The liver is a vital organ that performs many functions, such as producing proteins, cholesterol, and bile, storing vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates, and breaking down toxins like alcohol, medications, and natural byproducts of metabolism. Keeping your liver healthy is important for your overall well-being.
Some foods and drinks can help protect your liver from damage and disease, while others can harm it or make it work harder. Here are some general guidelines on what to eat and what to avoid if you have liver problems.
What food to eat
Coffee is one of the best beverages you can drink to support your liver health. Studies have shown that drinking coffee lowers the risk of cirrhosis, or permanent liver damage, in people with chronic liver disease. It also helps prevent the buildup of fat and collagen, two of the main markers of liver disease.
Coffee also reduces inflammation and increases the levels of glutathione, an antioxidant that neutralizes harmful free radicals. Free radicals are produced naturally in the body and can damage cells.
Drinking coffee may also lower the risk of developing a common type of liver cancer. It may even increase your chances of survival if you have chronic liver disease.
The benefits of coffee seem to be greatest for those who drink at least three cups a day. However, you should avoid adding too much sugar, cream, or other ingredients that can add calories and fat to your coffee.
Oatmeal is a good source of fiber, which can help with digestion and weight management. Fiber can also help lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels, which are important for preventing or managing diabetes. Diabetes is a common cause of liver disease.
Oatmeal also contains beta-glucans, compounds that have anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting effects. Beta-glucans from oats may help reduce the amount of fat stored in the liver in mice, which could protect the liver from damage. More research is needed to confirm this effect in humans.
To get the most benefits from oatmeal, choose whole oats or steel-cut oats rather than instant oatmeal. Instant oatmeal may contain added sugars, flours.
Green tea is another beverage that may have benefits for your liver. Some studies have found that green tea can lower the levels of liver enzymes in people with NAFLD, a condition where fat accumulates in the liver and causes inflammation and damage.
Green tea may also help prevent liver cancer, especially in female Asian populations. However, more research is needed to confirm this effect.
It is important to note that drinking green tea may be better for your health than taking a green tea extract, as high-dose extracts may damage the liver rather than heal it.
Garlic is a flavorful and nutritious ingredient that can spice up your dishes and benefit your liver. A small study found that supplementing the diet with garlic powder capsules can reduce body weight and body fat in people with NAFLD, without affecting their lean body mass.
Garlic may also help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, which are risk factors for heart disease and liver disease.
Leafy greens are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber that can support your liver health. They can also help prevent fat accumulation in the liver and lower inflammation.
Some leafy greens also contain glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that can help detoxify the liver and protect it from damage.
Some examples of leafy greens you can include in your diet are:
- Collard greens
Berries are delicious fruits that are packed with antioxidants, such as anthocyanins, flavonoids, and vitamin C. These compounds can help scavenge free radicals, reduce inflammation, and protect the liver from oxidative stress.
Some studies have shown that berries can improve liver function and prevent liver damage in animals. However, more research is needed to confirm their effects in humans.
Some examples of berries you can enjoy are:
Olive oil is a healthy source of fat that can help improve your blood cholesterol levels and lower your risk of heart disease. It can also benefit your liver by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress.
Some studies have found that olive oil can improve liver enzyme levels and fat content in people with NAFLD. It may also help prevent the progression of liver fibrosis, or scarring of the liver tissue.
You can use olive oil for cooking, salad dressing, or dipping bread. However, you should use it sparingly, as it is still high in calories and fat.
What food to avoid
Alcohol is one of the most harmful substances for your liver. It can cause inflammation, fat accumulation, cell damage, scarring, and cirrhosis in the liver. It can also increase your risk of liver cancer and other complications.
If you have liver problems, you should avoid alcohol completely or limit your intake to no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. One drink is equivalent to 355 ml of beer, 148 ml of wine, or 44 ml of liquor.
Fatty foods are high in calories and saturated fat, which can contribute to weight gain and obesity. Obesity is a major risk factor for NAFLD and other types of liver disease. Fatty foods can also increase your blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which can harm your heart and liver health.
You should limit your intake of fatty foods such as:
- Fried foods
- Fast foods
- Processed meats
Instead, choose lean sources of protein such as poultry, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, and seeds. You should also opt for low-fat or fat-free dairy products and whole grains.
Salty foods are high in sodium, which can cause fluid retention and increase blood pressure. High blood pressure can damage the blood vessels in the liver and impair its function. Fluid retention can also worsen the symptoms of liver disease such as swelling and ascites (fluid buildup in the abdomen).
You should limit your intake of salty foods such as:
- Canned soups
- Frozen meals
- Sauces and dressings
Instead, season your food with herbs, spices, vinegar, lemon juice, or salt-free blends. You should also drink plenty of water and limit your intake of sodas, sports drinks, and energy drinks.
Sugary foods are high in calories and simple carbohydrates, which can spike your blood sugar levels and increase your risk of diabetes. Diabetes is a major risk factor for liver disease and can worsen its complications.
Sugary foods can also contribute to weight gain and obesity, which can lead to NAFLD and other types of liver disease.
You should limit your intake of sugary foods such as:
- Ice cream
- Cereal bars
- Fruit juices
Instead, choose fresh fruits, dried fruits, nuts, seeds, or dark chocolate for a sweet treat. You should also opt for whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, oats, or barley, instead of refined grains, such as white bread, white rice, or white pasta.
Your diet plays a key role in maintaining your liver health. Some foods and drinks can help protect your liver from damage and disease, while others can harm it or make it work harder.
By choosing more nutrient-dense foods and avoiding more processed foods, you can support your liver function and prevent or manage liver problems.
However, diet is not the only factor that affects your liver health. You should also avoid smoking, exercise regularly, manage your stress levels, and follow your doctor's advice regarding medications and supplements.
If you have any concerns about your liver health or diet, you should consult your doctor for guidance.
Dr. Karuturi Subrahmanyam, MD, FRCP (London), FACP (USA)
Internal Medicine Specialist
Phone : 85000 23456