Dieticians and Research: 31 Foods That Boost Liver Function

The liver is responsible for more than 500 bodily functions, including regulating blood clotting, storing glucose, and more — however, its main job is blood filtration. 

Specifically, it rids the blood of harmful substances — drugs, alcohol, or other toxins — and processes blood from the digestive tract, readying it for the rest of the body to use. “The liver is our body’s natural detoxifying system,” explains the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson Kristen Smith, M.S.

The organ also makes cholesterol when the body requires it and removes it when it is too much, adds Stephanie Nelson, M.S., R.D., nutrition scientist and expert at MyFitnessPal. “It’s also involved in the metabolism of all three macronutrients: protein, carbs, and fat,” Nelson said. Last, the liver produces bile, which aids in fat digestion.

Smith says a balanced diet with a variety of vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, whole grains, and lean protein should keep your liver in shape. While it is tempting to try a restrictive “detox” or “cleanse” to improve it, “it’s not necessary and won’t be beneficial,” warns Smith.

However, you can limit—within reason—foods that are high in saturated fats and added sugar, like sweets, soda, butter, and fatty cuts of milk, all of which can degrade the liver’s function over time, explains Nelson. With that said, no single food alone will boost the liver’s function; however, a combination of the nutrient-dense ones on the list won’t hurt.

Cruciferous vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower, contain essential phytonutrients—including carotenoids, flavonoids, indoles, and sulforaphane—that help the liver neutralize pesticides, chemicals, carcinogens, and drugs.

A 2020 study of mice published in Hepatology found that indole, a natural compound found in gut bacteria and cruciferous vegetables, can prevent and improve fatty liver disease—a condition that indicates an excess intake of saturated fats over time, inhibiting the liver’s function.

A 2017 study published in the Journal of Functional Foods found that broccoli can help the liver detoxify and prevent fatty liver in mice.

Seaweed

Seaweed is antioxidant-rich, which is helpful to those with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). A 2020 study published in Liver International examined its effects on a substantial adult population with NAFLD and found that consumption of seaweed was negatively associated with the disease, particularly in non-obese participants.

Dark leafy greens

“Consuming leafy green vegetables, such as spinach and kale, may help decrease your risk of certain types of liver disease,” Smith says. She adds that several studies have found consuming leafy greens often boosts those chances.

Leeks, onions, and shallots

A 2018 study on mice with various diets found that frequent onion consumption can prevent NAFLD, even with additional risk factors like hypercholesterolemia, obesity, and high sugar and fat intake.

Coffee

Coffee — without added cream or sugars — may benefit those who already have disease of the liver “by slowing the growth of scar tissue involved in fibrosis, which can lead to additional worsened liver disease and conditions,” says Smith.

Research demonstrated that coffee can lower liver enzymes, suggesting reduced liver inflammation, adds Debi Zvi, R.D., product director and certified diabetes educator at Upward Farms.

Almonds

“Nuts, such as almonds, are high in vitamin E and unsaturated fats, which may help the liver remove unwanted cholesterol from the body,” Smith says. Nuts have also been associated with the reduced risk of NAFLD, adds Melissa Rifkin, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., nutrition expert.

Microgreens and sprouted seeds

Microgreens and sprouted seeds, like microbroccoli, are high in sulforaphane, a compound that combats fatty liver disease.

Eggs

Eggs provide some of the highest-quality protein, containing cholesterol, all eight essential amino acids, and the essential nutrient choline. Research shows that a deficiency in choline can lead to NAFLD, as it fuels some of the liver’s filtration processes and metabolism.

Garlic

Garlic is one of the oldest medicinal foods on the planet. It contains an active sulfur-based compound called allicin, which is crucial for liver detoxification by assisting with the removal of food additives. Rifkin says garlic has additionally been documented to aid in weight loss for those with NAFLD.

Beetroot

Rifkin says, “Beetroot can be consumed whole or in juice form and contains nitrates and antioxidants that reduce cell damage and inflammation.” This has a positive impact on the liver.

Grapefruit

Grapefruit contains antioxidants that can protect the liver and is a bright way to start the day. It “can also aid in reducing inflammation and protecting cells,” Rifkin says.

Artichokes

Two phytonutrients found in artichokes, silymarin, and cynarin, have been shown to nourish the liver. Research shows silymarin particularly can reduce consequent cell damage and oxidative stress, thereby protecting liver cells from damage.

Mushrooms

Studies on animals have consistently suggested mushrooms can alleviate liver disease. Additional research on humans is warranted. However, a 2020 study on Chinese adults found higher mushroom intake to be associated significantly with a lower prevalence of NAFLD.

