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I’m a dietitian, and these are the foods I recommend for better liver health

Discover the liver-loving foods you should stock up on and foods you should avoid.
/ Source: TODAY

Whether you know it or not, your liver is a big deal. It's the one organ involved in every metabolic process in your body. Thing is, despite its importance in our overall health, many people are abusing it. This abuse puts us at risk for a condition known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD. NAFLD has become the leading cause of liver cancer and liver diseases worldwide, and 25%-58% of Americans have it.

While there’s no medication or treatment that will cure a fatty liver, there are a few choice foods you can eat and avoid to maintain your liver’s health. Ahead, discover the liver-friendly foods you might want to grab on your next grocery run.

But first, what is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease?

NAFLD is a condition characterized by too much fat in the liver and the cause of the excess fat, in this case, is not related to alcohol consumption. Instead, abnormal fat accumulation is related to metabolic factors, such as insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes, high waist circumference, or abnormal lipid levels.

The disease is so metabolically driven that the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease recently created a subclass of NAFLD called metabolic dysfunction-associated steatosis liver disease, or MASLD, to highlight the connection between fat in the liver and metabolic-related diseases. In fact, the diagnostic criteria for the two diseases overlap by 99%, so people who have NAFLD tend to also meet the criteria for MASLD.

What causes NAFLD and MASLD?

Scientists are still discovering the root causes, however, research indicates that the diseases are most likely caused by various factors, including genetics, diet, sedentary behavior, and even disregulation within the microbiome.

How are NAFLD and MASLD diagnosed?

The difference between NAFLD and MASLD comes down to how they’re diagnosed. NAFLD is the result of excess fat in the liver unrelated to alcohol or other liver diseases.

MASLD is defined as fat in the liver with metabolic abnormality. The diagnosis of MASLD requires the presence of fat in the liver plus at least one of the five criteria of metabolic syndrome. These include high waist circumference, high blood pressure, high levels of fat in your blood, low HDL, and high blood sugar.

Rates of fatty liver disease are not improving. The prevalence has only grown in the last two decades, and despite its growth, there's no pharmacological remedy. Further, the disease is being diagnosed in younger patients. Here’s the good news: It can be reversed if caught in the earlier stages of the disease.

Some more good news? The foods you eat and and the ones you don't make a big difference to your liver's health. Though there's no formal fatty liver diet, there are liver-friendly foods you'll want to put in your shopping cart.

5 foods that boost your liver health

The foods you choose to eat and limit will play a significant role in reversal. In my new book, “Regenerative Health,” I share the best superfoods for the liver. Here are five of them:

Olive oil in a glass bowl set against a wooden background
Consume at least three tablespoons a day of extra virgin olive oil a day for better liver health. Getty Images
  • Green tea: A 2020 animal study found that a combination of green tea extract and exercise reduced the severity of fatty liver in mice. Additionally, mice that had either green tea extract or exercise on their own still had a 50% reduction in severity compared to the control group. In humans, green tea can be consumed either through traditional tea leaves or through matcha. Green tea is found to benefit numerous disease states due to its high antioxidant content.
  • Extra virgin olive oil: Extra pure olive oil is a healthy fat associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and even some cancers. Studies also show it can help reduce liver fat and improve liver enzymes. Consume at least three tablespoons a day of extra virgin olive oil in salads and sauces, or use it as a butter replacement when cooking.
  • Kiwi: Kiwi contains an antioxidant called Pyrroloquinoline quinone, or PQQ. A study from the University of Colorado found that when the antioxidant was given to obese pregnant mice, it helped to reduce the risk of NAFLD in their offspring later in life. Enjoy kiwi as a snack alone or on top of oatmeal or yogurt. 
  • Dark Chocolate: Dark chocolate is defined as having at least 50% cocoa content. The darker the chocolate, the greater the flavonoid content. That’s why I often recommend chocolate that is lower in sugar with at least 70% cocoa. A 2017 study found that dark chocolate consumption improved fatty liver and metabolic syndrome by reducing oxidative stress (an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidant defenses). Replace sugary desserts with a few squares of dark chocolate after dinner.
  • Coffee: Your morning cup of coffee could be a lifesaver for your liver. Numerous studies show the protective benefits that coffee has on liver health. Coffee may play a role in reducing the risk of liver cancer, improvements in liver enzymes, and reducing the risk of death from liver cirrhosis. A 2021 study assessing 11 epidemiological studies found that regular coffee consumption significantly reduced NAFLD risk.

Foods to avoid

In addition to consuming liver-friendly foods, reducing a few that may harm the liver can also help.

  • Alcohol: This one is the most obvious offender of good liver health, and studies show that cutting back (five or more drinks for men or four or more drinks for women at any one time) reduces the risk of liver-related diseases.
  • Refined carbs and sugary foods: Based on your metabolic profile, consuming a moderate-to-low carbohydrate diet can also benefit fatty liver since the disease is closely tied to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
  • Processed foods: Cutting back on ultra-processed foods may help to prevent a fatty liver. A 2023 study assessing fast food found an association between fast food consumption and the development of fatty liver. 

Can I heal my liver with exercise?

Your diet plays a significant role in better liver health, but it’s not the only component that can improve liver health or reduce the severity of fatty liver. Studies show that physical activity can significantly influence blood sugar control and liver health. Both high-intensity and moderate-intensity interval training can reduce fat in the liver. If intensive exercise is too much, moving more can help reduce fatty liver. You don’t need to run a marathon; choose stairs over elevators and park further from the door.

Managing mental health can also help alleviate fat in the liver. A 2015 study found an association between depression and anxiety and an increased risk of death from liver disease. Finally, if you carry excess weight in your midsection, reducing your waist circumference will significantly impact better liver health.

Take care of your liver. If you do, it will take care of you too.