It’s not easy to stop drinking when you’ve been doing it for so long. Your efforts will soon be rewarded though as your body recovers over time. One of the best ways to help it along is through nutrition. As your body detoxifies, it needs some balance and it can get that balance from the healthy foods you eat to repair your liver. Your liver needs you now more than ever with a clean and healthy diet that will get it back to feeling good and functioning properly again. Plus, what you eat has a robust effect on brain functions.
Numerous studies have been done to determine what is best for recovering and repairing the liver. They all point to nutrition and a balanced diet. While you should make a point to eliminate fatty and sugary foods, there are certain foods you should be eating that will bring balance to your brain chemistry while helping your liver repair and other organs thrive. Here are some healthy foods that are good for liver health and might also help your liver repair.
Skipping breakfast as you work to get your health back on track is not advised. If you’ve never been a big breakfast person, it helps to start with something refreshing like grapefruit. Its bright and invigorating taste and flavors will have you looking on the sunny side of things. Plus, it’s loaded with naringenin and naringin, two antioxidants that are very kind to your liver and help repair your liver.
Grapefruit reduces inflammation and protects cells too which can even stop hepatic fibrosis from accumulating in your liver. It also decreases fat in your liver too to prevent dangerous diseases from developing.
Most people think of broccoli or cauliflower when they think of cruciferous vegetables but brussels sprouts and mustard greens are also part of this healthy bunch. Both broccoli and brussels sprouts increase levels of detoxification enzymes to help your liver repair and protect your liver from damage.
Brussels sprouts might be something you’ve turned your nose up at when you were a kid, but if you make them with a little garlic or lemon, your taste buds and liver will be a fan. Try it with broccoli too and you’ll have healthy sides to go with your meals. It does take getting used to but your body will breathe a sigh of relief when it gets the nutrients it’s been missing.
Fatty fish is well known for its omega-3 fatty acids, which can really help lower heart disease and keep fat from building up in your liver. They also keep your liver enzyme levels normal, stop inflammation, and improve your insulin resistance.
However, when it comes to the liver health, there’s something else to note. You’ll have to watch your omega-6’s too. While some of them are good for you, having too high a ratio can push your liver toward the development of liver disease. Watch your oil intake as well as reduce consumption of walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds to avoid any trouble here.
For good health all around, you can’t go wrong with berries. However, when it comes to healthy foods for liver repair, blueberries and cranberries top the list. These have a special type of antioxidant known as anthocyanins which is why they have that pretty color.
But aside from being pretty, and deliciously sweet in a natural way, these 2 berries can protect your liver from damage especially if you make a point to eat them over a period of 3 weeks to a month. Blueberries in particular boost your immunity too which will help liver troubles from arising.
Beets. You either love them or hate them. But there’s no denying the science behind them. Beetroot juice in particular gives you nitrates and antioxidants that can help your heart health, reduce oxidative damages and inflammation in your liver. And it naturally detoxifies too.
Beetroot juice really does it all. And that color! So pretty! About that taste though…beetroot juice is an acquired taste. If trying to do shots of this is unbearable, mix it with your favorite fruits and blend it into a smoothie or use it as a base for soup. You’re less likely to taste that earthy flavor.
Although coffee is most well-known for its advantageous effects during the workday (anyone else has a case of the Mondays!?), caffeine is not the only benefit. Coffee is rich in antioxidants and other important minerals, which may help lower inflammation and decrease the risk for disease development. In addition, it may also help slow down the advancement of the disease, especially within the liver.
One study found that consuming at least 2 cups of coffee per day resulted in a decreased progression of all forms of liver disease, including non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, hepatitis, and cancer.
Unfortunately, this is not an invitation to go out and get that double whip, caramel, 2 pumps sweet cream, iced coffee you have wanted to try. When possible, stick to black coffee to avoid high amounts of saturated fat and sugar.
Oats, a rich source of fiber, have long been known for their beneficial effects on lowering cholesterol, which is regulated and produced in the liver. Excessive amounts of certain types of cholesterol can lead to fat accumulation within the liver and potentially non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
In addition, one study found that the high fiber content of oats can also help control excessive weight gain, which can increase an individual’s risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and resulted in decreased biomarkers for liver function. Therefore, we give oatmeal a gold start for a liver-healthy breakfast option!
Almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, pecans…take your pick! Not only do this nutrient-dense, but delicious snack food also packs antioxidants, fiber, and omega 3 fatty acids, which have been associated with liver repair and lower risk of liver disease.
