The 16 Best Foods for Liver Health
The liver is one of the largest and most important organs in the body. It is referred to as the “gatekeeper” of the body because it absorbs and filters everything we eat or drink. The liver’s filtration process retains the nutrients that the body needs and disposes of the wastes, toxins, and excess substances that the body does not need or could harm the body.
In addition to being the primary organ of detoxification, the liver performs many other functions including metabolizing fats, carbohydrates, and proteins, balancing hormones, and aiding digestion. Because of the increasing presence of toxins in our environment, it is important now more than ever to support this vital organ. This article will discuss the reasons a healthy liver is vital for overall good health, the best foods for keeping the liver healthy, and foods and substances you should avoid for a healthy liver.
Why is the Liver So Important?
The liver is a critical organ for a number of different functions including detoxification, blood sugar stability, the formation of ketones and helping to regulate proper hormone levels. In particular, a sluggish liver is one of the biggest reasons why people have thyroid hormone issues as inactive T4 is converted to the active thyroid hormone T3 in the liver.
Many people think we store toxins in the liver, but that is not technically true. We actually de-activate and convert toxins into a form we can excrete in our urine, sweat, breath and feces through the liver. The only time we store toxins around the liver is in the pathological condition called fatty liver where we accumulate fat around the liver and that fat is a storage for toxins. In general, we do not store toxins in our liver though.
It also recognizes toxic substances and converts the toxins into benign substances that can be released and removed by the kidneys or gallbladder.
Digestion and Nutrient Regulation
The liver is also a digestive organ. It plays a central role in all metabolic processes in the body, helping metabolize fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. It converts the nutrients in our diets into essential blood components, stores the vitamins and minerals, and releases them into the blood when needed.
Many aspects of lipid (fat) metabolism are carried out predominantly by the liver. Its job is to help oxidize triglycerides to produce energy. It also produces bile which is essential for digesting and absorbing fats in our diet. Bile is secreted by the liver and stored in the gall bladder. Bile aids in the elimination of fat-soluble toxins and excess substances such as hormones, from our bodies.
Blood Sugar Balance
The liver plays an important role in metabolizing carbohydrates by ensuring that blood sugar levels remain constant. If blood sugar levels increase, it removes the sugar from the blood and stores it as glycogen (in a process called glycogenesis). When blood concentrations of sugar are low, it breaks down glycogen and releases the sugar into the blood for transport to the tissues.
The liver helps metabolize proteins by converting amino acids in foods so that they can be used to produce energy. This process produces ammonia which is very toxic. The liver rapidly and efficiently removes ammonia from the body by converting it to a less toxic substance called urea.
The liver is also where we take triglycerides and form them into ketones to use as an energy source of the body. If the liver is struggling, we may have a reduced ability to form ketones and struggle on a ketogenic diet.
The liver also plays a vital role in the body’s use of hormones. It regulates hormones and directs various hormones to perform their proper function in the body. In fact, one of the most common hormone imbalances in our society is estrogen dominance.
This affects men and women alike and can cause a wide range of health problems. Estrogen dominance is most commonly due to environmental exposure to estrogen-like compounds called “xenoestrogens”. These get in the body and mimic the effects of estrogen causing things like weight gain, mood disorders, and increased risk of estrogen-linked cancers.
It also aids the immune system in fighting infections and removing microorganisms from the blood.
The Best Foods for Your Liver
Eating a high-quality diet is essential for liver health. Two things a liver-supporting diet must take into account are low exposure to toxins and the actual nutrients the liver needs to carry out detoxification processes.
Foods rich in B vitamins, vitamin C and trace minerals are some of the best foods to support the liver’s functions. Glutathione-boosting foods are also extremely important. The following foods are rich in these liver-supporting vitamins and minerals.
Eating liver from organic, pasture-raised animals or wild-caught fish provides powerful nutritional support. This includes liver from grass-fed cow, wild-caught fish, wild-game or pasture-raised chicken.
Liver is an extremely concentrated source of nutrition and contains specific bioavailable forms of nutrient complexes that are challenging to find elsewhere. It is a powerful source of pre-formed vitamin A (retinol), bioavailable folate, iron, choline, vitamin B12, and trace elements.
One of the most common misconceptions have is that the liver is where we store toxins, so it would be bad to eat. This is not true, the liver deactivates and converts toxins but our fat cells are where we store toxins. I would recommend getting liver from organic or grass-fed animals however, as it will have significantly more nutrients and less toxins.
Liver is an excellent source of protein and boosts glutathione production. Glutathione is referred to as the master antioxidant because it regulates all other antioxidants and primary anti-inflammatory processes in the body. Glutathione is also one of the body’s most important detoxification agents which assists in the liver’s detoxification processes.
