Many foods are bad for a liver that isn't functioning properly. However, the exact foods or nutrients you should avoid depend on your exact health problem. A fatty liver disease diet wouldn't be appropriate for someone with hepatitis, for instance.
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Liver Problems and Diet
The average person consumes around 2,000 calories per day. The Food and Drug Administration recommends that these calories come from about 65 grams of fat, 50 grams of protein and 300 grams of carbohydrates. The foods you choose should also contain a variety of essential micronutrients that you should consume on a daily basis.
However, if you have a liver problem, your doctor might recommend that you follow a different diet. In some cases, you may need to alter your macronutrient intake. In others, it may be a specific vitamin or mineral that you need more or less of to sustain the health of your liver.
Each liver problem is unique. Because liver problems can have different causes, diet alterations will need to be different too. Common liver problems that require dietary changes include:
- Alcohol-related liver disease
- Nonalcohol-related fatty liver disease (often just referred to as fatty liver disease)
- Hepatitis A, B or C
- Toxic liver disease (Toxic hepatitis)
- Bile duct disease
- Wilson's disease
- Gilbert's syndrome
- Primary biliary cholangitis
- Primary sclerosing cholangitis
- Cryptogenic liver disease
Some of these liver problems result from lifestyle choices. For example, toxic liver disease is typically caused by exposure to industrial chemicals, medications, herbs, supplements or alcohol. Similarly, alcohol-related liver disease is typically caused by drinking too much alcohol regularly. Both conditions require you to stop drinking and make dietary changes for a while in order to allow your liver to heal.
However, other liver problems, like hemochromatosis, are genetic conditions. People with this issue experience a build-up of iron and need to stay away from iron-fortified foods and supplements, as well as certain shellfish. Although they may need periodic medical treatment, people with hemochromatosis can typically consume an otherwise normal, balanced diet.
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Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
Fatty liver disease is the most common cause of chronic liver ailments, affecting around 30 percent of Western adults. It affects even more people who have diabetes or obesity (60 to 80 percent). Fatty liver disease is a broad-spectrum disorder that includes a range of issues, like steatosis, fibrosis and cirrhosis.
Fatty liver disease is sometimes considered to be associated with metabolic syndrome. However, it is most often associated with lifestyle and dietary choices. The foods you eat, in combination with your weight and overall health, play a major role in your risk for this liver disorder.
For example, a June 2015 article in the journal Nutrients found that people who consumed a diet rich in mushrooms, meat products, eggs, seafood, legumes and fat were particularly likely to be susceptible to fatty liver disease. This study compared people following this type of diet with people who consumed plant-based diets and diets that were rich in salt-preserved products (like pickled vegetables, cured meat and salted fish).
An April 2017 study in the World Journal of Hepatology also found that regular egg consumption (as little as two to three eggs per week) could increase your likelihood of developing fatty liver disease. People who consumed eggs two to three times per week were three and a half times more likely to develop fatty liver disease compared to people who consumed eggs twice a week or less.
However, eggs and liver disease are not usually correlated. In fact, the same study found that four or more eggs per week did not have any relationship with fatty liver disease. This could imply that people who consumed more eggs were replacing other saturated fat animal products with eggs, which are considered better for your overall health.
The dietary choices that put you at risk for fatty liver disease can depend on a lot of other factors too. Even your gender might play a role in your susceptibility to this disease. A February 2015 study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women were more likely to be susceptible to fatty liver disease because of carbohydrate and sugar consumption.
However, men were more likely to be susceptible because of alcohol, protein and cholesterol consumption. Notably, men who consumed more carbohydrates and sugar were less likely to experience alcoholic fatty liver disease.
The Fatty Liver Disease Diet
People with genetic diseases, like Wilson's disease or hemochromatosis, have typically grown up knowing the foods or nutrients they need to avoid. However, if you've recently been diagnosed with fatty liver disease, you may need to make a variety of dietary changes to improve your liver's health.
The standard fatty liver disease diet typically requires people to avoid:
- Refined sugars and sugar-sweetened products
- Foods rich in saturated fats
- Processed foods and junk food
- Foods high in calories
In some cases, you may be able to consume healthier substitutes for these products. For example, an August 2015 study in the Journal of Hepatology found that diet soda wasn't associated with fatty liver disease, but regular soda products were.
You should focus on eating fruits, vegetables and other fiber-rich foods. Foods that digest slowly, like bread and potatoes, are also considered healthy choices. You may want to consider following a diet like the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in such foods. An August 2014 study in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that following a Mediterranean diet could help lessen the severity of fatty liver disease.
A January 2014 study in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology also recommended consuming nuts and seeds, and making sure that you're consuming enough vitamin C, vitamin K, folic acid (vitamin B9) and unsaturated fats like omega‐3 fatty acids. A February 2014 study in the World Journal of Gastroenterology supported these findings and suggested that sufficient vitamin D consumption and probiotic-rich foods are also important components of a healthy fatty liver disease diet.
You can also work on losing weight, lowering your cholesterol and managing your insulin levels (or diabetes, if you have this condition). These are all factors that make you more susceptible to experiencing fatty liver disease and related health problems again.
Is This an Emergency?
- World Journal of Gastroenterology: "Dietary Habits and Behaviors Associated With Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease"
- Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology: "Associations Between Intakes of Individual Nutrients or Whole Food Groups and Non‐Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease Among Korean Adults"
- Clinical Nutrition: "Adherence to the Mediterranean Diet Is Associated With the Severity of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease"
- Journal of Hepatology: "Sugar-Sweetened Beverage, Diet Soda, and Fatty Liver Disease in the Framingham Heart Study Cohorts"
- British Liver Trust: "Dietary Advice for Specific Liver Conditions"
- European Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Dietary Patterns Are Associated With Prevalence of Fatty Liver Disease in Adults"
- Diabetes Care: "Saturated Fat Is More Metabolically Harmful for the Human Liver Than Unsaturated Fat or Simple Sugars."
- World Journal of Hepatology: "Egg Consumption and Risk of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease"
- Nutrients: "Dietary Patterns Modulate the Risk of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease in Chinese Adults"
- NHS: "Treatment - Haemochromatosis"
- Mayo Clinic: "Toxic Hepatitis"
- FDA: "Total Carbohydrates"
- FDA: "Protein"
- FDA: "Total Fat"