Fatty liver disease is more common than ever. Most people associate fatty liver with drinking too much alcohol, but this common disease can also occur in people who don’t drink any alcohol at all. It is most common in people over the age of 60, however; it can occur in children and young adults. This form of fatty liver disease is called “Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease” or “NAFLD”.
Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (also known as “hepaticsteatosis”) is a build-up of fat in the liver. There are several reasons why someone might develop a fatty liver including over-consumption of sugar, insulin resistance, obesity and genetics.
Over time, a fatty liver can lead to Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (also called “NASH”). NASH is a more advanced form of fatty liver disease and may lead to ailments like cirrosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer.
Unfortunately, Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease can also lead to chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease and kidney disease.
Table of Contents
- Top Causes of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
- Symptoms of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)
- 9 Foods To Eat If You Have Fatty Liver
- 7 Foods to Avoid on a Fatty Liver Diet
- Fatty Liver Diet Plan
- Recommended Lifestyle Changes
Top Causes of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
There are a whole range of reasons why someone might develop Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. Some causes like food intake and nutrition can be controlled; others, like pre-diabetes have a genetic link that may not be as easily controlled and may require medication.
- Malnourishment – Malnutrition can cause mitochondrial changes which can lead to NAFLD.
- Obesity – Similar to malnutrition, overfeeding can cause inflammation which can affect liver function. It was found that the majority of obese adults have some form of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease.
- Pre-diabetes – Those who have a sensitivity to sugar or are insulin resistant will tend to have more fat and will store more fat in their liver than those who do not have pre-diabetes.
- Over-consumption of carbs and sugar – Too much sugar, refined carbs like white flour and soda has been linked to NAFL especially if these types of foods are consumed by insulin resistant individuals.
- Poor Gut Health – An imbalance of bacteria in the gut lining could contribute to the development of NAFLD in certain people.
- Genetics – Certain cultural groups are more prone to developing fatty liver especially men of Hispanic or African-American descent.
Symptoms of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)
Most people don’t know that they have a fatty liver until the symptoms get more intense. Here are some common, early symptoms of Non-Alcoholic Liver Disease to watch out for:
- General fatigue
- A feeling of fullness in the right side or center of the abdomen
- A swollen belly
- Visible, enlarged blood vessels under the skin
- Reddish palms
- A yellow tinge to the skin and eyes
- Elevated liver enzymes
The most common early symptoms of NAFLD is a feeling of tiredness and a slight pain in the right side of the abdomen. If you are experiencing 2 or more of the symptoms listed above, be sure to book an appointment with your doctor
Symptoms of Nonalcoholic Steatohepatits (NASH)
- An extreme yellowing of the skin and eyes
- Moderate/severe pain in the abdomen
- Loss of hunger
9 Foods To Eat If You Have Fatty Liver
One of the best things you can do if you are experiencing symptoms of fatty liver is to follow a fatty liver diet. To follow this diet, all you have to do is reduce refined carbs and sugar and then replace those foods with more complex carbs like oats, brown rice, quionoa, etc. Most doctors will recommend the Mediterranean diet which is low in refined carbs and high in protein including lean meats like fish and low-fat dairy as well as fresh produce like vegetables and fruit. These types of foods will support your liver and help to prevent NAFLD.
Coffee drinkers with fatty liver disease have been shown to exhibit less damage to their livers over time than those who do not drink coffee. Drinking 1 cup of black coffee per day is a great way to support the health of your liver.
Avocado is an unsaturated fat and is a great alternative to saturated fat products like butter which should be avoided if you have a fatty liver. It has also been found that avocado contains compounds that can help to heal liver damage associated with Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver.
3. Whey Protein
Drinking a whey protein shake everyday can be a great way to keep your fatty liver under control. In fact, it was found that daily consumption of whey protein reduced the fat in the livers of women with NAFLD by 20%. Remember, excess protein can also cause bloating and is not utilized properly. Consuming a scoop of whey protein as post workout is an ideal way for best assimilation.
4. Green Tea
The antioxidants in green tea can do wonders for your liver. Special antioxidants such as catechins were found to reduce liver fat as well as inflammation in those with NAFLD.
5. Olive Oil
It’s important to avoid saturated fat, like the kind you would find in red meat or butter if you suspect you have a fatty liver. Fats like olive oil are unsaturated and are a much better alternative. Aim to consume no more than a 1/4 cup of olive oil per day.
