Versatile, flavorful and a must-have no matter what you’re whipping up on the stove, spices are a kitchen essential. But did you know that adding bright, pungent and tangy spices can also have a positive effect on your health and wellness? Specifically, if you’re living with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), choosing certain herbs and spices can help you keep your liver in good health.
Some spices and herbs have been found to benefit liver health – and a few can specifically help those who have NAFLD. Find out which spices you should turn to for your liver, whether you’re hoping to protect or work towards healing this important organ.
Ginseng is an herb – or, technically, a root – that offers a ton of potential for your liver. Used for centuries as a traditional medicinal herb, ginseng is a potent anti-inflammatory.
Research has demonstrated that ginseng and its antioxidant effects can help protect your liver, keeping it safe from potential injuries that can be caused by viruses, toxins and alcohol. Studies have also found that ginseng may improve liver function and combat inflammation in individuals with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Specific varieties, like Korean Red Ginseng, have also been shown to have a positive impact on chronic liver diseases – including NAFLD.
Ginseng is commonly taken as an herbal supplement, but there are other ways you can incorporate it into your daily diet. You can actually eat ginseng root raw or steam it for a softer texture. Ginseng tea is another simple solution. Or, try incorporating ginseng right into recipes like our Ginseng-Infused Thai Soup.
Here’s another herb that’s quite potent for your liver health. Milk thistle is highly protective, and it’s been shown to have a positive effect on conditions like alcoholic liver disease, hepatitis, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
While the jury is still out on how, exactly, milk thistle benefits the liver, it’s thought that the plant reduces damage caused by free radicals. Commonly used as a complementary therapy alongside medication and other interventions, milk thistle may protect against or counter liver damage caused by NAFLD. Research has demonstrated that this herb can potentially reduce liver inflammation and damage – which can accompany NAFLD – and possibly improve liver function.
Milk thistle is commonly taken as an extract or a dietary supplement. You can find this herbal supplement at your local grocery stores alongside other vitamins and supplements.
If you love garlic, great news: this popular ingredient is great for NAFLD! Often stashed in spice racks in powdered form or kept minced in the fridge, no matter what form of garlic you like best, sprinkling it on as a seasoning or incorporating it into recipes can be great for your liver.
Research published as recently as 2020 found that garlic powder may potentially lead to significant reductions in LDL (bad) cholesterol, triglyceride levels, and the severity of liver fat accumulation. This study showed that, with other interventions like weight loss and physical activity, NAFLD patients could potentially see improvements in their liver health.
Additional research, like a 2019 study, demonstrates that raw garlic may also lead to a reduced risk for NAFLD. Eating raw garlic seven or more times each week could result in as much as a 29 percent lower risk of developing this liver condition.
And garlic is incredibly easy to work into your diet. Sure, there are garlic supplements available. But you can also incorporate it into just about anything and everything you whip up at home. Garlic-centric recipes like our Roasted Garlic Tomato Pasta, Chicken Wings with Roasted Cauliflower & Garlic Spinach, and Garlic & Lemon Red Snapper with Homemade Aioli can all introduce more of this flavorful ingredient into your meals.
Okay, green tea isn’t technically an herb or a spice. But this specific tea variety is fantastic for your health on many levels thanks to its catechins. There are four main catechins in green tea, but one in particular called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (or EGCG) is especially great for the liver.
Some research centered on green tea extract shows that it may hold the potential to help treat liver disease. One study demonstrated that taking 500 milligrams of green tea extract daily might significantly reduce liver damage markers in those with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Another study also found that the same amount of green tea extract improved liver damage markers and inflammatory markers in participants with NAFLD.
What about green tea as a beverage? That holds potential too. Sipping green tea has been shown to have a protective effect on different liver conditions, like hepatitis, NAFLD and chronic liver disease. Brew yourself a mug regularly, and you may be able to take advantage of benefits like these.
If you don’t enjoy green tea, don’t worry – you can still get those important catechins from food. A number of fruits carry catechins, like apples and cherries, along with delicious dark chocolate.
When you think of licorice, the chewy red or black candy likely comes to mind. But when we’re talking about liver health and NAFLD, it isn’t the candy that you should be eating. It’s the herb.
Licorice, or licorice root as it’s often called, has been shown to carry anti-inflammatory and liver-protective qualities. Long used in traditional medicine in China and Japan, licorice as an herb or an extract can have a beneficial impact on those living with liver ailments. One research study demonstrated that participants living with fatty liver disease who took 2 grams of licorice root extract daily saw significant reductions in ALT and AST (two liver damage markers). Another small study found that licorice products may protect against certain types of liver damage.
Licorice isn’t exactly easy to incorporate into your diet. However, you can try herbal supplements from your local grocery store. Licorice teas, while not studied in regards to liver health like the herb or extract, are also an option.
If you’re working towards better liver health or live with NAFLD, it’s important to focus on liver-friendly nutrition and meals. You can master the basics of feeding your liver with herbs, spices and more in How to Eat Well for Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, and the following articles will offer more advice and ideas: