The normal treatment for fatty liver disease, whether it's alcohol-related or not, is to reach a healthy weight through diet and exercise. So what should you eat?
In general, foods that fight cell damage, make it easier for your body to use insulin, or lower inflammation can help reverse the condition.
Since every person is different, you should work with your doctor to come up with an eating plan that's right for you.
Foods That Help Fatty Liver Disease
Give the Mediterranean diet a try. Although it wasn't created for people with fatty liver disease, this style of eating combines the kinds of foods that help reduce fat in your liver: healthy fats, antioxidants, and complex carbohydrates.
Things you’ll see on the table that you should reach for include:
- Fish and seafood
- Whole grains
- Olive oil
Choose the Right Fats
Your cells use glucose, a kind of sugar, for energy. The hormone insulin helps get the glucose from digested food into your cells.
People with fatty liver disease often have a condition called insulin resistance. That means your body makes insulin but can’t use it well. Glucose builds up in your blood, and your liver turns it into fat.
Certain fats in your diet can help your body use insulin better. That means your cells can take in glucose and your liver doesn't need to make and store fat.
Get more of these:
Fatty Liver Foods to Avoid
Steer clear of saturated fats, which lead to more fatty deposits in your liver. This includes:
- Poultry, except for lean white meat
- Full-fat cheese
- Yogurt, except low-fat
- Red meat
- Baked goods and fried foods made with palm or coconut oils.
- Sugary items like candy, regular soda, and other foods with added sugars including high-fructose corn syrup.
Antioxidants and Supplements for Liver Health
Cells get damaged when nutrients don't break down properly. This can lead to fat buildup in your liver. But compounds known as antioxidants can help protect cells from this damage. Where do you get them?
- Green tea
- Raw garlic
- Fruits, especially berries
- Vitamin E. You can find it in:
- Sunflower seeds
- Liquid plant-based oils with monounsaturated fats, like olive or canola oil.
Scientists are studying supplements to see if they may be good for your liver:
- Goji berry (wolfberry), a plant often used in Chinese medicine, may slim your waist size. But we need more research to see if this is true.
- Resveratrol, which comes from the skin of red grapes, may help control inflammation. Conflicting studies suggest that how well it works depends on how much you take.
- Selenium is a mineral found in Brazil nuts, tuna, and oysters. (Most people get enough in their diet.)
- Milk thistle. You might hear it called silymarin, which is the main component of its seeds. Results are mixed on whether it really works.
- Berberine, a plant used in Chinese medicine. In early studies, it does appear to help with cholesterol, liver function, and blood sugar control. But we need more research to see if it works.
Check with your doctor before you take any supplements. They could change how your medicines work, or they might cause other health problems. They may not be helpful if you don't take the right amount in the right way.
Get Your Vitamins and Minerals
Make room in your diet for:
- Vitamin D. Low levels may play a role in more severe fatty liver disease. Your body makes vitamin D when you're in the sun. You can also get it in some dairy products. Choose low-fat dairy items because they have less saturated fat.
- Potassium. Low levels may be linked to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Fish like cod, salmon, and sardines are good sources. It's also in veggies including broccoli, peas, and sweet potatoes, and fruits such as bananas, kiwi, and apricots. Dairy foods, like milk and yogurt, are also high in potassium. Choose low-fat options.
- Betaine. It might protect your liver from fatty deposits, but research results are mixed. You can find it in wheat germ and shrimp.
You shouldn't drink at all if your fatty liver disease results from heavy drinking. It can lead to more serious liver damage. If you have NAFLD, it may be OK to have a drink once in a while, but not more than every other month. Ask your doctor first.
Even dropping just 5% of your body weight could lower the fat in your liver. Lose between 7% and 10% of your body weight and you’ll lower inflammation and the odds of injury to your liver cells. You might even reverse some of the damage. Go slow -- 1 to 2 pounds per week is fine. Rapid weight loss might make things worse. If you can’t shed the pounds, ask your doctor if weight loss surgery is an option for you.
Exercise for a Healthy Liver
Aerobic exercise can actually cut the amount of fat in your liver. A heavy workout may also lower inflammation. Resistance or strength training exercises, like weight lifting, can also improve fatty liver disease. Aim for 30 to 60 minutes or more of mid- to high-level aerobic exercise on at least 5 days a week and mid- to high-level strength training 3 days a week.
Do what your doctor tells you to do to manage your diabetes. Take your medications as prescribed, and keep a close watch on your blood sugar.
Lower Your Cholesterol
Other things you do to keep your liver healthy can keep your cholesterol and triglycerides (fats in your blood) at healthy levels. Eat a healthy, plant-based diet, get regular exercise, and take medications if your doctor prescribes them. This can help keep your cholesterol and your triglycerides in check.