Many people do not like the taste of this sharp flavored food. Beef liver has a very strong taste while that of chicken is generally considered to be much milder. There are also excellent options provided by companies like US Wellness Meats that combine organs with ground beef in a sausage form called Braunschweiger. You can also turn liver into an excellent dish called a Pâté that involves all kinds of herbs, spices, and unique flavors.
Cruciferous vegetables are great for liver health. They are full of phytonutrients, carotenoids, and flavonoids that help neutralize toxins. Cruciferous vegetables include Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and mustard greens. They have a characteristic bitter taste and pungent aroma.
Cruciferous vegetables also contain. Glucosinolates are sulfur-containing compounds that are broken down into metabolites that trigger specific enzymatic reactions that help detoxify carcinogens and heavy metals from the blood. They also aid in digestion (2).
Broccoli is a powerhouse cruciferous vegetable that is a good source of vitamin E. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin and important antioxidant for the liver. Studies have shown that consuming broccoli lessens the development of fatty liver disease and can protect against the development of liver cancer (3). For magnified benefits, broccoli or kale sprouts are some of the most concentrated sources of glucosinolates you can consume.
It is important to combine cruciferous vegetables with healthy fats for better absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins. Cruciferous vegetables are delicious roasted or sautéed in coconut or avocado oil or steamed and topped with grass-fed butter or extra virgin olive oil.
Beets are root vegetables that are high in antioxidants and nutrients such as folate, pectin, betalains, and betaine. Beets naturally help to cleanse the blood. They improve enzymatic activity and stimulate bile flow which breaks down toxic wastes to help excrete them from the body faster.
The pectin found in beets is a soluble form of fiber that has cleansing properties. The fiber and nutrients in beets help the body flush toxins that are often stored in the liver or that have been excreted into the digestive tract through the bile.
Beets can be juiced, added to shakes, spiralized for a pasta substitute, or roasted. Roasted beets are delicious over salads, combined with other root vegetables, or served with sautéed greens.
Pasture-raised, organic eggs are an excellent source of nutrients that support the liver. They contain sulfur compounds, methylation elements, and glutathione precursors. Eggs have the full array of amino acids and are considered a perfect protein.
Eggs also contain carotenoid antioxidants such as vitamin A and E, as well as lutein and zeaxanthin. They are also a rich source of vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids, and healthy saturated fat that makes for strong and vibrant cell membranes.
Eggs are delicious sunny side up (preserves nutrients in the yolk) or in omelets with your favorite non-starchy vegetables and grass-fed cheese. For another unique way to include more eggs into your diet, you can even add them into your coffee to make this rich breakfast latte.
Lemons and limes contain citric acid, potassium, vitamin C and bioflavonoids. These nutrients help improve energy levels, alkalize the body, enhance liver detoxification, and reduce inflammation. Because lemons and limes have a thick peel, it isn’t necessary to buy organic unless you are going to consume the peel (as in juicing them). A great way to use lemons and limes to help with the detoxification process is to squeeze a quarter to a half of one in water each morning (either with ACV or separate).
Grapefruit is another citrus fruit for these benefits. Grapefruit has high levels of vitamin C, folic acid, phenolic acid, potassium, calcium, iron, and antioxidants. The flavonoid with the greatest concentration in grapefruit is naringin, which is metabolized into narigenin. Studies have found that these antioxidants help protect the liver from injury (4).
Dark Leafy green vegetables are packed with an array of nutrients including trace minerals. Some of the most nutrient-dense leafy greens are spinach, kale, chard, arugula, swiss chard, collards and bok choy. These are excellent sources of potassium, manganese, and magnesium.
Leafy greens also contain chlorophyll which helps to purify the blood. Chlorophyll assists the liver by neutralizing heavy metals, toxic chemicals, and pesticides which can all burden the liver when nutrients like chlorophyll are not present in the diet.
There are a variety of ways to prepare leafy greens from sautéing to salads. You can also consume a high-quality greens powder for a convenient option to absorb the nutrients in leafy greens.
Eating garlic regularly can help maintain the health of the liver. Garlic is rich in allicin, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and selenium which all play a role in detoxification. These nutrients cleanse and nourish the entire body, especially the blood. Garlic also activates enzymes in the liver which help with overall digestion and toxin removal.
Allicin is a sulfur compound that has antioxidant, antibiotic, and antifungal properties.
Selenium is a naturally detoxifying mineral which helps alleviate the burden on the liver by increasing the action of antioxidants.
