Miriam Jacobson, MS, RD, CNS, shares five foods that are good for liver health and detoxification.
When it comes to organs, your liver might not be as top-of-mind as your heart, or even your stomach, but it’s still a vital organ—and it does a lot more than you think. The liver is a major detoxification organ that transforms toxins so they can be safely removed from our bodies.
Toxins are external substances that we ingest, inhale, or come into contact with that can negatively impact the body. They can also be produced inside of our body as a product of normal digestion and metabolism.
The liver helps to process these toxins in several phases. Subsequently, processed toxins are safely eliminated by the skin, lungs, kidney, and gut.
To support your body’s detoxification process, you need to nourish it with the right foods. Scroll through the following tips and then read more about the best foods for liver health.
How to Support Liver Health Through Diet
There are three major components to supporting liver health:
1. Reduce Toxic Load
First, it’s important to reduce the overall toxic load on the body. You can do this by eliminating foods, drinks, and substances that burden the liver, such as:
Similarly, the liver has to process toxins from other external sources as well. That said, reducing the body’s toxic load from the likes of cigarettes, beauty products, and cleaning products also helps.
2. Add Foods that Support the Liver
After reducing the toxic load from your diet and lifestyle, you can then add foods that are good for the liver and promote detoxification. Among other important nutrients, the best foods for liver health include those that contain or promote the production of:
- omega-3 fatty acids
Below, we’ll cover specific examples of foods that are good for your liver.
3. Promote a Healthy Gut
Lastly, it’s important to promote a healthy gut to properly eliminate toxins.
Why? Because once toxins are processed, the liver sends them to the gut to be eliminated. However, if your digestion is sluggish, then the gut can actually send the toxins back to the liver for re-processing.
With this in mind, promoting a healthy gut with a diet high in fiber and probiotics is an essential step to support the liver and detoxification. Such practices ensure a healthy transit time to more efficiently remove toxins.
What Foods Are Good for Your Liver Health + Detoxification?
Without further ado, here are some powerful foods that are good for your liver.
1. Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous veggies are among the top foods that are good for your liver. They contain compounds called glucosinolates, which not only protect liver cells but also help to produce the enzyme glutathione. Glutathione is the body’s most important antioxidant and is the foundation for many liver detoxification reactions.
Examples of cruciferous vegetables for liver health, rich in these compounds include:
- broccoli sprouts
- Brussels sprouts
- bok choy
Notably, of all the cruciferous veggies, broccoli sprouts contain the most concentrated amount of glucosinolates. However, any cruciferous vegetables are good for your liver health. In fact, eating a variety will ultimately benefit the diversity of your gut microbiome for healthy digestion and elimination.
2. Brazil Nuts
Brazil nuts are rich in selenium. Selenium not only helps boost glutathione activity, but also helps to bind and eliminate heavy metals like mercury.
Specifically, a 2020 review reports that eating just about two Brazil nuts per day can help boost your body’s selenium content.
3. Wild Salmon
Is salmon good for your liver? Definitely. Wild salmon contains potent amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory fats that promote the health of liver cells. Significantly, a scientific meta-analysis found that supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids may help lower liver fat and elevated cholesterol levels.
In addition, wild salmon is an excellent source of protein. Protein is a beneficial nutrient for the liver because it’s required to fuel certain detox reactions.
4. Garlic, onion + other sulfur-rich foods
Garlic, onion, and other sulfur-rich foods contain the amino acid cysteine. Cysteine contains sulfur, which assists with detoxification.
What’s more, garlic also contains a compound called allicin, which is an antioxidant that reduces cell damage and protects the liver from inflammation.
However, one important thing to note is that heat usually destroys allicin. However, chopping garlic ten minutes before cooking can help activate its enzymes to counteract some of the damaging effects.
Lentils are one of the most folate-rich foods. Folate is a B vitamin that’s required for healthy metabolism and detox reactions. Studies show a high correlation between folate deficiencies and impaired liver function.
Other folate-rich foods include:
- kidney beans
- green leafy vegetables
Additionally, lentils and other folate-rich legumes are also high in fiber. Again, fiber promotes a healthy transit time. This helps ensure toxins are eliminated quickly instead of being sent back to the liver for re-processing.
Those delicious dark-colored berries that you can find in the best fruit salads and parfaits are high in anthocyanins, which are powerful antioxidants and responsible for that vibrant pigment. And anthocyanins are components of liver healthy foods because they support healthy liver cells by preventing free radical damage. The best anthocyanin-rich berries include:
- Black currants
When you eat oats and other whole grains, they contain beta-glucan, a soluble fiber that’s good for your digestive health and good for your liver health. A study published in the journal Plant foods for human nutrition reported that eating oats every day for 12 weeks can improve both liver function and lipid profile (like healthier cholesterol and triglyceride levels). A high-fiber diet might put less stress on the liver in general because it’s associated with less fat.
It’s not just you depending on your morning cup of coffee—it could also possibly be one of the best things for your liver. Coffee is high in antioxidants: Roasted coffee contains melanoidins, responsible for the brown pigment, and an amino acid called phenylalanine, which also has strong antioxidant potential.
And antioxidants protect organs like your liver from oxidative stress caused by free radicals (studies have shown that oxidative stress is correlated with poor liver function). It’s also a possibility that drinking coffee can reduce inflammatory markers, another marker of poor liver function.
9. Beetroot Juice
Beetroot juice is one of the key foods that support the liver, according to recent animal studies. It’s packed with polyphenol and flavonoid compounds, antioxidants that help protect the liver against free radicals. These compounds may help the liver by lowering the accumulation of collagen (which might be difficult for the liver to process in too high amounts).
One other plus of beetroot juice is the presence of the anti-inflammatory antioxidants betalains.
10. Sunflower Seeds
Believe it or not, sunflower seeds aren’t just fun to eat. They’re one of the foods that are good for your liver because they contain a healthy amount of copper. Copper is essential to a couple of processes, including iron transport, wound repair, and cell energy metabolism, which could become compromised if the liver isn’t functioning correctly.
These foods are a great place to start, but there are many other foods that are good for your liver.
As a general tip for liver health, eat a variety of colorful plant-based foods. Different colored fruits and vegetables correspond with different phytonutrient and antioxidant concentrations to support enzymatic processes and detoxification. They’re also rich in fiber for healthy elimination.
You can also consider supplementing with liver-supporting herbs like milk thistle. Milk thistle is a bitter-tasting herb that contains a bioflavonoid called silymarin that’s excellent for healthy liver function. And while it’s not something you can easily source and incorporate into recipes, taking a concentrated capsule supplement is a convenient way to support liver health.