The liver is an important organ and plays a key role in the regulation of metabolism and in the secretion, storage, and detoxification of endogenous and exogenous substances. Thus, maintaining a healthy liver is a prerequisite for preserving overall body homeostasis. The liver is susceptible to a multitude of injuries that can cause liver damage, leading to chronic liver disease, cirrhosis, and HCC. Many foods/products are involved or could be involved in this process. A well-balanced diet is important to reduce the metabolic burden on the liver. Research has shown that certain foods have hepatoprotective actions and some foods have harmful effects on the liver.
What food should be taken to protect the liver?
Studies have found that plant foods are more protective against chronic liver disease than animal foods. Fruits and vegetables provide protective dietary factors, such as antioxidants and vitamins. Research has shown that for every 100 g/d increase in vegetable intake the risk of HCC decreases by 8%.
Legumes like lentils, dry beans, soybeans, chickpeas, lupins, and peas are good sources of complex carbohydrates, proteins, dietary fibres, and minerals. All these are good for liver health.
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) has several protective effects on the liver. This oil acts by reducing fatty liver, swelling of hepatocytes, and fibrogenesis, and also prevent lipid peroxidation.
Spices like turmeric, garlic powder, and ginger have powerful anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anticancer properties therefore they should be taken for liver injury prevention.
Lemon juice has a protective effect on alcohol-induced liver damage.
The so-called “Mediterranean diet” (MD) includes grains, vegetables, fruits, olive oil, nuts, fish, white meat, and legumes in moderation are believed to be good for the liver. Although MD appears attractive for its potential to improve liver status, the literature on the efficacy of such a diet is still limited.
What are the harmful foods for the liver?
Animal foods like red or processed meats tend to increase the risk of developing chronic liver disease, however, dairy or dairy products have no effect. But high-fat dairy products like whole milk, ice cream, and cheese, contain high concentrations of saturated fats, and saturated fats are difficult for the liver to process. Snack foods and fast foods should be avoided due to the high amounts of saturated fat.
Packaged or processed foods contain high amounts of added salt. So, they should be avoided as salt and sodium intake create a strain on the liver.
Refined carbohydrates and sugars are harmful to the liver. So, these foods should be replaced with whole grain alternatives like brown rice, whole wheat flour, oats, quinoa, and barley.
A balanced diet that is good for the liver and high in fibre-containing food is good for optimal liver functioning. For the prevention of dehydration and to maintain normal liver function a lot of water/fluid should be consumed.
Dr. Kaniz Sultana
Nutritionist & Pediatrician
Assistant Professor, Dhaka Medical College