Is your diet harming your liver health? You might think you’re eating well – but some not-so-great offenders might be sneaking into your meals and snacks. While it’s easy to overlook your liver when you’re focused on getting enough vitamins, minerals and other key nutrients, what you eat can have a surprising impact on your liver’s health. Choosing the wrong foods can bring on inflammation, fat buildup and even liver damage over the long term.
If you’re hoping to keep this crucial detoxifying organ in good shape, making small tweaks to your diet may help. Avoiding foods that have been found to harm the liver or increase your risk of liver ailments and diseases, like nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, can be a greatly beneficial first step.
So, where should you start? The following are the smart but simple liver-saving swaps you should make if you’re hoping to rescue and repair your body’s primary detox machine.
1. Trade cookies and candy for fruit
Sugary treats fuel inflammation, increase triglycerides (which are linked with liver disease) and promote fat deposits in the liver that can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. In fact, some research shows sugar is as devastating to the liver as alcohol. And commercially baked cookies, donuts and other sweets may contain liver-damaging trans fats.
Instead of cookies and candy, snack on nature’s sweetest treat: fruit. Blueberries or grapes are particularly beneficial for the liver. Blueberries are rich in polyphenol antioxidants that minimize inflammation, decrease fatty deposits and reduce the risk of liver disease. Grapes are also high in antioxidants, which are known to protect the liver from damage.
2. Swap soda for sugar-free drinks
Soft drinks are loaded with sugar, usually in the form of high-fructose corn syrup – which is toxic to the liver and more harmful than regular sugar. Some research shows high-fructose increases fatty deposits and may elevate the risk of liver tumors, and other studies link a higher intake of soft drinks with greater rates of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Skip the soda and sip on drinks that don’t include all that added sugar. Still want something sweet? Try iced coffee sweetened with monk fruit or stevia. Coffee is rich in antioxidants, and studies show regular coffee consumption defends against different kinds of liver disease and reduces the likelihood of liver cancer.
3. Trade in butter for better fats
Butter is extremely high in saturated fat, which is worse for the liver than other kinds of fats – and even more dangerous than sugar. Research links a high intake of saturated fat with increased inflammation and a significantly greater risk for liver damage and serious liver disease.
Instead, replace butter with fats that actually do you a bit of good. One great choice is olive oil, which features monounsaturated fats that can dampen inflammation, lower triglycerides and protect against non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. If you’re missing butter’s creamy texture, try adding some avocado. This green fruit is also rich in monounsaturated fats, plus plant compounds that fight damage.
4. Change out breakfast cereal for oats
Most breakfast cereals are super-high in sugar, low in fiber and made from refined grains, all of which are ingredients that can be harmful for your liver. They’ve been shown to promote fat deposits and increase the likelihood of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. And if you’re serving your morning bowl with full-fat milk, you’re adding a serving of liver-damaging saturated fats.
Instead of sugary breakfast cereal, make yourself some oatmeal topped with blueberries and walnuts. Oats are high in fiber and liver-protective nutrients, plus beta-glucans that lessen inflammation, decrease triglycerides and minimize fatty deposits in the liver. Nuts are rich in vitamin E, shown to fortify the liver, and in some research, walnuts improved liver function in people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Need more inspiration? Try one of these delicious oats recipes to upgrade your breakfast and make it liver-friendly.
5. Swap cheeseburgers with plant-based alternatives
Red meat is packed with saturated fat – there’s as much as 7 grams in an average serving, or about 35 percent of the daily recommended amount. Adding a slice of cheese only ups your intake of even more harmful fats, and that white-bread bun promotes excess fat storage in the liver.
Instead, sub veggie burgers made with beans and sunflower seeds. Legumes are free from saturated fat and rich in fiber, and studies show a greater intake of beans reduces the risk of liver disease. Plus, sunflower seeds are extremely high in liver-protective vitamin E.
6. Season instead of salt
A diet high in sodium can prompt damaging changes in the liver, including misshapen cells, decreased cell division and increased cell death. And research suggests excessive salt consumption boosts the likelihood of fibrosis, which is a buildup of scar tissue that diminishes blood flow and impairs liver function.
