Best Food for Liver Disease

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Thu Nov 02 2023.

Vegetables at the market.

Liver disease is a common condition, affecting up to one in 10 Americans. There are several types, but they all affect the liver’s ability to filter blood and break down toxic substances. 

Treatment can be challenging if you or your loved one has liver disease. But healthy lifestyle changes, like eating nutritious foods can help. 

To learn more about how food and nutrition affect liver health, we reached out to Omaira Ferreira, FDN-P. As a board-certified functional diagnostic nutrition practitioner, Ferreira regularly helps patients with nutritional imbalances take control of their health and well-being. 

Making better food choices can help you keep a healthy liver. We provide some key insights below.

What is Liver Disease?

Liver disease is an umbrella term for several conditions that affect the liver’s function.

“The liver helps us digest food, store energy, and get rid of harmful substances,” explains Ferreira. “When someone has liver disease, their liver fails to work properly. There are different types of liver disease, such as hepatitis and cirrhosis. Sometimes, it occurs because of viruses, alcohol consumption, or an unhealthy diet. It can also be a result of genetic or autoimmune conditions.” 

How Does Diet Contribute to Liver Health?

The foods and drinks that you consume have a direct impact on your liver. Eating a healthy, balanced diet supports your liver function, but drinking alcohol and eating unhealthy fats increases your risk of liver problems. 

You can’t prevent liver problems altogether, but eating a nutritious diet can reduce your risk and improve your digestive function. 

What You’ll Need

You don’t need special equipment to improve your liver health with nutrition. Working with a registered dietitian or a certified nutrition specialist (CNS) can help you make better decisions, but it isn’t necessary to succeed. 

Talk with your doctor if you have specific questions or concerns about your diet. There are also plenty of online resources, like the American Liver Foundation and the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.

Best Foods for Liver Disease 

There are a variety of foods that can support your liver and its function, including:

1) Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals, all of which protect the liver and support healing. Ferreira recommends ‘eating the rainbow’. In other words, “include a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables in your diet, such as berries, leafy greens, carrots, and bell peppers.” 

Cruciferous vegetables, like brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower are particularly beneficial, as they contain carotenoids and flavinoids thought to neutralize toxins

2) Whole Grains

Whole grains, like brown rice, quinoa, and rolled oats have lots of fiber. They assist in digestion and support bowel regularity, but they also provide a defense against certain types of liver disease, like liver cancer. 

One study, published in the journal JAMA Oncology, found that eating a diet with lots of whole grains decreased the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma (the  most common form of liver cancer) by nearly 40%. The same study found that a high bran diet, reduced the risk of liver cancer by about 30%. 

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3) Lean Proteins

Protein is essential for good liver health, but not all protein sources are created equal. 

“Choose lean protein sources, such as fish, skinless poultry, tofu, legumes, and low fat dairy products,” says Ferreira. “These provide essential amino acids for tissue repair and don’t burden the liver like red meat.”

4) Healthy Fats

Healthy fats, like avocados, nuts, and seeds, reduce inflammation and help your body use insulin more efficiently. This improves cell function and prevents your liver from storing excess fat. 

Other sources of healthy fat include salmon, nut butters, and Greek yogurt. You can also substitute butter or Crisco with olive, canola, or sun flower oil. 

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5) Foods Rich in Antioxidants

“Foods rich in antioxidants, like green tea, turmeric, garlic, and berries can help protect you from liver damage caused by free radicals,” explains Ferreira. 

Free radicals are molecules responsible for aging and disease. They create oxidative stress inside your body, damaging cells and increasing your risk of health problems. 

Antioxidant-rich foods include:

  • Beans

  • Artichokes

  • Spinach

  • Strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries

  • Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli and kale

  • Tree nuts, like walnuts and pecans

6) Low-Fat Foods 

“Limiting saturated and trans fats in your diet can help prevent the accumulation of fat in the liver,” explains Ferreira. “Once again, choose lean proteins, such as fish, poultry, and legumes. Opt for healthy fats whenever possible, like olive oil in moderation.” 

7) Drink Plenty of Water

Diet is only part of the equation in terms of liver health. “Staying adequately hydrated is important for overall liver function,” Ferreira says. “Aim to drink enough water and fluids throughout the day, unless otherwise directed by a healthcare professional.” 

Generally speaking, you should aim for about eight, eight-ounce glasses of water a day. Try adding a splash of fruit juice or infusing your water with fruit, if you want to add some flavor. Conversely, if you have difficulty swallowing, thick water can help you stay on top of your hydration. 

Easy Recipe Ideas to Support Loved Ones with Liver Disease

Meal time can be challenging if you or your loved one have liver disease, but there are plenty of dishes worth trying. Ferreira recommends several in particular, including:

  • Grilled salmon with roasted vegetables

  • Quinoa and vegetable stir-fry

  • Baked chicken breast with steamed asparagus

  • Lentil soup

  • Spinach salad with grilled chicken

  • Whole grain pasta with marinara sauce

  • Veggie omelette with whole-grain toast

  • Grilled tofu with steamed bok choy

Cook with olive oil whenever possible and use spices and fresh herbs for seasoning rather than salt. A registered dietitian or similar professional can help you meal plan and teach you how to read nutrition labels

Best Foods for Liver Disease - Commonly Asked Questions

1) Are there foods or drinks I should avoid if I have liver disease?

Yes. If you have liver disease, it’s important to avoid certain foods and drinks.

Drinks to avoid:

  • Sugary drinks, like soda, fruit juice, and sweetened tea

  • Energy drinks

  • Drinks with carbonation

Foods to avoid or limit:

  • High sodium foods

  • Red meat

  • Desserts and sweetened snacks 

  • Raw or undercooked shellfish

2) What are some liver-friendly snacks to stock my pantry with?

There are various liver-friendly snacks to keep on hand if you have liver disease. Ferreira recommends:

3) What are the symptoms of liver disease?

Liver disease doesn’t always present symptoms at first, but as the disease progresses, there are signs to watch out for. 

“When someone has liver disease, they might feel tired, have pain in their belly, or their skin and eyes might turn yellow,” says Ferreira. “They might also have problems with digestion, like feeling sick or having a poor appetite.”

Make an appointment with your doctor if you or your loved one have any of these symptoms.

Have Questions About Liver Health? Get In Touch!

Caring for a loved one with liver disease is a daily struggle, and we’re here to support you on the journey. If you have questions about diet and nutrition or need help choosing liver-friendly foods, we’re here to assist! Our Care Specialists speak English and Spanish and are available 24/7. Call (800) 696-CARE or send an email to support@carewell.com today!

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.