Best and worst foods for your liver

Say hello to your liver. That large, meaty organ roughly the size of a football that sits on the right side of your tummy is one of the most important organs in your body.

Your liver works with the gallbladder, pancreas and intestines to digest, absorb and process food. Its main job is to filter the blood coming from your digestive tract before passing it to the rest of the body. It detoxifies chemicals and metabolises drugs. It makes proteins that are vital for blood clotting and other functions. Put simply, you can’t live without it.

The liver’s line of work constantly puts it in harm’s way and when it is damaged, it can repair itself, but it forms scar tissue to take the place of the healthy tissue. This is called cirrhosis – a serious degenerative disease that usually occurs as a result of alcohol abuse or chronic hepatitis. Too much scar tissue will result in the liver losing its ability to function properly, and that can lead to liver failure and possibly death.

So, looking after your liver should be high on your list. Here are the foods you should both increase and avoid to make your liver love you.

Eat and drink more:

Foods rich in fibre help your liver work at its best. Oatmeal is high in fibre and eating it for breakfast each day can help you lose weight, too. 

Read: Love your liver

Studies show that broccoli can protect you from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. It’s an ideal side or a meal in itself – delicious roasted with garlic, toasted almonds and a splash of balsamic vinegar.

Your favourite heart starter also helps your liver. Some studies show that drinking two to three cups a day can protect your liver from damage caused by too much alcohol or an unhealthy diet. It may lower your risk of liver cancer.

Green tea
Green tea is packed with antioxidants called catechins, which may protect against some forms of cancer and help your liver. For the most catechins, it’s best to brew your own and drink it hot, because iced tea, bottled tea and cold green teas have much lower levels of these useful antioxidants.

Where would a healthy organ be without water? One of the best things you can do for your liver is to drink water instead of alcohol, soft drinks, juices or sweetened drinks. And drinking more water will help you lose weight, too.

Read: How to keep your liver happy

Almonds are a terrific source of vitamin E. They’re also nutrients that may help reduce the risk of fatty liver disease and they’re good for your heart, too.

You should take any chance to eat leafy greens – especially spinach. Packed with a powerful antioxidant called glutathione, spinach can help keep your liver working right and is ideal sautéed as a side, eaten raw for lunch in sandwiches, as a salad or as a base for rice, noodles or other dishes.

Blueberries are full of nutrients called polyphenols which may help reduce your risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, obesity and high cholesterol. Other foods rich in polyphenols include dark chocolate, olives and plums.

Herbs and spices
Liberally sprinkle oregano, rosemary, cinnamon, curry powder, cumin or sage when you’re cooking to enjoy the benefits of a healthy liver and heart rate. They’re a good source of healthy polyphenols and help you cut back on salt in many recipes. 

Eat and drink less:

Fatty Food
We all love a good burger, hot chips and fried foods, but eating them comes at a high cost to your liver. Too many foods high in saturated fat can make it harder for your liver to do its job and, over time, may lead to inflammation of the liver and cirrhosis. 

Read: Signs of a damaged liver

Too much sugar can wreck your liver, because you’re making it work overtime. Part of the liver’s job is to convert sugar into fat and if you overdo the sweets, your liver makes too much fat, which ends up leading to obesity and possibly fatty liver disease. So ease up on the sweets.

While some salt is good for your body, many people have a high-sodium diet which may lead to fibrosis – the first stage of liver scarring. Do your best to avoid processed foods, such as ham, bacon or deli meats and choose fresh vegetables and foods instead of canned ones. Try adding herbs instead of salt during cooking and maybe take the salt shaker off the table.

Alcohol can make for a fun evening, but too much is no party for your liver. Drink more than one or two drinks a day and you can look forward to a case of liver disease or cirrhosis. Four drinks in one sitting for women and five for men can be harmful, too.

Packaged snack food
Choose healthy baked or naturally sweetened snacks instead of chocolate bars, packaged chips and other ‘go-to’ snack food. Nuts, rice crackers and corn cakes are good alternatives (salt-free, if possible) and dried and fresh fruits are also good pick-me-ups. They may not be as much fun as a sackful of Snickers bars or bags of salt and vinegar chips, but you’ll get used to the bland alternatives, and your body – especially your liver – will thank you for it. 

How do you look after your liver? Share your tips in the comments section below.

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Publisher of YourLifeChoices – Australia's most-trusted and longest-running retirement website. A trusted voice on Australia's retirement landscape, including retirement income and planning, government entitlements, lifestyle and news and information relevant to Australians over 50. Leon has worked in publishing for more than 25 years and is also a travel writer and editor, graphic designer and photographer.

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