Did you know that your liver is responsible for over 500 functions, including filtering some 1.4 gallons of your blood per minute? Your liver works very hard, and one of the best ways to support your liver health is through a healthy diet.
In addition to filtering the blood from your digestive tract, your liver:
- Breaks down the macronutrients (carbs, fat, protein) in your food
- Stores vitamins (A, B12, D, E, K) and minerals (copper and iron)
- Creates bile and cholesterol
- Detoxifies harmful chemicals, such as alcohol and drugs, from your body
Much of your liver’s job involves processing the foods and drinks you consume. After your stomach and intestines digest these items, key particles are absorbed into your bloodstream and passed on to the liver.
Your liver then takes the good material and turns it into forms that can be used by your body. The waste gets excreted through your urine and stools.
So, it’s only fitting that the key to a healthy liver is a diet full of nutrient- and antioxidant-rich foods. Today, we’re examining eight of the top foods and drinks for liver health in detail.
Top 8 Foods & Drinks for a Healthy Liver
Spinach belongs to the group of nutrient powerhouses known as leafy greens. It is an excellent source of vitamins A, C, K, and folate, as well as the mineral manganese. But it’s also one of the richest sources of the antioxidant glutathione.
Glutathione is a molecular substance found in every cell in your body. It’s produced naturally by the liver and can protect your liver cells against damage caused by free radicals (also known as oxidative stress).
It also supports liver detoxification.
Low levels of glutathione can worsen cell damage and death, leading to both alcoholic and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Fatty liver disease occurs when too much fat builds up in the liver. It can result from drinking too much alcohol or eating an unhealthy diet.
Research shows the molecule can significantly improve blood levels of bilirubin and enzymes in people with fatty liver disease.
Eating spinach regularly could help your liver fight against the disease.
How to Include Spinach in Your Diet
Raw or cooked, spinach is extremely versatile. It can be incorporated into any meal of the day.
- Breakfast: Whip up a tasty egg-white omelet with spinach and swiss cheese.
- Lunch: Toss a fresh spring salad with spinach, strawberry, feta, and walnuts.
- Dinner: Sauté baby spinach leaves in olive oil with garlic and onion.
A bowl of steel-cut oats is just the high-fiber breakfast your liver needs to function at its best.
Fiber is the non-digestible carbohydrate found in plant foods, including whole-grain oats. By slowing digestion, it can help manage your blood levels of glucose and cholesterol—two substances the liver manufactures and stores.
Certain fibers can feed the healthy bacteria in your gut as well. One such fiber abundant in oats is called beta-glucan, and studies suggest it also has special benefits for your liver.
One 2016 study review published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences revealed beta-glucans can reduce fat stores in the livers of mice. This action may especially benefit those with fatty liver disease.
Another animal study found that a high-fiber diet can reverse the negative effects of fatty liver on liver cell death and liver regeneration.
How to Include Oats in Your Diet
Oatmeal doesn’t have to be boring. Dress it up with healthy toppings like:
- Fresh fruit
- Manuka honey
- Chia seeds
You can also work a handful of oats into your Greek yogurt, smoothies, breakfast bars, and baked bread recipes.
Just remember to choose steel-cut or rolled oats. They’re the least processed, which means they’re more likely to retain the whole grain, and thus, loads of fiber.
Your three-cups-a-day coffee habit may actually be good for your body—and particularly, your liver.
To start with, the energizing drink contains many valuable nutrients and antioxidants.
One cup (eight ounces) of joe offers 11% of the recommended daily value (DV) of riboflavin and six percent DV of vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid). It also supplies three percent of your daily potassium and manganese needs.
What’s more, research has shown that coffee drinkers have a reduced risk of chronic diseases like liver disease.
Several studies show that chronic liver disease patients who regularly drink coffee have a lower risk of cirrhosis (scarring) and lower rates of liver cancer.
A 2016 review looked at the effects of coffee intake on the development and progression of liver disease due to various causes. Researchers concluded that consuming more than two cups of coffee per day “protects against progression of almost all forms of liver disease.”
This included liver diseases such as:
- Hepatitis B and C
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
- Liver fibrosis/cirrhosis
- Hepatocellular carcinoma
So, you need not give up coffee entirely. It may be keeping your liver healthy.
How to Include Coffee in Your Diet
Coffee, here, doesn’t mean a sugar bomb loaded with whipped cream and caramel sauce. Black coffee offers the most health benefits.
If you can’t do without some sweetness, try adding a natural sweetener such as stevia or erythritol.
Be careful not to drink too much coffee, however. More than four cups of coffee a day may lead to unpleasant side effects like insomnia, agitation, headaches, and ringing in the ears.
Nuts of all types make for one of the healthiest snacks around. They’re largely packed with:
- Essential nutrients (vitamin B6, folate, thiamin, manganese, copper, magnesium, phosphorus)
- Beneficial fatty acids (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats)
- Powerful antioxidants (vitamin E, phenolic acids, ellagic acid, and flavonoids)
These substances contribute to a variety of health benefits for your cardiovascular and digestive systems. And observational studies indicate your liver is included!
