Nutrition to Strengthen Liver Yin

     Modern culture is Yang obsessed. We go-go-go, we seek sun, we burn the candle at both ends, we exercise vigorously, and we love stimulants. It is a rare bird that has enough quiet, meditative alone time, in a dim or dark environment. This is the Yin state – nourishing, moistening, dark, and quiet – Yin builds what Yang wears down.

Every organ of the body has a Yin and a Yang aspect. Some organs (Spleen, Liver, Heart, and Lung for example) are naturally more Yin in Nature. Other organs (Stomach, Gall Bladder, Small Intestine and Large Intestine for example) are more Yang in nature. These “natures” were determined by the functions each organ enact as well as more energetic attributes. Supporting the natural state of each organ will optimize health, and promote healthy functioning.

      Much is said about detoxifying the Liver, and reducing its Yang (brought on by alcohol, drugs and stimulants) but what happens when you actually have deficient Liver Yin that needs to be nourished?  Stripping an already deficient organ will create further disharmony that will eventually manifest as pathology.

      A diagnosis of Liver Yin deficiency means that this aspect of the Liver organ network is compromised. The Liver not only detoxifies, it has many other (building) jobs including cholesterol metabolism, vitamin storage, bile production, and blood reservoir. Blood is a Yin substance (all fluids are yin) and many B12 and iron anemias can be diagnosed early on as a Liver Yin deficiency by a trained Acupuncturist. Thin brittle nails, anemia, sallow skin, easy bruising, hair loss, blurred vision, tinnitus, dizziness, infertility  and some tremors  are all associated with a Liver Yin deficiency diagnosis.

Nutrition is one of the best ways to support and recover Liver Yin. A diet that is nutrient rich and nourishing is essential, as is sitting down to relax while you eat and chewing thoroughly to savor flavors. The diet should also include plenty of fluids, especially in the form of soups. Meals consist of 40% easily digested complex carbohydrates like whole grains and starchy root vegetables. Another 40% of the diet is cooked vegetables. Proteins comprise 10-20% of the diet, with a focus on high quality organic or grass fed sources. Healthy fats fill the other remaining 5-10%.

Below is a list of recommended foods to nourish Liver Yin. Do not limit your nutritional intake to only these foods. Instead follow the guidelines above of the optimum ratios of carbohydrates, vegetables and proteins, and add the recommended foods from the list below within your meals. Where ever possible choose organically grown foods to avoid genetically modified ingredients.

Foods to Nourish Liver Yin Deficiency

 Zucchini, squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, string beans, beets,

Mushrooms including wood ears & tremella,

Tomatoes, spinach, carrots, parsley,


Apples, banana, mulberries, mango, coconut, peaches, lychee fruit, melons,

Grapes, raisins, cherries, plums

Olive oil, flaxseed oil, almond oil

Vegemite, kelp, spirulina, wheatgrass

 Oats, rice, millet, barley

Adzuki beans, black beans, mung beans

Organic cow, goat and sheep yogurt

Tempeh, tofu, miso

Nuts & seeds, black sesame seeds (great as a condiment!)


Pork, chicken, Chinese black boned chicken, duck

Mackerel, sardines, oysters, mussels, clams

Cuttlefish, squid, perch, eel

Foods to Restrict or Avoid

Chilies, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, onions, shallots, leeks, basil, cloves, wasabi

Coffee, black tea

Vinegar, pickles

Lamb, shrimp, veal

Citrus fruits

Cigarettes, alcohol

Recreational stimulants

Activities that build whole-body Yin nourishment are also encouraged while working specifically on Liver Yin. Rest more. Read. Spend some quiet, alone contemplative time in a cool, dark room with a candle lit (taking a bath is a nice way to do this.) Exercises like Tai Chi and Yoga are more Yin building than Yang in nature. Drink warm water and lemon. Get extra sleep. Breathe.


Clinical Handbook Of Internal Medicine, Vol. 2. MacLean & Lyttleton. University of Western Sydney: Australia. 2002.

Chinese Dietary Therapy. Liu, J. Churchill Livingston: Edinburgh. 1995.

The Healing Cuisine of China. Zhao & Ellis. Healing Arts Press: Vermont. 1998.

An interesting theoretical write up:


22 thoughts on “Nutrition to Strengthen Liver Yin

  1. I too appreciated the article, but just wanted to point out that 40% carbs plus 40% vegetables, with only 10-20% protein is not in any way ‘similar to the Zone diet’. The Zone fad was typically higher in protein and much higher in fat.

  2. Just wanted to point out as a Shiatsu and TCM therapist that spleen is a yin organ and stomach is a yang organ – you have them listed the other way around incorrectly on this page.

  3. I have been led to believe lemon is good for the liver, cleansing and creates bile but you recommend not to take or avoid citrus ?

    Can you clarify for me.

    Many thanks

    Colin WA OZ

    • Hello Colin! It is true – lemon juice in water is beneficial for liver health as it stimulates bile flow and liver cleansing. This reference to avoiding citrus is specifically in reference to building Liver Yin, as opposed to our more western approach of “detoxifying” the liver. Citrus fruits like orange and grapefruit tend to be “cold” and do not have many nourishing properties according to traditional Chinese nutrition. Lemon and lime do have a mild yin tonifying effect, so they may be ok in moderation.

  4. Hi,

    Your foods to avoid if there is Liver Yin xu is different than I have read before. I have heard that onions, shallots, leeks, basil, vinegar, pickles, lamb are all good for the liver. Are they too stimulating? Your advise is greatly appreciated.

    Thank you!


    • Hi Kara, Thank you for your message. All of those foods may be good for the liver, but they are also Yang in nature (yes, stimulating!) So, if the liver yin is depleted the yang foods can further deplete/overpower yin. ~ Masina

    • It depends on where you live! Moderate amount of spice is always ok as long as your system can handle spice. If you are in a cold area, having warming foods in the winter and early spring is supportive for the body.

  5. I read the berries such as blueberries are good and blackberries. Is that true? Also, what about greens like kale and broccoli? What are the best greens to eat in this situation?

  6. I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes my blood sugars were all out of control then about a year into taking insulin and other medications my liver enzymes went crazy but they don’t detect any hepatitis I went to the Chinese herbalist he gave me dandelion tea will that reverse the elevated enzymes should I be concerned I feel the medicine I’m being given is damaging something please help

    • Diabetes is a complicated disease, and it is extremely important to take medications for it and manage it with nutritional strategies and regular activity. It is more likely that it is alcohol, poor diet or other medications that are causing elevated liver enzymes than the diabetic medications; however it is possible to have reactions to drugs. Speak with your physician about your concerns. Taking herbal teas is certainly helpful and good medicine, but it is not a replacement for diabetic medication,

  7. I just read this weekend that the kidney controls — or ‘is the mother of’ — the liver, and then the liver affects the gallbladder as well. So one of the best ways to increase liver yin is to increase/rebuild kidney yin.


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