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Liver Cleanse Diet: The Customized Plan to Reboot a Sluggish Liver + Melt Pounds

What do your liver and a TSA agent have in common? They’re both gatekeepers, according to dietitian Kristin Kirkpatrick, co-author of Regenerative Health: Discover Your Metabolic Type and Renew Your Liver for Life. “Everything that comes into the body has to go through the liver before it can be utilized somewhere else,” she says. From breaking down fat, carbs and protein to detoxifying the body, the liver has more jobs than Ryan Seacrest. Not surprisingly, a liver cleanse diet is shown to improve metabolic health by regulating blood glucose levels and warding off diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Why a liver cleanse diet is necessary

Liver problems are a major issue for countless people, says gastroenterologist Ibrahim Hanouneh, MD, Kirkpatrick’s co-author. “One in four people, mainly in the West, has fatty liver, owing to our highly processed diet. It’s a silent disease, with no symptoms until it’s too late,” he says, adding that most people are surprised to learn they even have it.

“When patients come into the clinic, they often think, ‘Why am I seeing a liver doctor? I’ve never had a problem with alcohol,’” says Dr. Hanouneh. Yet the new leading cause of cirrhosis and liver transplantation has nothing to do with alcohol. Instead it’s nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which occurs when healthy tissue is replaced by fat cells due to an excess of sugar and carbs. Kirkpatrick has also seen a concerning gap in knowledge on the topic: “In my role as a dietitian, a lot of people tell me, ‘My doctor says I have something called fatty liver disease, and I was told to see you,’ with no guidance whatsoever on how to reverse it.”

Outsmart key fatty liver myths

The first thing to know? Body mass index (BMI) isn’t to blame for NAFLD. “You’re not just a number on the scale: Fatty liver is about way more than obesity and weight gain,” says Dr. Hanouneh. “It’s about other metabolic risk factors like waist circumference, high blood pressure, low HDL cholesterol, high triglycerides and high blood sugar—a combination of factors that leads to a perfect storm of excess fat in the liver, which then increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.”

Despite the name of this condition, fat isn’t quite as culpable as we tend to think, says neuroendocrinologist Robert Lustig, MD, author of Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity and Disease. “Dietary fat doesn’t lead to fatty liver — otherwise veryone on keto would have it,” he says. “And plenty of people of normal weight develop NAFLD.”

This is especially relevant for women as we get older. “While estrogen protects premenopausal women, the risk of fatty liver goes up by multiples in menopause,” says Dr. Lustig. Though the jury is still out on exactly why ebbing estrogen levels increase the likelihood of this condition, he surmises it may have something to do with the hormone’s positive effect on mitochondria, the energy powerhouse of the cells.

Sidestep hidden liver health hurdles

Along with declining estrogen, Dr. Lustig says there are three main culprits behind the disease: an excess of sugar and carbs, inflammation and the inability of the liver to “export,” or move, fat out of the organ. Thankfully, we can mitigate all these risk factors, reverse fatty liver and shed unwanted weight simply by tweaking what we eat. “Let food be your medicine because the best treatment for fatty liver is making easy changes to your lifestyle,” declares Dr. Hanouneh. He recommends loading up on colorful fruits and veggies while getting only 25% to 40% of your daily calorie intake from carbs.

Indeed, if there were one umbrella takeaway proven to boost your liver and metabolic health, it would be to follow the Mediterranean diet, with its anti-inflammatory veggies, legumes, nuts and olive oil. Research confirms the plan’s power: A recent study in Scientific Reports shows that people follow­ing the Mediterranean way of eating slashed their risk of NAFLD, and (bonus!) female participants reaped the most benefits.

Though Kirkpatrick and Dr. Hanouneh based their plan on the Mediterranean “menu,” they’ve further customized it to include four metabolic types: the Preventer, the Fine-Tuner, the Recalibrator and the Regenerator. Pinpointing your type will not only keep your liver healthy, it’ll also inspire you to adopt the right diet and exercise program, which will help you drop up to 10% of your body weight in six months and whittle stubborn abdominal fat, says Dr. Hanouneh.

A colorful display of various fruits and vegetables representing liver-cleansing Mediterranean diet
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Find the liver cleanse diet for you

In their book Kirkpatrick and Hanouneh introduce the four metabolic types. Keep reading to help you determine your type and the steps you can take to heal your liver and feel your best.

You’re a PREVENTER if…

  • you’re healthy and lean
  • you have a waist circumference of 35 or less

“The Preventer is someone who is healthy, and we use the word ‘healthy’ to mean that the factors related to metabolic syndrome are just not present,” explains Kirkpatrick. “So, for example, your blood sugar is in the normal range, you don’t have high triglycerides, nor do you have diabetes.” To ensure your liver remains in great shape, she suggests eating plenty of colorful fruit and veggies 80% to 90% of the time, while limiting ultra-processed foods. And when it comes to carbs, Kirkpatrick recommends the complex variety, like brown rice and sweet potatoes.