Make lowering your sodium (and salt) intake easy by emptying your salt shaker and filling it with a blend of turmeric, garlic powder and dried herbs. Turmeric’s active compound, curcumin, significantly lowers inflammation, normalizes liver enzymes and protects against damage. Garlic, oregano, rosemary and other herbs and spices also fight inflammation and may improve liver health. As an added bonus, you’ll give everything you cook an extra dose of flavoring.
7. Swap alcoholic cocktails for mocktails
You already know drinking too much wrecks your liver, playing a role in illnesses like fatty liver disease. But “too much” may be less than you think. Some studies show as little as two drinks a day for women, three or more for men, increases the risk of cirrhosis, an advanced liver disease marked by significant scarring, permanent damage and, ultimately, liver failure.
Keep your liver protected by skipping alcohol and opting for booze-free mocktails instead. For example, you can make a mocktail of green tea and grapefruit juice mixed with sparkling water that tastes good and offers key liver nutrients. Grapefruit is rich in specific antioxidants that dampen inflammation and reduce the risk of cirrhosis and fibrosis. Green tea’s antioxidants improve liver enzymes, minimize fat deposits and may protect against liver cancer.
8. Trade French fries for fresh veggies
Deep-fried foods like French fries, onion rings, chicken fingers and battered fish are high in fats and hard on the liver. They’re also likely to contain trans fats – processed fats that increase triglycerides and promote nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and scar tissue formation. And they’re loaded with liver-damaging salt.
Instead, munch on fresh veggies and good-for-you dips, like carrot sticks and hummus. Legumes protect the liver, and carrots are rich in fiber and antioxidants that lessen inflammation. Or, snack on edamame; soybeans contain compounds shown to reduce triglycerides and lower fatty deposits in the liver.
9. Replace the bacon in your BLTs
Bacon’s packed with saturated fat, and studies show processed meats like bacon, pepperoni and salami increase the chances of serious liver conditions. In one study, people who ate the highest amounts of red and processed meats had almost double the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Bacon is also loaded with sodium, and cooking meat over high heat creates harmful compounds that damage the liver.
Instead, when you’re craving a sandwich, make a wrap with salmon, avocado and leafy greens. The omega-3 fats in salmon, sardines and other fatty fish tame inflammation and lower triglycerides, and some research links increased omega-3 intake with decreased risk of liver disease.
10. Skip store-bought potato chips and make your own veggie chips
Most potato chips are fried in vegetable oils, high in omega-6 fats that are quickly oxidized during cooking and can injure your liver. Tortilla chips, corn chips and other crunchy snacks are also loaded with sodium. And don’t overlook crackers, which are usually made with refined grains and high-fructose corn syrup that harm the liver. Plus, some varieties of microwave popcorn contain liver-damaging trans fats.
When you want something light and crunchy, roast thin slices of beets in olive oil and garlic to make your own chips at home. Beets are an especially great pick; they’re rich in betaine and other compounds shown to reduce inflammation, help break down fatty acids in the liver and lessen the risk of liver disease. Studies suggest betaine also protects the liver from damage caused by toxins and heavy drinking.
11. Cook at home instead of ordering takeout
Drive-through and takeout meals are likely to be loaded with refined grains, sugar and omega-6 fats that promote liver damage. And they’re notoriously high in liver-wrecking sodium.
Instead of takeout, have a big salad made with liver-protective vegetables like spinach, broccoli sprouts and artichokes. Broccoli sprouts are extremely rich in compounds that improve liver function, minimize damage, and studies show they’re especially defensive against liver conditions. Artichokes enhance liver detox, and research links spinach with a lower risk of non-alcoholic liver disease.
For more foods that can keep your liver healthy, keep reading:
- This 7-Day Liver Reboot is Just What You Need to Get Your Health Back on Track
- 1-Week Jump-Start to a Healthier Liver
- Ready, Set, Go: Make These 5 Liver-Friendly Snacks in 1 Hour Flat
Featured recipe: Portobello Mushroom Burger with Marinara Sauce & Provolone