When you think of ways to keep your liver healthy, your mind probably jumps to drinking less alcohol. And while it’s true that alcohol is linked with liver problems, what you eat impacts the health of this vital organ, too. Megan Flores, a dietitian with Banner Health in Phoenix, AZ, explained more about how your liver helps keep you healthy, and what you can eat to help it perform at its best.
Here’s what your liver does for your body
Your liver plays a crucial role in processing what you eat and drink, so your body gets the fuel and nutrition it needs. It also filters the waste products that develop when you metabolize food, drinks and medications. “It helps get rid of the toxins and waste products that can be harmful if they aren’t removed effectively,” Flores said.
She compares your liver to a car engine. You’re the driver, and it’s up to you to decide what you fuel the car with to keep it running smoothly. “Your liver depends on you to nurture and take care of it,” she said. “If you choose healthy, nutritionally dense foods to fuel your body, your liver performs optimally. If you are not careful with your lifestyle and the quality of the food you eat, your liver can break down over time, and that can affect your whole body.”
Here are some foods that are good choices for your liver
Flores said to reach for nutritionally dense, whole foods low in salt, fat and refined sugar.
- Lean proteins. Getting enough protein is crucial for your liver, and lean chicken, turkey, fish and beef are good options. Try to have them instead of processed foods such as hot dogs, bologna and salami, which can contain a lot of fat and salt. For plant proteins, some good choices are nuts, lentils, edamame, tofu or peas.
- Fruits and vegetables. Produce gives your liver the micronutrients it needs and has fiber, which helps your overall digestive system. Make sure to include leafy greens, which contain vitamin K, a nutrient your liver uses to help control blood clotting. Berries are good, too, since they contain antioxidants, which may reduce the effects of inflammation in the liver.
- Olive oil. Olive oil contains antioxidants and vitamin E and may help protect against nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
- Nuts and seeds. Like olive oil, nuts contain vitamin E. And as mentioned above, they are a good source of plant protein.
- Oatmeal. Oatmeal and other high-fiber foods help keep your digestive system flowing smoothly so your stool can help remove toxins from your body.
- Coffee and tea. Coffee may help your liver function — just don’t load it up with creamer, sugar or syrup. And some research suggests that green tea might help prevent liver cancer. (Talk to your doctor about your coffee and tea consumption. It might not be recommended for people with certain health conditions or who take certain medications.)
Why it’s crucial to take good care of your liver
You might not notice any early signs of liver disease or conditions. And liver disease can strike people who are young, active, and seemingly healthy because of genetics or other risk factors.
“Sometimes, even routine annual blood tests don’t show that your liver is under stress or damaged,” Flores said. So, it’s important to talk to your primary care provider about any health conditions that might increase your risk for liver problems. That way, your doctor can order tests to check for inflammation or signs of damage.
The good news is that your liver can heal. So even if you have liver damage, you may be able to treat it with a healthy lifestyle and modifications to your diet. “The liver is resilient, and if problems are detected at earlier stages, you may be able to reverse liver disease,” Flores said.
The bottom line
Your liver plays a vital role in your health — it helps you process what you eat and filter out toxins. Choosing the right foods can help your liver stay healthy and happy and keep liver disease at bay.
Have questions about diet and liver health?
Schedule an appointment with a dietitian near you.
Schedule an appointment with a primary care provider near you.
Schedule an appointment with a hepatologist (liver specialist).