Oatmeal is a great, filling, low-fat breakfast option that contains both fibre and complex carbohydrates, promoting weight-loss in people with NAFLD. Keeping your weight in check is crucial for those who have a fatty liver. Pair your oatmeal with a tablespoon of nut butter like peanut or almond or sliced fruit for a balanced, energizing breakfast.
The soy protein found in tofu has been found to reduce fat build-up in the liver. Another great benefit to eating tofu is that it is both low in sugar and fat. A must when following a NAFL-friendly diet.
8. Green Vegetables
Green veggies like broccoli and spinach have been shown to reduce the buildup of fat in the liver. Aim to take in copious amounts of broccoli, spinach, methi, mustard and lettuce each day. Filling your diet with lots of greens is also a great way to keep your weight down which will in turn reduce the extremity of your NAFLD.
9. Milk Thistle
Drinking a cup of milk thistle tea daily has been shown to reduce inflammation and liver damage in patients with NAFLD.
10. Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli can help increase the liver’s ability to detoxify and help in cleansing.
7 Foods to Avoid on a Fatty Liver Diet
You might assume that “fat” is the biggest culprit in NAFLD but it’s actually sugar and carbs. Though it’s important to avoid saturated fat for overall health and weight loss, reducing carb intake will warrant the biggest improvement in your condition.
One of the most important things to avoid when you have NAFLD is alcohol. Not only can alcohol cause fatty liver disease, but it can make an existing condition much worse.
Any and all sugar should be reduced, this even includes naturally derived sugars like fruit juice and honey.
3. Refined carbs
White carbs like white bread and pasta should be avoided and replaced with whole grain alternatives like quinoa, whole wheat bread and black bean pasta.
Try to keep your sodium intake to under 1500 milligrams per day. Too much salt can cause you to hold onto water weight.
5. Fried foods
Fried foods like french fries, chips, chicken wings and donuts are high in both fat and sugar. These types of foods will cause your blood sugar to rise, which is a contributing factor to NAFLD.
6. Saturated fat
Any sort of saturated fat including red meat and butter should be avoided and instead replaced with healthy fats like olive, avocado and cold-pressed nut oils.
Poultry is not recommended unless it’s a piece of white meat, due to the high fat content in chicken wings and legs. If you choose to eat white chicken meat, make sure the skin and fat has been removed.
Fatty Liver Diet Plan
Here is what a day of NAFLD-friendly eating might look like:
-1 cup of black coffee
A bowl of oatmeal or other whole-grain hot cereal with walnuts and fruits/berries added.
-1 cup of green tea
-1 protein shake made with whey or soy protein, oats, berries and low fat milk.
1 or 2 servings of whole grains like chapati/brown rice with 1 cup curd/pulses/50 grams chicken and 2 servings of raw or cooked greens/vegetables.
-a small handful of almonds
-Curd mint dip and sliced raw veggies
-1 sliced green apple with a tablespoon of peanut or almond butter
A cup of whole grains like brown rice or jowar/bajra roti with 1 cup of beans/lentils and 2 cups of cooked or raw vegetables.
-1 cup of fresh mixed berries
Recommended Lifestyle Changes
There are several things you can do to both reduce your risk and control fatty liver disease.
Engaging in daily exercise is a great way to keep your fatty liver under control. Taking part in a combination of cardio and strength training a few times per week has been shown to reduce fat buildup in adults with NAFLD by 10%. High Intensity Interval Training or “HIIT” is the preferred exercise because it combines both cardio and strength training into one, quick routine. A recent study has shown that patients with insulin resistance who partook in HIIT workouts for 12 weeks were found to have reduced their liver fat by 39%.
It’s also been found that the frequency you exercise is more important than how intense your workouts are. Whether you choose a lighter, cardio based workout or an intense, strengthening one, exercising consistently and often is what appears to be most important. Aim to work out for 30 minutes most days of the week. 4-5 days is a great place to start.
Get your diabetes under control
We already know that insulin resistance is a precursor to fatty liver disease. If you are unable to control your diabetes through diet and lifestyle alone, it might be a good idea to talk to your doctor about controlling your diabetes with medication. This could be crucial in preventing the occurrence of NAFLD down the road.
Fatty Liver Disease can stem from a myriad of issues including poor diet, obesity, pre-diabetes, genetics and poor gut health. Following a Mediterranean-style diet that is high in green vegetables, low-sugar fruits, lean meats and whole grains is key in preventing and healing fatty liver. It is also important to avoid sugar, white carbs, alcohol, salt and saturated fat if you have a fatty liver. Overall, it is very essential that you follow a healthy diet and keep your weight and blood sugar in check so as to keep NAFLD at bay and lead a healthy life.