Why your diet matters
Your liver processes everything you eat and drink. It helps your body take in nutrients from food and turn them into energy. Your liver also moves toxins and old, damaged blood cells out of the body. When this process is disrupted, it can cause the waste product bilirubin to build up. This can result in jaundice.
What you eat and drink has a direct impact on your liver function. Eating a healthy diet allows your liver to work more efficiently and clear excess toxins from your body. This can help clear your symptoms and reduce your risk for future episodes of jaundice.
Keep reading to learn how you can modify your diet to help relieve your symptoms.
What your diet should include
- Drink at least eight glasses of fluids per day. Water and herbal tea are excellent options.
- Consider adding milk thistle to your routine. You can prepare a fresh tea or eat the seeds as a snack.
- Opt for fruits like papaya and mango, which are rich in digestive enzymes.
- Eat at least 2 1/2 cups of veggies and 2 cups of fruit per day.
- Look for high-fiber foods, such as oatmeal, berries, and almonds.
A balanced diet consisting of all five food groups can help support liver health and reduce jaundice. The United States Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate is a good model to use.
That said, there are certain foods and beverages that have a proven effect on liver health. Adding these into your diet or increasing their intake may significantly reduce your symptoms and boost overall health. This includes:
Drinking at least eight glasses of water a day helps your liver flush out toxins. It also supports a healthy weight and thins the blood, making it easier for your liver to filter.
Coffee or herbal tea
Moderate coffee consumption has been shown to improve liver health by reducing:
- your risk of cirrhosis
- levels of harmful liver enzymes
It can also increase your antioxidant levels, which helps clear toxins from the body.
Research from 2017 suggests that drinking about three cups per day can have a positive effect on liver stiffness. The same study also suggests that daily consumption of herbal tea may produce similar effects.
Not only is the herb milk thistle high in antioxidants, it also contains silymarin. Silymarin helps repair damaged liver cells.
To reap these benefits, add milk thistle leaves to your salad, roast its seeds for a midday snack, or prepare a fresh herbal tea.
Although milk thistle is generally safe to use, you should check with your doctor before use if you:
- are pregnant
- are breastfeeding
- have a hormone-specific cancer
- taking prescription medications
Naturally occurring digestive enzymes may help reduce bilirubin. You can find digestive enzymes in:
- orange peels
Fruits and vegetables
Although fruits containing digestive enzymes are best, eating a variety is key. USDA guidelines recommend eating at least 2 1/2 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit every day.
Good choices for liver health include:
- Brussel sprouts
- mustard greens
Fiber — especially soluble fiber — helps move bile out of the liver. This can reduce toxicity.
This all-important nutrient is found in a variety of foods, including:
- whole grains
High-fiber foods include:
- cruciferous vegetables, such as kale and broccoli
- brown rice
What you should cut back on
- Alcohol can cause additional damage to your liver, so it’s best to avoid it completely.
- Opt for lean proteins, such as fish, which are less likely to contribute to liver damage.
- Saturated fats, like those found in meat, are also harder for your liver to process.
- Unsaturated fats, such as olive oil, can be used in moderation.
- Refined sugar can cause fat buildup in your liver, so opt for foods containing natural sugars. Use agave as a sweetener and look to fruits to satisfy your sweet tooth.
- Reduce your sodium intake by avoiding canned and processed foods.
It’s important to avoid or limit eating or drinking things that can cause additional damage to your liver. This includes:
Being mindful of iron intake is important. Too much iron can cause liver scarring (cirrhosis).
Protein is a good source of iron, so get to know the appropriate amount for you when trying to decrease liver issues. Talk to your doctor about how much protein you should eat, and always opt for lean proteins, such as fish and chicken, instead of beef or pork.
High-fat and fried foods should be eaten in moderation or eliminated completely, as they can cause fat buildup in the liver.
Saturated fats, like those in meat and dairy, may be harder for your liver to process than unsaturated fats. Although unsaturated fats, such as olive oil, are considered healthy, they should still be eaten in moderation. Current research suggests that unsaturated fats may still contribute to fatty liver disease.
Refined sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and other forms of processed sugar can also cause fat buildup in the liver. Many processed foods that are high in sugar are also high in fat, doubling the risk of damage.
Try reaching for a piece of fruit or low-fat, low-sugar yogurt the next time you get a sweet tooth. Along with refined sugar, limiting artificial sweeteners is a good idea as well as these can cause extra work for the liver to process.
A diet high in salt may also contribute to liver damage and water retention. Eliminating processed and canned foods can be an easy way to reduce your sodium intake.
Instead of reaching for the salt shaker, try using herbs like garlic powder, onion powder, or oregano to add flavor to your dish.
Tips and tricks for healthy eating
Keeping a food diary is a great way to start and stick to a jaundice-busting food plan. Write down everything about your meals, including what you eat, how much you eat, and when. You should also take note of how you feel after you eat, as certain food items may trigger your symptoms.
Some general rules of thumb include:
- Eat small, frequent meals, rather than three large ones.
- Sip water throughout the day.
- Don’t use sugar in coffee or tea.
- Substitute whole milk and cream with low-fat varieties.
- Instead of using table salt, experiment with different flavorings. This includes spices, extracts, and lemon or lime juice.
- Replace alcoholic beverages with low-calorie mocktails.
The bottom line
Jaundice is caused by a buildup of bilirubin in the blood. Its root cause determines, in part, how long it will take to clear out of your system. A healthy, well-balanced diet that supports liver health can help alleviate jaundice and prevent its recurrence.
If you have questions, talk to your doctor or dietitian. They can make specific recommendations about what you should eat and what you should avoid.