There has been a 400% rise in deaths due to liver disease in the UK since the 1970s. An increase in alcohol consumption, processed foods, refined sugars, and lack of exercise means liver complications have skyrocketed, killing 40 people every day in the UK alone.

Protecting your liver is the best thing you can do for yourself and your loved ones. A great way to do it? Eating the right foods. This article looks at the functions of your liver and the best foods you can eat to boost your liver health.

What is the Liver?

The liver is a reddish-brown organ on the right side of the abdomen region beneath your ribcage. It’s the size of a football but has a cone-like shape and weighs 3-3.5 pounds (about the weight of a bag of apples). 

What is the Function of the Liver?

The liver is a vital organ that works to process and flush out toxic or harmful substances from the body. It does this after anything you’ve consumed has been broken down by the stomach and digested by the intestines. The liver produces hormones that effectively clean the blood, releasing essential nutrients into the bloodstream and removing anything harmful. 

The liver has over 500 functions, including bile production (to break down food), stopping blood clots, producing critical hormones and managing blood sugar levels to prevent conditions such as diabetes

Foods for a Healthy Liver

A Western diet of processed meat, refined carbs, sugar, and lack of fibre can increase the risk of an unhealthy liver. However, you can include many nutritious foods to enhance your liver condition and even heal liver damage. 

1. Antioxidants

Antioxidants are substances you can consume through food that fight the body against free radicals. Free radicals are single, unattached cells that attack the body and can cause cancer.

Coffee, green tea and matcha tea are rich in antioxidants and highly beneficial for your liver. A 2016 report by the British Liver Trust shows that drinking coffee may prevent liver cancer and other severe liver conditions, such as liver disease and cirrhosis of the liver. 

These anti-oxidant drinks are also great at reducing inflammation in the liver, damaging the liver tissue and causing a reduction in functioning if it is not under control.

2. Avocados

Avocados are soft, green fruit (although it’s technically part of the berry family), rich in essential fatty acids that are incredibly beneficial to the body. A 2015 study shows that people who consume avocados have a decrease in unhealthy lipids (unhealthy fatty substances), such as LDL and triglycerides, that can leave fat deposits in the bloodstream and liver. They may also have higher levels of HDL, ‘good’ cholesterol.

You can include avocados in your diet by adding them to whole grain toast, including them in salads, making avocado pasta, or having them with scrambled eggs.

3. Dark Leafy Greens

Dark leafy greens, or green veg of any kind, are anti-inflammatory and improve blood flow. A whopping 13% of your blood flows through your liver, so consuming foods that assist the organ in functioning to its maximum potential is critical. 

A healthy blood flow is essential to prevent a build-up of fatty deposits from lipids, such as LDL or ‘bad cholesterol.’ When too much fat is circulating in the body, it sticks against the walls of blood vessels, narrowing them and restricting blood flow to and from the liver. 

A 2021 study shows that spinach has ‘protective effects on the liver to prevent it from getting damaged from naturally occurring free radicals in the body and enhancing blood circulation.

Broccoli, kale, spinach, swish chard and bok choy are all great examples of leafy greens to add to your diet. An easy way to start is by adding a handful of veggies to your pasta, on the side of your plate or into a salad.

4. Legumes

Beans, peas, and lentils are legumes that effectively reduce liver damage and promote a healthy liver. A 2019 study demonstrates that eating legumes lowers the risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

Chickpeas, green beans, peas, red and green lentils, lima beans and kidney beans are all legumes you can include in your daily diet. Easy ways to consume them are adding them to soups and salads and swapping meat-based meals for plant-based meals. For example, three-bean chilli instead of chilli using mincemeat.

5. Liver

Strange as it may seem, consuming liver from other animals is highly nutritious and aids your liver. This is because the liver is high in folate (a type of vitamin B) that enhances the function of your cells. Super-changed cells increase the liver’s ability to detox and clean the blood to reduce unhealthy liver conditions. 

