The body stores fat in many areas for energy and insulation. The liver partially consists of fat. However, if the fat content in the liver is too high, this may be a sign of fatty liver disease. Dietary changes are the first-line treatment for this liver condition.
There are two types of fatty liver disease: alcoholic liver disease and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Pregnancy can also cause fatty liver disease.
Fatty liver disease damages the liver, preventing it from removing toxins and producing bile for the digestive system. When the liver cannot perform these tasks effectively, it puts a person at risk of developing other problems throughout their body.
Dietary changes and regular exercise are key ways to manage fatty liver disease. However, some people may need to see a doctor for further treatment.
In this article, we suggest several foods to include in a diet for fatty liver disease, as well as foods to avoid.
A diet for fatty liver disease should include a wide variety of foods.
Reducing calorie intake and eating high fiber, natural foods is a good starting point. Eating foods that contain complex carbohydrates, fiber, and protein can provide sustained energy and promote satiety.
Foods that reduce inflammation or help the body repair its cells are equally important.
Some people choose to follow specific diet plans, such as a plant-based diet or the Mediterranean diet. A dietitian can often help a person create a customized diet plan that is right for their tastes, symptoms, and health status.
In addition to these basic guidelines, some specific foods may be especially helpful for people with fatty liver disease. These foods include:
Garlic is a staple in many diets, and it may provide benefits for people with fatty liver disease. A 2016 study in Advanced Biomedical Research found that garlic powder supplements appear to help reduce body weight and fat in those who have fatty liver disease.
Omega-3 fatty acids
A 2016 review of current research suggests that consuming omega-3 fatty acids improves the levels of liver fat and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels in people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
Although more research is necessary to confirm this finding, eating foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids may help lower liver fat. These foods include:
Drinking coffee is a morning ritual for many people. However, it may provide benefits beyond a burst of energy for people with fatty liver disease.
Another study in mice from the same year showed similar results. The researchers found that coffee reduced the amount of fat that built up in the mice's livers and improved how their bodies metabolized energy.
Eating a variety of whole vegetables is helpful for people with fatty liver disease. However, broccoli is one vegetable that a person with fatty liver disease should seriously consider including in their diet.
A 2016 animal study in The Journal of Nutrition found that the long-term consumption of broccoli helped prevent the buildup of fat in murine livers.
Researchers still need to conduct further studies involving humans. However, early research into the effect of broccoli consumption on the development of fatty liver disease looks promising.
Using tea for medicinal purposes is a practice that goes back thousands of years.
A 2015 review in the World Journal of Gastroenterology suggests that green tea may help lower levels of fat in the blood and throughout the body. One of the included studies reported reduced levels of fat in the liver in people who consumed 5–10 cups of green tea per day.
Green tea provides several antioxidants, such as catechin, which may help improve fatty liver disease.
While all tree nuts are a great addition to any diet plan, walnuts are especially high in omega-3 fatty acids and may provide benefits for people with fatty liver disease.
A review from 2015 found that eating walnuts improved liver function test results in people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
Soy or whey protein
A 2019 review in the journal Nutrients found that both soy and whey protein reduced fat buildup in the liver.
The results of one study in the review showed that liver fat decreased by 20% in women with obesity who ate 60 grams of whey protein every day for 4 weeks. Soy protein contains antioxidants called isoflavones that help improve insulin sensitivity and reduce the levels of fats in the body.
SHOP FOR THESE FOODS
People can purchase these beneficial foods in grocery stores and online:
Adding healthful foods to the diet is one way to manage fatty liver disease. However, it is just as important for people with this condition to avoid or limit their intake of certain other foods.
Sugar and added sugars
Added sugars contribute to high blood sugar levels and can increase fat in the liver.
Manufacturers often add sugar to candy, ice cream, and sweetened beverages, such as soda and fruit drinks.
Added sugars also feature in packaged foods, baked goods, and even store-bought coffee and tea. Avoiding other sugars, such as fructose and corn syrup, can also help minimize fat in the liver.
A person with fatty liver disease should reduce their intake of alcohol or remove it from their diet altogether.
Processed and refined grains are present in white bread, white pasta, and white rice. Producers have removed the fiber from these highly processed grains, which can raise blood sugar as the body breaks them down.
A 2015 study of 73 adults with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease found that those who consumed fewer refined grains had a lower risk of metabolic syndrome — a group of risk factors that increase the likelihood of heart disease and stroke.
People can easily replace refined grains with potatoes, legumes, or whole-wheat and whole-grain alternatives.
Fried or salty foods
Too much fried or salty food is likely to increase calorie intake and the risk of weight gain. Obesity is a common cause of fatty liver disease.
Adding extra spices and herbs to a meal is a great way to flavor foods without adding salt. People can also usually bake or steam foods instead of frying them.
A 2019 review article notes that saturated fat intake increases the amount of fat that builds up around organs, including the liver. Beef, pork, and deli meats are all high in saturated fats, which a person with fatty liver disease should try to avoid.
Lean meats, fish, tofu, or tempeh make suitable substitutes. However, wild, oily fish may be the best choice, as these also provide omega-3 fatty acids.
Regular exercise is important for everyone. However, it provides extra benefits for people with fatty liver disease. Maintaining a healthy body weight with exercise may help a person manage and reduce symptoms.
The American Heart Association recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week.
Tips for becoming more active include:
- using a standing workstation
- stretching every morning
- walking on a treadmill while watching television
- taking the stairs instead of an elevator
These are all simple ways to increase activity levels throughout the day without having to make time for a full workout.
If diet and exercise are not having the desired effect on the symptoms of fatty liver disease, it may be time to see a doctor. The doctor can run a full analysis and prescribe medications or refer the person to a nutritionist to help them create a diet plan.
No currently approved medications can treat fatty liver disease. Dietary and lifestyle choices, however, can improve the condition significantly.
With the support of a doctor or nutritionist, many people find that they can lose weight and comfortably manage fatty liver disease.
What are the complications of fatty liver disease?
Fatty liver disease could potentially lead to liver scarring, called cirrhosis, which can be life threatening and comes with a set of very unpleasant symptoms.
These symptoms include abdominal pain and swelling, weakness, weight loss, loss of appetite, itchy skin, yellowing of the skin and eyes, easy bruising and bleeding, and leg swelling, among others.
To avoid cirrhosis, it is very important to implement the lifestyle changes that a doctor recommends.Katherine Marengo LDN, R.D. Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.