In one six-month study, 106 patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease saw their liver enzyme levels improve with nut consumption. High liver enzyme levels are a common sign of liver damage. Walnuts appeared to offer the greatest benefit in this area.
Another study from Korea showed that a low intake of nuts was associated with a much higher risk of developing NAFLD among male subjects.
Researchers believe nuts may help the liver by improving blood cholesterol levels and reducing inflammation.
More research is needed to confirm these effects, but early results are promising.
How to Include Nuts in Your Diet
Walnuts, almonds, and the like are great on their own, but they can also add crunchy texture and flavor to numerous dishes.
Here are a few ideas:
- Nut-crusted salmon: Coat your salmon with chopped walnuts instead of breadcrumbs.
- Cashew chicken: Add roasted cashews to a saucy, Asian-inspired chicken stir-fry, and serve over brown rice.
- Broccoli and almond soup: Puree almonds and milk with sautéed broccoli, garlic, and onion to make a delicious soup. Top with slivered almonds for garnish.
Colorful and juicy, berries are known for their low carb content and impressive antioxidant profile. They may protect against the oxidative stress linked to cancer development in the liver and elsewhere.
An in vitro study published in 2017 reported that the antioxidants in blueberry extracts blocked the growth of human liver cancer cells.
Blueberries, blackberries, and cranberries get their dark, rich hues from plant compounds known as anthocyanins. The well-studied phytopigments have exhibited anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anticancer activity.
Research in animals has revealed their liver-protective effects.
A 2010 study found that blueberry extract could protect liver cells from damage by activating antioxidant genes. Blueberry also enhanced cellular immune response.
Another 2010 study, published in Archives of Pharmacal Research, focused on the action of proanthocyanidins, bitter compounds found in fruits like berries. Scientists discovered they blocked scar tissue development (fibrosis) in the livers of rats.
How to Include Berries in Your Diet
The possibilities are endless! Berries are the perfect addition to granola, fruit salads, whole-grain muffins, crumbles, and homemade sorbets.
Or you can simply enjoy them alone, as a light snack or dessert.
Grapes are another liver-healthy, antioxidant-rich fruit. The juice and seeds of grapes are particularly high in flavonoids like catechins, epicatechins, anthocyanidins, proanthocyanidins, and resveratrol.
In multiple rodent studies, grape juice has been shown to increase antioxidant activity in the liver.
Organic purple grape juice was quite effective at reducing lipid and protein oxidation in rat livers in one 2008 study. The rats had been given ethanol to induce alcoholic liver damage. Results suggested that the anthocyanin and resveratrol content was at least partly responsible for the protective effects.
Also, a 2012 study found that grape seeds improved elevated liver enzyme levels, a marker of free radical damage, in rats.
The findings of one human study were equally encouraging.
In the double-blind, controlled study of 30 adults with NAFLD, taking grape seed extract for three months significantly improved patients’ degree of fatty buildup. It also decreased their levels of alanine aminotransferase (ALT), an enzyme released into the blood when the liver is damaged.
How to Include Grapes in Your Diet
Of course, you could simply eat seeded grapes or drink organic grape juice. But grapes can be just as flexible as the other foods on this list. They’re especially good in salads—chicken salad, pasta salad, green salads, etc.
Plus, roasted grapes can also add sweetness to bitter veggies like Brussels sprouts and asparagus.
7. Green Tea
Famed the world over for its array of bioactive compounds and their resulting health benefits, green tea may also benefit your liver.
Green tea, made from leaves and buds of the Camellia sinensis plant, consists mainly of powerful polyphenols called catechins. Research suggests they have fat-lowering effects.
NAFLD patients who drank high-catechin green tea daily for 12 weeks saw significant decreases in their body fat percentage and fatty liver disease severity in a 2013 study. Study authors attributed these effects to the catechins’ anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity.
Other research published in The BMJ linked drinking 10 cups of green tea daily with improvements in liver blood test results.
Additionally, some early research has found that drinking green tea is associated with a lower risk of liver cancer in women.
It may be best to stick with traditional green tea versus supplemental extracts, however. Doctors have reported cases of liver injury due to green tea extract use.
Moreover, consuming green tea in excess can cause side effects such as:
- Gas and bloating
- Iron-deficiency anemia
- Irregular heartbeat
So, check with your doctor if increasing your green tea intake is a safe option for you.
How to Include Green Tea in Your Diet
If you’re new to green tea, consider adding a cup to your daily routine.
Health experts advise against drinking tea with meals since it can interfere with nutrient absorption. And drinking it before bed may keep you up all night.
Instead, have a cup early in the morning or between meals from midday to early evening.
8. Olive Oil
Olive oil is one of the highlights of the much-lauded Mediterranean diet. High in beneficial fatty acids and antioxidant phenols, the oil of pressed olives delivers plenty of research-backed benefits.
There may be a specific liver benefit for older people at high risk of cardiovascular disease. In a 2019 trial, a Mediterranean diet rich in extra-virgin olive oil was associated with a reduced prevalence of NAFLD among this group.