One study, in particular, took a deeper look at the correlation between nut consumption and the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. It was found that a higher intake of nuts may be linked with a decreased risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, especially within men. But fear not ladies! This was a preliminary study and further research is needed, so keep on snacking!
Put green tea also on your list of preferred beverages for liver repair and overall liver health! Not only is it high in antioxidants, but the high amounts of polyphenols are thought to help decrease inflammation.
Green tea consumption has been found to have an inverse relationship with liver biomarkers. Translation: the more green tea you drink, the better for your liver!
In addition, green tea consumption may also help decrease an individual’s risk of developing liver cancer. A downward risk trend was found when the consumption of green tea was at 4 cups per day.
Herbs, Spices, and Supplements
Milk Thistle: Several different herbs and spices have been studied for their potential effects on liver health with the most well-known herb being milk thistle. Silymarin, or milk thistle, has been used dating back to the 1800s due to its believed antioxidant effects. However, at this time human studies have shown mixed results and require further studies of its effectiveness.
Cinnamon: Cinnamon has been recommended for blood sugar control in individuals with diabetes. However, blood sugar control is also critical for preventing fat accumulation in the liver, which can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. In addition, one animal study found that cinnamon bark may even be effective in inhibiting the genes responsible for liver damage!
Ginseng: Well known for its anti-inflammatory effects, ginseng has shown some promising results in individuals with existing liver damage. A recent study found that individuals who took ginseng had a reduction in liver enzymes, a marker for liver health, compared to a placebo group.
*IMPORTANT: some herbs, spices, and supplements may counteract certain medication or progress certain liver conditions. Therefore, these should not be consumed without discussion with a physician!
Coming from a flax plant, these seeds are rich in phytoestrogens, antioxidants, fiber, and oil, which is high in omega 3 fatty acids. Similar to nuts and oats, flaxseeds are known for their cholesterol-lowering effects, which is a major benefit to the liver.
A study looked at the effects of flaxseeds on individuals already diagnosed with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The results showed that individuals who made lifestyle changes plus consumed a flaxseed supplement had a greater reduction in liver markers than lifestyle changes alone.
Another beverage?? You bet! Water is not typically thought of as an important nutrient, but it is critical to liver health. Up to 60% of the human body is made of water, making it an essential nutrient. Everything that is consumed is processed through the liver. Over time, more harmful foods, beverages, and medications can build up in the liver and become toxic.
So how do we flush out these toxins? You guessed it… water! One study found that an increase in plain water intake was associated with a lower risk of acquiring non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Foods to Avoid
Full fat animal products
Butter, ice cream, cheese, and the fattier cuts of beef and pork all contain high quantities of saturated fat, which is responsible for increasing LDL (aka “bad”) cholesterol levels. Due to the chemical structure of saturated fat, it is easily accumulated within the liver and arteries, which can potentially lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver and cardiovascular complications.
Refined or added sugar
Typically associated with diabetes risk, sugar has also been found to increase an individual’s risk for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease by attributing to fat accumulation within the liver. Preliminary studies suggest that limiting sugar-sweetened beverages and high fructose foods may help decrease an individual’s risk of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Since the liver is the main processing area of all the foods and beverages we consume, alcohol in large quantities can be very detrimental to the liver and cause damage overtime. Experts recommend consuming alcohol in moderation and making sure to consume adequate high antioxidant foods to combat toxins. See the list above for ideas!
Fast food menus are notorious for being extremely high in saturated fat and refined sugars, which can be harmful to multiple organs of the body including the liver. Therefore, next time you are in the fast-food line, consider choosing the grilled chicken in place of fried.
Pro-tip for Liver Health: Get More Fresh Produce in General
Much of the things recommended for a healthy diet overall are recommended foods for your liver repair. Things like oatmeal and lean proteins are always in order to round out and balance, but you can’t go wrong with loading your plate full of more fresh fruits and vegetables.
Simply look at the research and evidence of plant foods that can help your liver health. Fill your shopping cart with more bananas, carrots, leafy greens, papayas, and watermelon in the produce section. Additionally, barley and brown rice are great choices too that fall into the whole foods group.
Stopping drinking is a big deal and you should be proud that you decided to do this for your health. With more healthy foods for your liver repair though, it will restore balance and nutrients to help you feel like your best version of yourself once again.
About the Author
Maggy Doherty is a Registered Dietitian and owner of her own nutrition private practice, Doherty Nutrition.
As a UCLA student-athlete on the Women’s Diving team, she learned how to use food to take her health and performance to the next level.
She earned her Master of Science in Nutrition at the University of Illinois and has practiced as a clinical dietitian at Dallas’ Parkland Hospital.