You can incorporate garlic into almost any dish, from soups and stews to roasted meats and vegetables. Use whole garlic cloves rather than processed minced garlic or garlic powder. To maximize allicin content, you will want to crush or chop your garlic and let it sit for 5-15 minutes before consuming raw. Cooking will drastically diminish the benefits of allicin.
Berries, such as blueberries and cranberries, are packed with powerful nutrients. Berries contain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant phytonutrients (called anthocyanins), which give berries their distinctive colors. Anthocyanins have demonstrated antioxidant, anticarcinogenic, and anti-inflammatory biological activity. Along with many other health benefits, berries can protect the liver from damage (4).
Several studies have demonstrated that whole cranberries and blueberries, as well as their extracts or juices, can help keep the liver healthy (4). Berries increase immune cell response, lower inflammation, and reduce the level of enzymes released from liver cells when they are damaged. The antioxidants found in berries can also slow the development of lesions, fibrosis, and scar tissue in the liver.
Berries are delicious added to shakes or as a healthy snack or dessert. You can use fresh or frozen berries, just be sure to buy organic berries due to high pesticide levels in conventionally grown berries.
Herbs such as milk thistle, ginger, dandelion root, cilantro, garlic and turmeric are powerful for detoxification. Turmeric has been shown to improve liver function having both protective and regenerative properties (5). Turmeric may help reduce free radical damage as well. It also supports bile production to help digest fats and excrete fat soluble toxins.
Milk thistle is one of the most well-researched plants to support the liver’s detoxification process and overall health (4). Milk thistle contains a flavonoid complex which is important for protecting cells against free radical damage and inflammation. Milk thistle’s active compounds help to repair cells within the liver, while promoting regeneration of injured tissue (6). Milk thistle can also boost glutathione levels to aid in safe detoxification.
Milk thistle is a key ingredient in our liver support formula, ThyroLiver Protect.
Avocados are super foods for the liver for several reasons (7). Avocados are actually a great source of dietary glutathione. Glutathione is needed to filter out harmful substances and protect liver cells from damage. Consuming avocados with vitamin C-rich limes or lemons can increase absorption of glutathione.
Avocados are rich sources of other antioxidants, including vitamin C and vitamin E which help neutralize free radicals. Neutralizing or deactivating harmful free radicals is instrumental in protecting liver cells from damage. Avocados also contain minerals and phytochemicals such as carotene and lutein.
Avocados also contain vitamin E and vitamin K which reduce cellular inflammation. They also contain fiber and potassium which aid in the detoxification process.
Avocados are loaded with healthy monounsaturated fats and contain healthy cholesterols, or high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which the liver needs for proper function. The healthy fats in avocados help to manage lipid metabolism which lowers fat accumulation in the liver, especially when combined with a ketogenic diet.
There are many ways to incorporate avocados into your diet. You can add them to smoothies or puddings for creaminess. Consuming guacamole made from avocados, cilantro, lime juice, and shallots would be a great combination.
Coffee is the one of the most popular beverages in the world and has been shown to have a myriad of health benefits (7). Coffee contains caffeine, organic acids, and polysaccharides. Coffee also has an abundance of antioxidants, including polyphenols which have anti-inflammatory properties.
Studies have found that coffee has a protective effect against the development of cirrhosis and an inverse association between coffee drinking and liver cancer (8). Coffee has even been associated with a lower risk of death in people with chronic liver disease, with the greatest benefits seen in those who drink more than two cups per day (9). These benefits are related to coffee’s ability to prevent the buildup of fat and collagen, two of the main markers of liver disease.
It is important to consume organic, mold-free coffee. Conventional coffee beans are loaded with pesticides, herbicides, and a toxic mold byproduct call aflatoxin that can be inflammatory to the brain. It is also important to avoid the sugar-loaded, non-organic, pro-inflammatory coffee beverages you find at popular coffee shops.
Green tea is widely considered to be beneficial for health, but studies have shown that it may particularly benefit the liver. Green tea is rich in polyphenol antioxidants which are more powerful than vitamin C or vitamin E and have extraordinary health benefits. Drinking green tea is associated with improved blood markers of liver health (7).
Green tea has also been shown to improved enzyme levels and reduce oxidative stress and fat deposits (10). Another study found that people who drank green tea were less likely to develop liver cancer. The preventative effects against liver cancer were most obvious when participants consumed four or more cups of green tea per day (11).
It is very important to consume organic green tea because conventional green teas are highly sprayed with toxic pesticides and herbicides. The best type of green tea is matcha green tea which can have as much as ten times the amount of antioxidant compounds as standard brewed green tea.
The fats found in fatty fish can be extremely beneficial as well. In fact, studies have shown that omega 3 fatty acids reduce lipid accumulation and liver enzyme levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and have anti-inflammatory effects (7).
