Fact Checked By Michael Kuefner, PhD (BMS)
August 9, 2021
Keeping the liver in tip-top shape is important to protect from diseases like alcoholic or non-alcoholic liver diseases, which are characterized by an increased build up of fats in the liver.
Fatty liver diseases afflict over 25% of individuals worldwide today, and this prevalence continues to climb as diets become increasingly processed and fatty (1).
While eating that candy bar or ice cream cone won’t kill you, it’s worth knowing which foods you should include in your diet to keep the liver healthy.
Fatty liver disease can eventually lead to liver cancer, which has very little observable, early symptoms, but is extremely lethal – it is the fifth most common cancer in men worldwide, and only 17% of those with liver cancer survive (2).
Luckily, fatty liver diseases and cancers are generally pretty preventable, as most of the risk factors are highly related to diet and lifestyle changes.
The ‘Westernized-Diet’ is one that many Americans are fairly accustomed to.
It’s a diet high in saturated fats and sugars, and high consumption of it can lead to fatty liver disease – why?
So, it’s quite clear why the so-called Western Diet is prone to induce a fatty liver – but what about some foods that are healthy for liver food?
In the rest of this article we’ll discuss some foods to add to your diet to keep that fat away from your liver and keep it healthy.
Some might just surprise you!
In general, diets and foods that promote liver health include the following:
The first food on the list is fish, that’s right – salmon, sardines, tuna, and more.
These are high in omega-3 fatty acids, and research has shown that these can improve overall liver health in a few ways (5):
Oily fish which are high in omega-3 fatty acids have also shown promising effects on improving symptoms of type 2 diabetes and obesity as well, as they can improve insulin sensitivity and are associated with reduced body-mass-index (6).
Whole grain oatmeal is an excellent source of energy for the body and is high in fiber content, which makes it great for weight maintenance as it gives you a ‘full’ feeling without filling up on calories.
Research has also shown that not only does oat consumption improve liver function in humans, but it also may even reduce obesity and abdominal fat in a well-balanced diet (7).
If you are looking for a food to make your liver healthy and shed some fat off your stomach, this might be one to start with.
Broccoli (and some other leafy greens as well!)
Broccoli is a member of the brassica vegetable family (along with kale, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, etc.) and is rich in numerous beneficial, bioactive compounds – vitamin C, flavonoids, and glucosinolates.
Elevated broccoli consumption has been shown to prevent, or possibly even reverse liver damage.
Specifically, researchers found that eating more of the leafy green vegetable decreased liver cancer prevalence in mouse models, along with improving lipid profiles as well (8).
One of the main components of broccoli is a biologically active compound called isothiocyanates – these are naturally occurring small molecules formed by many cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, etc.).
Why is this important?
Because pre-clinical and clinical research has been fairly exhaustive over the past few years, and a decent amount of it suggests that isothiocyanates do provide a metabolic benefit.
Not just for the liver, but for many other aspects as well (treatment of chronic diseases, and maybe even diabetes) (9).
This one’s not exactly a food, but coffee drinkers are significantly less likely to get fatty liver diseases, and those with fatty liver disease are actually found to have less liver damage than those who don’t drink it (10).
This beneficial action may be due to coffee/caffeine’s antioxidant effect, and/or its ability to fight inflammation and lower abnormal liver enzyme levels.
Walnuts are a good snack that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, similar to fish.
Previous research has found that people with fatty liver disease who eat walnuts have improved liver function tests.
Next time you are hungry for a snack, reach for some walnuts instead and enjoy some healthy fats (11).
The last food on this list is grapefruit. This citrus fruit isn’t for everyone, but it’s extremely high in vitamin C and numerous other antioxidants known to protect the liver from excess fat build-up, and reduce liver inflammation as well.
A 2004 study from Japan tested the effects of grapefruit juice in rodents and found that the animals drinking grapefruit juice had dramatically less liver damage, highlighting the support the fruit can give you (12).
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