And 6.5 milliliters (roughly one teaspoon) of olive oil daily was linked with liver benefits in a study of 11 patients with NAFLD. After a year of treatment, the subjects saw:
- Decreased liver fat buildup, as seen in ultrasound imaging
- Lower liver enzyme and triglyceride levels in the blood
- Increased blood levels of adiponectin
High adiponectin levels are thought to protect against fatty liver disease (both nonalcoholic and alcoholic).
How to Include Olive Oil in Your Diet
Olive oil is great not only for cooking, but also for dipping and drizzling.
Got a loaf of crusty Italian or French bread? Nothing beats an herbaceous olive oil dip.
A pan of roasted veggies? Incomplete without a drizzle of olive oil.
Extra-virgin olive oil is highest in antioxidants, so go for this type to keep your liver happy.
Eat Healthy for Your Liver
It seems that the key to better liver health is a diet full of plant-based, whole foods.
There are so many liver-healthy foods on this list. Choose a few of your favorites, and start integrating them into your daily diet today.
“Spinach, raw,” SELF Nutrition Data; https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2626/2, last accessed April, 15 2021.
Dentico, P., et al., “[Glutathione in the treatment of chronic fatty liver diseases],” Recenti Progressi in Medicina, July-Aug. 1995; 86(7-8):290-3; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7569285/, last accessed April, 15, 2021.
Honda, Y., et al., “Efficacy of glutathione for the treatment of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: an open-label, single-arm, multicenter, pilot study,” BMC Gastroenterology, 2017; 17: 96; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5549431/, last accessed April, 15, 2021.
Bashir, K. and Choi, J., “Clinical and Physiological Perspectives of β-Glucans: The Past, Present, and Future,” International Journal of Molecular Sciences, Sept. 2017; 18(9): 1906; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5618555, last accessed April, 15, 2021.
Lai, H., et al., “Effects of a high-fiber diet on hepatocyte apoptosis and liver regeneration after partial hepatectomy in rats with fatty liver,” Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, Nov.-Dec. 2005; 29(6):401-407; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16224031/, last accessed April, 15, 2021.
“Coffee, brewed from grounds, prepared with tap water,” SELF Nutrition Data; https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/beverages/3898/2, last accessed April, 15, 2021.
Chen, S., et al., “Coffee and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: brewing evidence for hepatoprotection?” Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Mar. 2014; 29(3):435-41; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24199670/, last accessed April, 15, 2021.
Wadhawan, M. and Anand, A., “Coffee and Liver Disease,” Journal of Experimental and Clinical Hepatology, Mar. 2016; 6(1): 40–46; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4862107/, last accessed April, 15, 2021,
Gupta, V., et al., “Oily fish, coffee and walnuts: Dietary treatment for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease,” World Journal of Gastroenterology, Oct. 2015; 21(37): 10621–10635; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4588084/, last accessed April, 15, 2021.
Wang, H., et al., “Comparison of phytochemical profiles, antioxidant and cellular antioxidant activities of different varieties of blueberry (Vaccinium spp.),” Food Chemistry, Feb. 2017; 217: 773-781; https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0308814616313851, April, 15, 2021.
Madrigal-Santillan, E., et al., “Review of natural products with hepatoprotective effects,” World Journal of Gastroenterology, Oct. 2014; 20(40): 14787–14804; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4209543/, last accessed April, 15, 2021.
Khoshbaten, M., et al., “Grape Seed Extract to Improve Liver Function in Patients with Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Change,” The Saudi Journal of Gastroenterology, July 2010; 16(3): 194-197; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3003214/, last accessed April, 15, 2021.
Sakata, R., et al., “Green tea with high-density catechins improves liver function and fat infiltration in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) patients: a double-blind placebo-controlled study,” International Journal of Molecular Medicine, Nov. 2013; 32(5): 989-994; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24065295/, last accessed April, 15, 2021.
Imai, K. and Nakachi, K., “Cross sectional study of effects of drinking green tea on cardiovascular and liver diseases,” The BMJ, Mar. 1995; 310(6981):693-6; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7711535/, last accessed April, 15, 2021.
Huang, Y., et al., “Green tea and liver cancer risk: A meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies in Asian populations,” Nutrition, Jan. 2016; 32(1):3-8; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26412579/, last accessed April, 15, 2021.
Pinto, X., et al., “A Mediterranean Diet Rich in Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Is Associated with a Reduced Prevalence of Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease in Older Individuals at High Cardiovascular Risk,” The Journal of Nutrition, Nov. 2019; 149(11):1920-1929; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31334554/, last accessed April, 15, 2021.
Jones, T., “11 Foods That Are Good for Your Liver,” Healthline, July 21, 2017; https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-foods-for-your-liver, last accessed April, 15, 2021.
“14 Best and Worst Foods for Your Liver,” WebMD; https://www.webmd.com/hepatitis/ss/slideshow-best-and-worst-foods-for-your-liver, last accessed April, 15, 2021.
Johnson, J., “What foods protect the liver?” Medical News Today, January 23, 2020; https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323915, last accessed April, 15, 2021.