When you have fatty liver disease, fat builds up in your liver cells. This can increase your risk of heart disease and cause liver inflammation, which can lead to scarring and increase your risk for liver cancer. Obesity, Type 2 diabetes and elevated blood fat levels are associated with fatty liver development. Individuals with fatty liver disease should avoid alcohol and fatty, sugary and refined foods; they should eat a calorie-controlled diet that focuses on fresh, whole foods.
Fatty Liver Causes
There are two types of fatty liver disease. The first is alcoholic fatty liver disease, which, as the name implies, is caused by excessive alcohol consumption. Your liver is in charge of breaking down alcohol, and this process generates dangerous substances that can cause inflammation and damage liver cells, causing fats to build up in the cells.
The second type is called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. It is not caused by alcohol consumption and, in fact, the cause is unknown. People who are obese, who have Type 2 diabetes, who are middle aged or older, and who have high cholesterol and triglyceride levels are more likely to develop fatty liver disease.
Fatty Liver Treatment Diet
One of the main methods of fatty liver treatment is diet. Obviously, if the cause is alcohol related, abstaining from alcohol is the treatment. Once alcohol is removed from the diet, the liver can begin to heal.
For those with nonalcoholic fatty liver, addressing the cause of the disease dictates the dietary treatment. In most cases, it consists of losing weight, reducing cholesterol and triglycerides, and controlling diabetes. The diets for these particular aims have many similarities.
Losing weight is a matter of reducing your calorie intake below the number of calories you burn in a day. It also depends on eating healthy foods that boost your energy so you can exercise to burn even more calories. To lose weight you need to avoid:
- Fatty, high-calorie foods, including chips, french fries, fatty meats (bacon, sausage, dark-meat chicken, chicken skin), baked goods, many packaged, processed foods (popcorn, crackers), gravies, cheese sauces, whole milk, butter, sour cream, ice cream and lard.
- Sugary foods such as candies, cakes, cookies, pastries, ice cream, sweet coffee drinks, flavored yogurt, sugary cereals and soda.
- Refined grains such as white rice, white bread and white pasta.
Replace these offenders with nutrient-rich foods that fill you up so you don't overeat. Focus on:
Fresh fruits and vegetables, including leafy greens, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, broccoli, bell peppers, cantaloupe and berries. Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Lean protein such as white-meat chicken, fish, eggs, tofu and beans. These protein sources are low in calories and high in satiety value to help you feel full for longer. Protein is also important as you lose fat, because it helps you maintain muscle mass, according to a 2017 review in Advances in Nutrition.
Whole-grain foods such as breads and pastas and brown and wild rice. These varieties are higher in fiber and other nutrients than refined grains and better for moderating blood sugar and keeping energy levels stable.
Controlling Cholesterol and Diabetes
The diet for keeping cholesterol and triglycerides in check and managing diabetes is very similar to a healthy weight-loss diet. Excess sugars, fatty foods and refined grains exacerbate diabetes and raise cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
A type of fiber called soluble fiber — found in such foods as oats and bran, apples, bananas, oranges, prunes, kidney beans, lentils and chickpeas — prevents harmful cholesterol from being absorbed in the intestines. Fruits and vegetables also contain substances called sterols and stanols that prevent the absorption of cholesterol.
Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are a rich source of plant chemicals called antioxidants that can help lower levels of unhealthy LDL cholesterol and raise levels of healthy HDL cholesterol. Foods containing polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, such as fish, nuts, olive oil and avocados, can also help to lower unhealthy cholesterol and raise good cholesterol.
- MedlinePlus: Fatty Liver Disease
- Harvard Health Publishing: The Skinny on Fatty Liver Disease
- WebMD: What Is Fatty Liver Disease?
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
- Advances in Nutrition: Preserving Healthy Muscle During Weight Loss
- MedlinePlus: How to Lower Cholesterol With Diet
- Harvard Health Publishing: The Truth About Fats: The Good, the Bad, and the In-Between