How to Eat Right With Fatty Liver Disease

The normal treatment for fatty liver disease, whether it's alcohol-related or not, is to work toward a healthy weight through diet and exercise. What should have a place on your plate?

Generally speaking, 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.

A Mediterranean Diet

Although it wasn't originally meant 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're likely to see on the table that you should reach for include:

  • Fish
  • Fruits
  • Grains
  • Nuts
  • Olive oil
  • Vegetables

The Right Fats

Your cells use glucose, a kind of sugar, for energy. The hormone insulin helps get the glucose from your digested food into your cells.

People with fatty liver disease are often insulin resistant. Their bodies make insulin, but it doesn't work well. Glucose builds up in the blood, and the liver turns that extra sugar into fat.

Certain fats in your diet can improve your sensitivity to, or ability to use, insulin. Your cells can take in glucose, so your liver doesn't need to make and store fat.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish, fish oil, vegetable oils, nuts (especially walnuts), flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, and leafy veggies.

Monounsaturated fats are plentiful in plant sources, like olives, nuts, and avocados.

Steer clear of saturated fats, though. Eat less meat and fewer dairy products. Avoid baked goods and fried foods made with palm or coconut oils. These lead to more fatty deposits in your liver.

Antioxidants

Another reason fat builds up is that liver cells can be damaged when nutrients don't break down properly. Fruits (especially berries), vegetables, and some other foods have compounds known as antioxidants that can protect cells from this damage.

Some studies found that vitamin E helps with fatty liver disease. Other research points to improvement in fatty liver disease when you take vitamin E with vitamin C and a cholesterol-lowering medicine. Doctors don't know which one of these is responsible, or if all three things are working together.

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Sunflower seeds and almonds are good sources of vitamin E. So are liquid plant-based oils with monounsaturated fats -- another reason to cook with olive or canola oil.

Scientists are studying other antioxidant foods and supplements to see if they may be good for your liver:

  • Coffee has been linked to lower obesity, insulin resistance, and inflammation. It might also protect you from heart disease and other liver diseases.
  • Raw garlic may improve insulin resistance and help your body break down fats.
  • Green tea, in experimental models, lowered weight gain, body fat levels, insulin resistance, and more. But it hasn't been tested in people yet.
  • Goji berry (wolfberry), a plant often used in Chinese medicine, may slim your waist size.
  • Resveratrol, which comes from the skin of red grapes, can help control inflammation. Conflicting studies suggest its effectiveness is related to how much you take.
  • Selenium is a mineral found in Brazil nuts, tuna, and oysters. (Most people get enough in their diet.)

Check with your doctor before you take any supplements. They may change how medicines you're taking work, or they may cause other health problems. They may not be helpful if you don't take the right amount in the right way.

Choose Your Carbs

Too much simple sugar speeds up the process where your liver turns food into fat. Avoid candy, regular soda, and other foods with added sugars including high-fructose corn syrup. Choose naturally sweet things, like fruit, instead.

Complex carbohydrates, such as those with a lot of fiber, are safer. They tend to have a low glycemic index, so they digest slower and their sugar doesn't flood into your body. That can help increase insulin sensitivity and lower your blood cholesterol.

Better carbs include whole grains, beans and lentils, and starchy vegetables.

Other Key Nutrients

Lower vitamin D levels may be related to more severe fatty liver disease. Your body makes vitamin D when you're in the sun. It's also added to some dairy products. (Stick with low-fat dairy products because they have less saturated fat.)

A Chinese study found a link between low potassium levels and 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.

Early studies suggest betaine helps protect your liver from fatty deposits. It's found in wheat germ and shrimp.

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Alcohol

You shouldn't drink at all now if your fatty liver disease was caused by heavy drinking. It can lead to even more serious liver damage. If you have NAFLD, it's probably okay to have a drink once in a while, but not more than every other month.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on February 20, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

American Liver Foundation: "NAFLD."

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis."

Canadian Liver Foundation: "Fatty Liver Disease."

Eslamparast, T. World Journal of Hepatology, published online Feb 27, 2015.

Zivkovic, A. American Society for Clinical Nutrition, August 2007.

Lai, M. The Liver Healing Diet, Ulysses Press, June 9, 2015.

Oliveria, C. Journal of Diabetes Research, published online Dec 7, 2015.

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database: "Vitamin E," "Goji."

Scorletti, E. Annual Review of Nutrition, published online July 2013.

American Heart Association: "Monounsaturated Fats."

Xiao, J. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, published online April 2013.

NHS Choices: "Do goji berries deserve their A-list status?"

Eliades M, World Journal of Gastroenterology, Feb 14, 2015.

Sun, K. Clinical Endocrinology, published online May 20, 2013.

Harvard Health Publications: "Potassium lowers blood pressure."

USDA: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005, Appendix B.

University of Maryland Medical Center: "Betaine."

Medscape: "What Advice Should Be Given to Patients With NAFLD About the Consumption of Alcohol?"

Pacana, T. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care, November 2012.

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