While consuming omega-3-rich fatty fish can be beneficial, it is important to consider the ratio of Omega 3 fatty acids to Omega 6 fatty acids. Most Americans follow the Standard American Diet (SAD) and consume a much larger amount of oxidized omega-6 fatty acids found in corn and soybeans than omega-3 fatty acids. This is detrimental to health because an excessive omega-6 level can promote the development of liver disease (12).
Nuts are nutritionally-dense, consisting of a unique blend of fatty acids, bioactive compounds, and essential nutrients. Nuts, particularly walnuts, have been shown to have beneficial effects on the liver (7). Nuts are an excellent source of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats which protect against fat accumulation and help build healthy cell membranes around liver cells.
Walnuts contain the amino acid arginine, which Is necessary to help remove ammonia from the body. Walnuts are also a good source of glutathione and omega-3 fatty acids, both of which support healthy detoxification.
Nuts show therapeutic potential in treating people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease through improvements to lipid profile, hepatic steatosis and inflammation. The consumption of nuts is also associated with improved levels of liver enzymes.
Some people experience digestive issues with nuts and seeds. Optimally, you want to consume soaked and sprouted nuts or avoid them altogether if you notice any digestive upset.
Spirulina and Chlorella
Spirulina is a blue-green algae that is rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Spirulina supports the immune system and may protect the liver against damage by binding toxins (4, 13). Spirulina has potent antioxidant activity which can help protect cells from damaging free radicals.
Spirulina contains chlorophyll which aids the in removing toxins and chelating harmful metals. In addition to its antioxidant properties, spirulina is anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and anticarcinogenic activity.
Like spirulina, chlorella also contains chlorophyll. Chlorella is a single-celled green algae with a tough outer cell wall. Chlorella is powerful because its cell wall binds with heavy metals and other toxins to carry them out of the body. It also contains complex polysaccharides that enhance immune function.
Spirulina and chlorella can be added to shakes. Another great way to incorporate both into your diet is with an Organic Greens Powder.
Studies also show that olive oil can increase adiponectin levels. Adiponectin is a protein hormone which is involved in regulating glucose levels as well as fatty acid breakdown. Low levels of adiponectin are associated with numerous health conditions, including inflammation, lipid abnormalities, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (14).
Extra virgin olive oil is the healthiest form of olive oil and has the richest flavor. It is made without any heat or chemicals and has a low smoke point. Because of its low smoke point, extra virgin olive oil is best used drizzled over cooked or raw foods, or as a salad dressing.
What to Avoid for a Healthy Liver
Cirrhosis occurs when fat buildup in the liver causes it to become inflamed and develop scars. The first stage of cirrhosis is fatty liver disease (FLD). FLD can be alcoholic or nonalcoholic. Nonalcoholic FLD is associated with poor nutrition and excess weight.
To care for this vital organ, it is critical to reduce its toxic burden whenever possible. To reduce toxic burden, there are several foods and substances you should avoid.
The main foods to avoid are refined sugars, alcohol, processed foods, trans fats, factory-farms meats and dairy, farm-raised fish, and GMO foods. You should avoid chemicals such as herbicides or pesticides by eating organic whenever possible. Many medications, including acetaminophen, can be toxic as well.
Refined sugars, including high fructose corn syrup are highly problematic as well. Sugars can contribute to fatty deposits and inflammation by causing a surge of blood glucose and large release of insulin. Processed foods, which often contain GMO ingredients and trans fats, should also be avoided.
Alcohol can damage the liver by increasing the accumulation of fatty acids. Alcoholic FLD occurs when fatty deposits develop from processing too much alcohol. The fat that cannot be metabolized is stored in the liver’s cells. Chronic alcohol consumption depletes the liver of glutathione, sulfur compounds, vitamins and minerals.
The liver plays a vital role in many bodily functions, including regulating digestion, metabolizing fats, carbohydrates, and proteins, and removing harmful particles and chemicals from the body. It is critical to nourish it with nutrient-rich foods to keep it healthy and functioning optimally.
The best foods are liver from animals and fish, cruciferous vegetables, beets, eggs, citrus fruits, leafy greens, garlic, berries, herbs, avocados, coffee, green tea, fatty fish, nuts, spirulina and chlorella, and olive oil. For maximum benefits, you should incorporate a variety of these foods into your diet on a daily basis.
The main foods to avoid are refined sugars, processed foods, trans fats, factory-farmed meats and dairy, farm-raised fish, and GMO foods. Alcohol and certain medications can also be toxic. These foods and substances should be eliminated or minimized to keep the liver healthy.
Finally, supplemental support can be powerful in cases where the liver is under excess stress. I always use ThyroLiver Protect to serve this role.