especially those who have liver problems, should exercise caution before consuming green tea as a supplement.
That’s because there have been several reports of liver damage resulting from the use of supplements containing green tea extract (12).
Grapefruit contains antioxidants that naturally protect the liver. The two main antioxidants found in grapefruit are naringenin and naringin.
The protective effects of grapefruit are known to occur in two ways — by reducing inflammation and protecting cells.
Studies have also shown that these antioxidants can help reduce the development of hepatic fibrosis, a harmful condition in which excessive connective tissue builds up in the liver. This typically results from chronic inflammation (13, 1,4).
Moreover, in mice that were fed a high fat diet, naringenin decreased the amount of fat in the liver and increased the number of enzymes necessary to burn fat, which can help prevent excess fat from accumulating (13).
Lastly, in rats, naringin has been shown to help improve the ability to metabolize alcohol and counteract some of alcohol’s negative effects (15).
Thus far, the effects of grapefruit or grapefruit juice itself, rather than its components, have not been studied. Additionally, almost all studies looking at the antioxidants in grapefruit have been conducted in animals.
Nevertheless, the current evidence points to grapefruit being a good way to keep your liver healthy by helping prevent damage and inflammation.
4. Blueberries And Cranberries
Blueberries and cranberries both contain anthocyanins, which are antioxidants that give berries their distinctive colors. They’ve also been linked to many health benefits.
Consuming these fruits for 21 days protected the liver from damage. Additionally, blueberries helped increase immune cell response and antioxidant enzymes (17).
Another study found that the types of antioxidants found commonly in blueberries slowed the development of lesions and fibrosis, which is the development of scar tissue, in the livers of rats (18).
What’s more, blueberry extract has been shown to inhibit the growth of human liver cancer cells in test-tube studies. However, more studies are needed to determine whether this effect can be replicated in humans (19).
Making these berries a regular part of your diet is a good way to help make sure your liver is supplied with the antioxidants it needs to stay healthy.
Grapes, especially red and purple grapes, contain a variety of beneficial plant compounds. The most famous one is resveratrol, which has a number of health benefits.
Many animal studies have shown that grapes and grape juice can benefit the liver.
A small study in humans with NAFLD showed that supplementing with grapeseed extract for 3 months helped improve liver function (22).
However, since grapeseed extract is a concentrated form, you might not experience the same effects from consuming whole grapes. More studies are needed before taking grapeseed extract to promote liver health can be recommended.
Nonetheless, the wide range of evidence from animal and some human studies suggests that grapes are a very liver-friendly food.
6. Prickly Pear
Prickly pear, known scientifically as Opuntia ficus-indica, is a popular type of edible cactus. Its fruit and juice are most commonly consumed.
It has long been used in traditional medicine as a treatment for the following:
- liver disease
A 2004 study in 55 people found that the extract of this plant helped reduce symptoms of a hangover.
Participants experienced less nausea, dry mouth, and lack of appetite. They were also half as likely to experience a severe hangover if they consumed the extract before drinking alcohol, which is detoxified by the liver (23).
The study concluded these effects were due to a reduction in inflammation, which often occurs after drinking alcohol.
Another study in mice found that consuming prickly pear extract helped normalize enzyme and cholesterol levels when consumed at the same time as a pesticide known to be harmful to the liver. Subsequent studies observed similar results (24).
A more recent study in rats sought to determine the effectiveness of prickly pear juice, rather than its extract, at combating the negative effects of alcohol.
This study found that the juice helped decrease the amount of oxidative damage and injury to the liver after alcohol consumption and keep antioxidant and inflammation levels stable (25).
More human studies are needed, especially using prickly pear fruit and juice, rather than extract. Nonetheless, the studies thus far have demonstrated that prickly pear has positive effects on the liver.
7. Beetroot Juice
It’s reasonable to assume that eating beets themselves would have similar health effects. However, most studies use beetroot juice. You can juice beets yourself or buy beetroot juice from the store or online.
While animal studies look promising, similar studies have not been conducted in humans.
Other beneficial health effects of beetroot juice have been observed in animal studies and replicated in human studies. However, more studies are needed to confirm the benefits of beetroot juice on liver health in humans.
8. Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and mustard greens are known for their high fiber content and distinctive taste. They’re also high in beneficial plant compounds.
A 2016 study found that mice fed broccoli developed fewer tumors or fatty liver disease than their counterparts in the control group (32).
Human studies are limited. But so far, cruciferous vegetables look promising as a beneficial food for liver health.
Try lightly roasting them with garlic and lemon juice or balsamic vinegar to turn them into a tasty and healthy dish.
Nuts are high in fats, nutrients like the antioxidant vitamin E, and beneficial plant compounds.
A 2019 study found a diet higher in nuts to be associated with a decreased risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (33).
What’s more, a second observational study found that men who ate larger amounts of nuts and seeds had a lower risk of developing NAFLD than men who ate smaller amounts of nuts and seeds (34).
While more high quality studies are needed, preliminary data points to nuts being an important food group for liver health.
10. Fatty Fish
Fatty fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are healthy fats that help reduce inflammation and have been associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
A 2016 analysis found that omega-3 fatty acids helped lower liver fat and triglycerides in those with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease or nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (35).
While consuming omega-3-rich fatty fish appears to be beneficial for your liver, adding more omega-3 fats to your diet is not the only thing to consider.
The ratio of omega-3 fats to omega-6 fats is also important.
Most Americans exceed the intake recommendations for omega-6 fats, which are found in many plant oils. An omega-6 to omega-3 ratio that’s too high can promote the development of liver disease (36).
Therefore, it’s a good idea to reduce your intake of omega-6 fats, too.
11. Olive Oil
Olive oil is considered a healthy fat because of its many health benefits, including positive effects on heart and metabolic health.
However, it also has positive effects on the liver (37).
One small study including 11 people with NAFLD found that consuming 1 teaspoon (6.5 mL) of olive oil per day improved liver enzyme and fat levels.
It also raised levels of a protein associated with positive metabolic effects (38).
The participants also had less fat accumulation and better blood flow in the liver.
Several more recent studies have found similar effects of olive oil consumption in humans, including less fat accumulation in the liver, improved insulin sensitivity, and improved blood levels of liver enzymes (39, 40).
Fat accumulation in the liver is part of the first stage of liver disease. Therefore, olive oil’s positive effects on liver fat, as well as other aspects of health, make it a valuable part of a healthy diet.
The Bottom Line
Your liver is an important organ with many essential functions, and it’s recommended that you do what you can to protect it.
The foods listed above have demonstrated beneficial effects on the liver. These benefits include the following:
- a lowered risk of liver disease and cancer
- higher antioxidant and detoxification enzyme levels
- protection against harmful toxins
Incorporating these foods into your diet is a natural and healthy way to help keep your liver functioning at its best.
Taylor Jones, RD is a writer for Healthline.
Printed courtesy of Healthline.