6. Nuts and Seeds

A 2019 study examined the correlation between including nuts in a diet and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Results found nuts significantly reduce the risk of NAFLD, making them an ideal food to include for liver health. Walnuts, almonds, peanuts, sunflower, pumpkin, chia and flax seeds are incredible antioxidant choices that protect the liver and reduce inflammation.

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7. Oats

Oats are a fantastic source of a fibre called beta-glucan, which is particularly effective at protecting the liver against oxidative stress from free radicals. Oats attach to fatty lipids, such as high levels of triglycerides, that can deposit excessive fat in the liver and removes them from the body.

Try eating porridge, making overnight oats, creating oat bars for snacks or adding a handful to a healthy shake or smoothy to get enough in your diet.

8. Omega 3 in Fish

Omega 3 is a fatty acid, and contrary to popular belief, not all fats are bad! Oily fish is excellent for liver health because it decreases inflammation. It reduces the deposit of fatty substances from lipids and regulates liver enzymes.

Excellent sources of oily fish are salmon, tuna, and sardines. Add tuna to your jacket potato or pasta, or make a balanced meal of salmon with dark leafy greens on the side.

9. Soy

Soy has many benefits and contains a protein called Beta-Conglycinin, a bioactive ingredient that prevents unhealthy levels of triglycerides, which create blockages from fatty deposits in the bloodstream. These deposits then travel into the liver, which has to work hard to remove them from the body, affecting the liver’s ability to filter the blood.

Switch out whole cow’s milk for soy in your hot drinks or cereal, and try consuming tofu or tempeh to protect the liver. 

10. Turmeric

Tumeric is a potent orange spice that is well-known as a superfood due to its incredible health benefits. A 2019 study suggests that supplementing turmeric may reduce serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST) – enzymes in the liver. ALT helps digest food, and AST metabolises amino acids. When these enzymes are too high, it indicates a serious liver condition. Therefore, balancing these enzymes out may indicate the recovery of liver damage. 

Tumeric contains an active ingredient called curcumin, which is where most of the health benefits reside. Consuming turmeric with black pepper can boost the absorption of curcumin by 2000%, so ensure to add black pepper to that latte! You can add more turmeric to your diet by including it in cooking, making turmeric lattes (or golden milk), adding some to shakes, or in supplements.

Foods to Avoid for a Healthy Liver

  • Processed meats – These have a lot of salt and unhealthy fats, which can clog up the arteries and blood flow to the liver. You should also avoid meats high in trans fats, such as sausages and deli meat.
  • Refined sugar – Excess amounts of sugar can cause insulin imbalances (a hormone the liver produces for healthy blood sugar levels). Swap out snacks such as sweets and biscuits for fruit, nuts, and seeds and only eat something sweet with a fibrous food to slow down the sudden release of sugar into the bloodstream.
  • Refined carbs – White bread, pasta and flour are heavily processed and lack the fibre your liver needs to cleanse the blood and efficiently remove toxins. Switch out these white foods with brown pasta and wholemeal bread.

FAQs

How do I make my liver healthy again?

You can make your liver healthy and repair damage by eating the food listed above, cutting out alcohol, quitting smoking and moving your body regularly. Don’t use illicit drugs, and reduce your intake of processed meats, sugar, refined carbs and fast food. 

What are Superfoods for your liver?

Superfoods are foods potent in benefits for the body, and ones for the liver include antioxidants such as green tea, matcha, and blueberries, veggies such as kale, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower, and healthy fats such as oily fish, nuts, and olive oil.

Are bananas good for your liver?

Yes. Bananas have many nutritional benefits and contain vitamins A, C, and B6 that aid the restoration of liver disease. They are also fibrous, reducing excess fats from entering the bloodstream and travelling to the liver. 

Maintain a Healthy Liver With the Right Foods

Including nutritious and liver-boosting foods is a sure way to improve your liver function and reduce the risk of harmful liver conditions. Start with a few beneficial foods, then increase your intake for a happy and healthy liver.

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Written by Emma Carey.Emma is a health and wellness enthusiast who likes to know the science behind how supplements, vitamins, nutrition and exercise affect the body. She’s on a health and fitness journey to improve her lifestyle and live life to its fullest.