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.
For example, studies have repeatedly shown that drinking coffee helps lower the risk of cirrhosis, or permanent liver damage, in people with chronic liver disease.
Drinking coffee may also help reduce the risk of developing a common type of liver cancer, and it has positive effects on liver disease and inflammation.
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.
These benefits seem to stem from its ability to prevent the buildup of fat and collagen, two of the main markers of liver disease.
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.
While coffee has many health benefits, your liver, in particular, will thank you for that morning pick-me-up.
Summary: Coffee increases antioxidant levels in the liver, all while decreasing inflammation. It also helps lower the risk of developing liver disease, cancer, and fatty liver.
Tea is widely considered to be beneficial for health, but evidence has shown that it may have particular benefits for the liver.
One Japanese study found that drinking 10 cups of green tea per day was associated with improved blood markers of liver health.
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.
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.
Several mouse and rat studies have also demonstrated the beneficial effects of black and green tea extracts.
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.
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.
Summary: Black and green tea may help improve enzyme and fat levels in the liver. However, exercise caution if you’re taking a green tea extract, as it may cause damage.
Grapefruit contains antioxidants that naturally protect the liver. The two main antioxidants found in grapefruit are naringenin and naringin.
Several animal studies have found that both help protect the liver from injury.
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.
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.
Lastly, in rats, naringin has been shown to help improve the ability to metabolize alcohol and counteract some of alcohol’s negative effects.
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.
Summary: The antioxidants in grapefruit protect the liver by reducing inflammation and increasing its protective mechanisms. However, human studies, as well as those on grapefruit or grapefruit juice itself, are lacking.
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.
Several animal studies have demonstrated that whole cranberries and blueberries, as well as their extracts or juices, can help keep the liver healthy.
Consuming these fruits for 21 days protected the liver from damage. Additionally, blueberries helped increase immune cell response and antioxidant enzymes.
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.
What’s more, the 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.
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.
Summary: Berries are high in antioxidants, which help protect the liver from damage. They may even help improve its immune and antioxidant responses. Still, human studies are needed to confirm these results.
Grapes, especially red and purple grapes, contain a variety of beneficial plant compounds. The most famous one is resveratrol, which has several health benefits.
Many animal studies have shown that grapes and grape juice can benefit the liver.
Studies have found that they can have various benefits, including lowering inflammation, preventing damage, and increasing antioxidant levels.
A small study in humans with NAFLD showed that supplementing with grape seed extract for 3 months helped improve liver function.
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 grape seed 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.
Summary: Animal and some human studies show that grapes and grape seed extract protect the liver from damage, increase antioxidant levels, and fight inflammation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Summary: Prickly pear fruit and juice may help with hangover symptoms by reducing inflammation. They may also help protect the liver from damage caused by alcohol consumption.
7. Beetroot juice
Beetroot juice is a source of nitrates and antioxidants called betalains, which may benefit heart health and reduce oxidative damage and inflammation.
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.
Several rat studies have shown that beetroot juice helps reduce oxidative damage and inflammation in the liver, as well as increase natural detoxification enzymes.
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.
Summary: Beetroot juice helps protect the liver from oxidative damage and inflammation, all while increasing its natural detoxification enzymes. However, human studies are needed.
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.
Animal studies have shown Brussels sprouts and broccoli sprout extract help increase levels of detoxification enzymes and protect the liver from damage.
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A study in human liver cells found that this effect remained even when Brussels sprouts were cooked.
A 2016 study found that mice fed broccoli developed fewer tumors or fatty liver disease than their counterparts in the control group.
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.
Summary: Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts may help increase the liver’s natural detoxification enzymes, protect it from damage, and improve blood levels of liver enzymes.
Nuts are high in fats, nutrients like the antioxidant vitamin E, and beneficial plant compounds.
This composition is responsible for several health benefits, especially for heart health, but also potentially for the liver.
A 2019 study found a diet higher in nuts to be associated with a decreased risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
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.
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While more high-quality studies are needed, preliminary data points to nuts being an important food group for liver health.
Summary: Nut intake has been associated with improved liver enzyme levels in people with NAFLD. Conversely, low nut intake has been associated with a higher risk of developing the disease.
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.
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.
Therefore, it’s a good idea to reduce your intake of omega-6 fats, too.
Summary: Eating omega-3-rich fatty fish has many benefits for the liver. However, it’s just as important to keep your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio in check.
11. Olive oil
Olive oil is considered a healthy fat because of its many health benefits, including positive effects on the heart and metabolic health.
However, it also has positive effects on the liver.
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.
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.
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.
Summary: Studies show that olive oil consumption helps decrease the levels of fat in the liver, increase blood flow, and improve liver enzyme levels.
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.Last updated on December 25, 2021, and last reviewed by an expert on November 30, 2021.