What Sort Of Diet Should You Follow If You Have Fatty Liver Disease?

When you have fatty liver disease, fat can accumulate in your liver, leading to inflammation and damage to the liver cells. To treat fatty liver disease, your doctor may have advised you to make some lifestyle changes and follow a strict diet. However, understanding the condition and its causes is also vital. Fat accumulation in the liver can occur for various reasons. Alcohol-induced fatty liver disease, for example, is caused by excessive alcohol consumption, while nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) occurs when excess fat is deposited in the liver, even if you don't consume excessive amounts of alcohol, per the Cleveland Clinic.

NAFLD is becoming increasingly common. However, the exact cause of NAFLD is not fully understood, though it's thought that insulin resistance might be a factor. According to a 2017 review published in the journal Nutrients, up to 85% of people with diabetes have the condition. Insulin resistance occurs when the body becomes less sensitive to the effects of insulin, leading to higher levels of insulin in the bloodstream, explains WebMD. Insulin resistance can cause the liver to produce more fat than it can export, leading to fat accumulation in the liver.

Fatty liver disease can range in severity from mild to severe. Mild cases of fatty liver disease may not cause any symptoms, while more severe cases can cause fatigue, abdominal pain, and yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice). If left untreated, the condition can cause serious liver damage, including liver fibrosis and cirrhosis. 

Reduce saturated fats and increase fiber intake

After a fatty liver disease diagnosis, following a healthy and balanced diet is important to help manage your condition. A healthy diet for fatty liver disease should include a variety of nutrient-dense foods that are low in saturated fats and high in fiber, says WebMD. Saturated fats are well known for increasing LDL cholesterol, which is often referred to as "bad" cholesterol. These fats can contribute to fat accumulation in the liver and worsen the condition, as found in a 2017 study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. Another 2018 study published in the journal Diabetes Care reiterates this claim, adding that eating too much saturated fat can induce insulin resistance while also being harmful to the liver.

Fried foods, fatty meats, processed snacks, and full-fat dairy products are all high in saturated fats, says WebMD. Try to avoid such foods, and instead, choose lean protein sources like skinless chicken and fish and plant-based proteins like legumes and tofu, advises Healthline.

Increasing your intake of fiber is also important for managing fatty liver disease. A 2020 study published in the journal Nutrients notes that fiber intake has a positive effect on nonalcoholic fatty live disease by reducing calorie intake and encouraging a healthy gut. A high-fiber diet can help reduce the presence of pro-inflammatory bacteria. Good sources of fiber include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Healthline says to aim for at least 25-30 grams of fiber per day.

Opt for high-antioxidant and low-glycemic index foods

A diet rich in low-glycemic index foods might also be helpful. A 2019 review published in Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders found that consuming low-glycemic index foods may help reduce fat mass in people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. The glycemic index (GI) measures how fast certain food products raise your blood sugar levels (via Harvard Health Publishing). Examples of low-glycemic index foods include non-starchy vegetables (such as leafy greens, broccoli, and lettuce), whole grains (such as oats and quinoa), legumes (such as beans and chickpeas), and fruits such as apples, limes, and pears, per the Cleveland Clinic.

Green vegetables like spinach may also help protect against liver disease. A 2021 study published in the journal BMC Gastroenterology found that raw spinach had positive effects on liver health. The study suggests that this is likely due to the nitrate and polyphenols found in the vegetable. Polyphenols are a group of naturally occurring compounds found in plant-based foods. They are a type of antioxidant, meaning they can help protect the body from damage caused by harmful molecules called free radicals, per Healthline. Some polyphenols have also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, making them potentially useful for the prevention and treatment of various diseases.

In addition to making dietary changes, it is also important to avoid or limit your intake of alcohol, warns Healthline. Alcohol can damage the liver and worsen fatty liver disease. It is also important to stay hydrated by drinking lots of plain water to help flush toxins out of the body and support liver function.