Berries

Foods rich in antioxidant polyphenols — like strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, etc. — may help reduce the risk of NAFLD, says Smith. Research shows that polyphenols in these berries can improve metabolic disorders, protect the liver, and fight liver cancer.

Apples

Like berries, apples contain potent phenolic compounds, including flavonoids, which can fight inflammatory disease. They also contain pectin, a valuable source of soluble fiber aiding the digestive system and the liver.

Miso, kimchi, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods

Nelson explains that foods high in probiotics can assist the liver in breaking down cholesterol. “This is because probiotics need to survive bile acids in the stomach to make it to your intestines to do their job,” continues Nelson. To keep the bile from breaking down, probiotics break down bile. Cholesterol is used to make bile, so the more probiotics break down bile, the more the liver needs to synthesize bile using cholesterol. This lowers cholesterol in the body if there is too much.”

Probiotic-rich foods are cultured and fermented, and those include kimchi — a traditional Korean dish made with fermented cabbage — miso and sauerkraut.

Hemp seeds

Not only do hemp seeds provide a good mix of omega-3 and omega-6 fats, but a 2020 study found they can also alleviate high-fat diet-induced fatty liver disease by regulating oxidative stress and inflammation.

Oatmeal

Oatmeal is a soluble fiber and “is thought to have protective effects on liver damage and may also help prevent obesity, further supporting the liver,” Rifkin says.

Yogurt

Like kimchi, yogurt is a food packed with probiotics. These help the liver break down cholesterol and lower the risk of NAFLD. In fact, research has shown that yogurt consumption decreases cholesterol in patients with high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes.

Flaxseed

A 2020 randomized control trial found after 12 weeks of flaxseed dietary intervention, fatty liver was reduced significantly in patients with NAFLD. Flaxseeds were also associated with improved lipid metabolism and glucose and reduced inflammation.

Chia seeds

Chia seeds are rich in antioxidants, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids and could, therefore, be helpful in treating NAFLD. In a 2020 study of 25 people with the condition, a 25-gram milled chia supplement was associated with a regression of the disease in 52% of participants.

Coconut oil

Although research on liver health and coconut oil is limited, a 2018 study on rats with liver disease found a natural reversion of the condition after four weeks of eating a diet high in glucose and supplemented with coconut oil.

Avocado

Avocado is not only great on toast but also an essential source of monounsaturated fat rich in oleic acid, which is known to improve lipid homeostasis. In a 2022 study on rats, avocado oil alleviates liver disease by improving oxidative stress and mitochondrial function.

Extra virgin olive oil

Because of its high concentration of phenols and oleic acid, the same antioxidants found in berries and apples, olive oil can have a protective effect on liver function. “Olive oil has been documented to aid in the prevention and resolution of liver damage and is an easy ingredient to incorporate into many meals,” Rifkin says.

You can drizzle it on a salad, use it in a sauce, or cook with it—there are many options.

Ginger

In a 2016 double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled pilot study, individuals with NAFLD who were supplemented with 2 g of ginger over 12 weeks experienced a substantial reduction in liver fat accumulation compared with a placebo group.

Additionally, compounds found in ginger root have been seen to protect against cellular damage and inhibit inflammation, which may protect the liver.

Cumin

In a 2021 study, cumin supplementation was shown to reduce liver damage and oxidative stress in rats fed a high-fat diet. However, additional research is needed to understand the effects on humans.

Cardamom

In a small study in 2018, 43 people with a body mass index of 25 or greater and NAFLD took two 500-milligram capsules of cardamom and meals three times daily for three months. During that time, liver inflammation indicators decreased compared to a placebo group. The study additionally noted that cardamom has gastroprotective and antioxidant effects.

Turmeric

The anti-inflammatory curcumin compounds found in turmeric have been shown to treat and help manage oxidative stress-induced liver disorders. However, the preventative effects need more research.

Legumes and beans

A study of almost 200 adults in 2018 with NAFLD compared to a group of 803 control participants found a greater intake of lentils, beans, and legumes was associated with a lower risk of NAFLD.

Fish

Fish is generally rich in protein and healthy. “Fatty fish, like salmon, that contain omega-3 fats can reduce inflammation and lower liver fat and triglycerides in those with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease,” Rifkin says.

Tofu

During a 2020 cohort study of almost 25,000 participants, a higher intake of foods in soy was associated with a lower prevalence of NAFLD in Chinese adults. In addition, it has been found soy proteins, including tofu, can improve insulin resistance and antioxidant capacity, therefore improving liver disease. 

Consuming enough legumes and beans is simple, too. Add to tacos for extra protein, mix them with fresh vegetables, and have a bean salad, or simmer them in soup.