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The Best Foods for Liver Health (Liver Detox + What to Eat and Avoid to Prevent Fatty Liver Disease)

Written by Caroline DiNicola Fawley
The Best Foods for Liver Health (Liver Detox + What to Eat and Avoid to Prevent Fatty Liver Disease)

Quick Take

Many factors can negatively impact a liver — dietary and lifestyle choices top the list. Fortunately, livers are super cool and can rebuild themselves, which means we have some power here. Eating more healing foods can not only prevent liver disease, but may actually reverse it, too. 

And the best diet for liver function? A whole food plant-based diet! What is a whole food diet you ask? We will get to that in a bit. 


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On This Page

What Causes Liver Disease and Toxin Buildup? 

A Shocking Cancer Study: Animal Protein and Liver Cancer

Top 4 Plant-Based Foods to Detox your Liver 

What to Avoid to Keep Your Liver Healthy

The Best Diet for Liver Function

What Causes Liver Disease and Toxin Buildup? 

As we know, drinking alcohol in excess can toxify your liver, resulting often in fatty liver disease.

The other main source of fatty liver disease affects 1 in 3 adults, and that is non alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), brought on by a high fat and sugar diet. NAFLD from obesity can actually quadruple your chances of dying from liver disease.

Fatty liver disease can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer, and even death.

The third way to toxify your liver is through the ingestion of carcinogens, often via the consumption of cooked meats. 

A Shocking Cancer Study: Animal Protein and Liver Cancer

To help illuminate the effects of diet on the liver, first, let’s look at an interesting study mentioned in, “The China Study,” a book written by T. Colin Campbell about the science and cultural studies behind WFPB diets (whole food plant based).

This study (not-so-ethically) gave mice aflatoxin, a cancerous mold found on peanuts that is associated with liver cancer. The study took 2 groups of mice: one was fed a diet that included 20 percent animal protein, and the second that was fed a diet that included 20 percent protein, but exclusively from plants. Both groups were fed the aflatoxin and the results were a bit shocking.

100 percent of the mice fed the 20 percent animal protein diet developed liver cancer. 0 percent of the mice fed the 20 percent plant-based protein diet developed liver cancer.

When they reduced the amount of animal protein in the first group, their cancer growth slowed down. When they brought 20 percent down to 5 percent, the cancer “shut off” all together.

Just sit with that for a moment. 

This study is backed up by many cultural studies (cultures that eat less meat develop cancer less often) but of course, it would be unethical to run controlled studies on humans (as it is animals).

But we can still glean some pretty helpful dietary advice from this mice study. Reduce your meat, dairy, and egg consumption and focus on getting your protein from plants and you may very well reduce your risk of liver cancer.

OK, now let’s talk about foods you can add to your diet to flush out those toxins and repair any liver damage you may already have. 

Top 4 Foods to Detoxify your Liver

1. Coffee

Coffee's often lumped in with unhealthy food choices, but did you know it is actually the #1 source of antioxidants for US Americans. Now, I’m not sure if that just means that we aren’t eating our fruits and veggies or if we’re just drinking too much coffee, but even if it’s the latter it may not be a bad thing for our livers! 

Coffee is protective against liver disease. Even just three cups a day can cut the risk of developing fatty liver in half!

Why? As already mentioned, coffee is loaded with antioxidants, and that's key for protecting your liver against inflammation. Coffee can do more than just protect against liver damage, 4 cups a day can actually cut lung cancer risk by 90 percent, too.

2. Ginger

If you have interest in naturopathic medicine at all, then it will be no shock to you that ginger combats fatty liver disease, because it pretty much combats everything. 

Ginger is a superpower anti-inflammatory food that can significantly reduce liver inflammation, cut liver fat, and improve overall liver function. In fact, just 1 teaspoon of ground ginger in a cup of hot water a day can do all that, in addition to enhancing your metabolic rate! By the way, that’s only 5 cents worth of ginger so it will definitely be worth the purchase next time you're in the spice aisle. 


3. Oatmeal 

While refined grains up your risk of fatty liver, whole grains in general are associated with reduced risk , and oatmeal is an especially good choice. One study found that 90 percent of those who consumed oatmeal vs. the placebo had increased liver function. With rates like that, a bowl a day might just be the thing you need to keep that liver functioning smoothly. 

4. Broccoli

The cabbage family has long been known for its healthy effects on human bodies. This is in part because this group of cruciferous veggies actually boosts the activity of detoxifying enzymes in our livers. 

One study showed that even when paired with a known carcinogen like steak, the broccoli actually counteracts that carcinogenic effect, and continues to help to clear chemicals from your liver for up to two weeks after consumption. 

The moral of the story? It’s not a bad idea to have a side of broccoli, especially if you’re going to eat meat! 

Fun Facts: Cooking broccoli with mustard, or mustard seed powder, can increase its cancer-fighting properties!

(No time to cook? Our best selling MamaSezz Creamy Broccoli Soup can be added to any Build Your Own Bundle!)

What Foods to Avoid to Keep Your Liver Healthy 

1. Animal protein

As we saw from the China Study, it's best to avoid animal proteins like meat, dairy (including whey protein and yoghurt), eggs. 

By the way, we're not just talking about red meat here. Increasing your chicken nugget consumption from 5 nuggets or less to 14 nuggets can triple your risk of fatty liver!

2. Alcohol

Perhaps obvious, but worth noting since it's got such an inflammatory effect on the liver and can cause fatty liver and liver disease when consumed in excess.

3. Refined Grains

Again, refined grains are associated with a greater risk for fatty liver disease so choose whole grains instead. 

4. Refined Sugar

Just 1 can of soda a day can increase your risk of fatty liver disease by 45 percent

5. Chemicals, Molds, Pesticides

OK, so this doesn't sound like a "food" to avoid, but unfortunately, chemicals, molds, and pesticides are hiding in many foods at the grocery store. Because our livers act as filters, these toxins can strain, damage, or even cause cancer of the liver if consumed consistently or in excess. The "Dirty Dozen" are foods that should be bought organic rather than conventional in order to avoid pesticide ingestion. 

The Best Diet for Liver Function: the WFPB Diet

OK, so you probably noticed all of the foods listed that are good for your liver are plant-based foods. And this makes sense, because the best diet for proper liver function is a whole food plant-based diet, or WFPB.

What is whole food plant-based? 

It's a diet made up of whole fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, and whole grains. It’s whole food (not processed) and plant based (no animal products).

By avoiding refined grains, refined sugars, fatty animal proteins, casein, alcohol, and chemicals, your liver can focus on purifying your system the way it was meant to. Anything in excess can lead to liver inflammation and overuse, so stick mostly to a WFPB diet.

Of course if you are unable to stick to it 100 percent, the good news is you can reap the benefits of a WFPB diet even if you're not all the way there. The more WFPB foods you eat, the easier it will be for your liver to do its job. When in doubt, eat a side of broccoli. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Follow the science! One study shows that you can actually reverse liver cancer by reducing the amount of animal protein you ingest. 
  • A whole food plant-based diet is best for keeping your liver healthy and happy.
  • Plant-based foods like coffee, ginger, oatmeal, broccoli can all help to cleanse the liver, and keep it detoxified. 
  • Avoid refined sugars, refined grains, meat, eggs, and dairy to keep your liver functioning smoothly. 

**

By Caroline DiNicola Fawley

Caroline is a plant-based chef, recipe designer, and whole food plant-based nutrition educator, with a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.

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