You’re a FINE-TUNER if…

  • You’re healthy and carrying unwanted weight in your midsection
  • Your waist circumference is 35 inches or higher

While your waist circumference is higher than ideal, notes Kirkpatrick, you don’t have other metabolic risk factors and your blood sugar is in the normal range. Yours is a moderate plan, with about 40% of total calories coming from carbs.The best thing to do is heed your hunger signals. “You might start looking into how frequently you eat,” says Kirkpatrick. “For example, do you tend to have snacks after dinner because you’re bored? You don’t have to do something that might seem restrictive because your blood sugar and cholesterol are in the healthy range — simply start being aware of your hunger.”

You’re a RECALIBRATOR if…

  • You’re lean but have three or more risk factors, like diabetes, high blood pressure and low HDL
  • You have a waist circumference of 35 inches or less

It takes only a few easy course corrections to improve liver health. Just follow a moderate-carb plan, where about 40% of your total calories come from carbs. “Focus on how much sugar and refined carbs you consume,” urges Kirkpatrick. No need to overhaul your entire diet. “Make simple swaps — instead of white rice, go for brown, or rather than eat a pastry for breakfast, try steel-cut oats.”

You’re a REGENERATOR if…

  • You’re not lean and have two or more risk factors, like diabetes, high blood pressure and low HDL
  • Your waist circumference is 35 inches or higher

As the name of this type implies, you can reverse NAFLD and gain control over other risk factors like diabetes and high blood pressure.You don’t necessarily need to do anything more restrictive like go on a keto diet that slashes almost all carbs. Rather, adopt a low-carb plan, where 25% or less of your total calories come from low-fiber carbs.

More ways to heal your liver

Once you find your liver-healing type, use the following bonus tips to turbocharge results.

Drift off to dreamland

“If you’re not getting high-quality sleep, it’s very hard to make any dietary changes because you’ll be craving pizza not kale,” says Kirkpatrick, adding that catching enough shuteye is as important to liver and metabolic health as diet and exercise. A low-tech way to ensure deeper sleep: A recent study in Sleep shows that wearing a sleep mask boosts slumber quality and improves focus and short-term memory in large part by promoting slow-wave brain waves.

Woman sleeps with sleep mask on; as she drifts off, she smiles, knowing getting better sleep makes her liver healthier
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Move just 10 minutes a day

“Research shows if you exercise 10 to 15 minutes, three times a week to get your heartbeat up a little bit, you will burn fat in the liver,” says Dr. Hanoueneh. He recommends alternating between high-intensity interval training — by, say, jumping on a standing exercise/stationary bike or hitting the treadmill — and lighter exercise, like walking.

Combine carbs + fiber

When you do eat carbs, just make sure you’re also getting fiber, advises Kirkpatrick. “Fiber slows down the absorption of blood sugar,” she explains. “When you eat an apple, for example, it’s very sweet, but it’s also high in fiber — so now, you’ve created ‘competition for digestion,’” which dials down spikes in insulin and boosts liver and metabolic health. Tip! Make that a red delicious apple rather than yellow, she advises, because the deeper the hue, the more nutritious the food.

5 all-star foods for your liver

Coffee

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Cup of aromatic coffee and beans on grey table. Space for text

Need another reason to get your java fix? Coffee is proven to reduce liver fibrosis. Drink up to 3 cups daily, unsweetened

Dark chocolate

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Dessert alert! Flavonoids in dark chocolate boost liver health. Enjoy 1 oz. (a small square) with 72%+ cacao daily.

Garlic

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Owing to its sulfur-rich compounds, garlic detoxifies the liver. Sprinkle fresh garlic into your dishes three times a week.

Eggs

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Enjoy that omelet, as eggs are rich in choline, a nutrient that helps transport fat out of the liver. Aim for 2 to 3 a week

Extra-virgin olive oil

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The staple of the Mediterranean diet increases good cholesterol (HDL), improving liver health.

Liver cleanse diet success story: Kerry Sivia, 40

before and after photos of kerry sivia, who sot weight with a liver cleanse diet
Kerry Sivia

Kerry Sivia felt overwhelmed when she was told to lose 10% of her body weight and was diagnosed with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and cirrhosis, with no symptoms except for swollen ankles. I don’t think I can change my diet, she feared. What if I’m not up for the challenge?

It wasn’t until Kerry became a patient at University of Chicago Medicine’s Metabolic and Fatty Liver Disease Clinic that she learned from her dietitians how best to eat for her liver: a modified lower-carb version of the Mediterranean plan. That meant no pasta, avoiding her usual processed carbs and saturated fats and focusing on eating vegetables, fruit, healthy fat like olive oil, whole grains and very little meat. She took things one day at a time and watched her waist shrink from a size 24 to a 14 “The unexpected gift in this is I felt so much better,” she says. “I never expected to have so much energy!”


Even better: “The diet reversed my liver disease and stopped the cirrhosis progression,” she says. “The tremendous benefits of changing my life for liver disease is that it affects everything: I’m doing better for my heart, my lungs—and I’m extending the time I’ll be alive.” Today, she says, “I feel 300% better!”

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.


For more ways to improve your liver health:

Experts Say Essential Fatty Acids Help Burn Fat and Boost Liver Health

Eating This Everyday Ingredient Can Help You Burn Belly Fat and Improve Liver Health

This Common Supplement Plus Walking Every Day Helped One Woman Cure Her Fatty Liver Disease

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