Fatty liver disease affects close to a third of American adults and is a leading contributor to liver failure. Although the condition was initially closely tied to alcoholism, an increasing number of cases are being linked to diets high in processed food and sedentary behavior. Many are choosing to adopt what’s called a fatty liver diet to combat the condition.
Fatty liver disease is caused by an accumulation of fat in the liver that inhibits proper function. Your liver is extremely important to overall health and is responsible for filtering toxins out of your system. If it’s not working properly, there is a risk for serious illness.
There are two types of fatty liver disease: alcohol-induced liver disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). The former is the result of excess alcohol consumption, and the latter is typically a result of diet and lifestyle factors.
If you’ve got a fatty liver, or are looking to prevent one, dietary measures can play a role whether your fatty liver is a caused by alcohol, lifestyle, or food choices.
Foods associated with a fatty liver diet generally include:
- A variety of fruits and vegetables
- High-fiber plants (legumes, whole grains)
Foods contraindicated in patients with fatty liver disease include those with:
- Added salt
- Added sugar
- Trans fats or saturated fats
Further, making food choices that promote overall weight and fat loss can be useful in a fatty liver diet plan.
Foods to Eat on a Fatty Liver Diet
When it comes to dietary choices to treat or prevent a fatty liver, the idea is to eat fresh, nutrient-dense foods. Such items can improve or protect liver health, promote weight loss, and limit inflammation.
A worthwhile dietary model to follow would be the Mediterranean or DASH-style diet. But if you’re looking for specific foods that might offer some assistance, try to include the following:
Eating nutrient-dense leafy greens like spinach, kale, and collard greens can help reduce inflammation and promote weight loss. They are high in fiber, antioxidants, and other vitamins and minerals to promote overall health and functionality.
Moreover, a green cruciferous vegetable, broccoli, may have unique benefits for liver health. Mouse studies have shown that broccoli may prevent fat buildup in the organ, reducing the chance of developing fatty liver disease and potentially slowing progression.
Fatty fish that’s high in omega-3 fatty acid can promote liver health. Salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, mackerel, and the like might help improve levels of liver fat and reduce overall inflammation.
Starting your day with a cup of coffee may help keep your liver healthy.
Research has indicated that coffee drinkers with fatty liver disease have less damage than non-coffee drinkers. The reason may be that caffeine lowers the number of abnormal liver enzymes in people at risk for the disease.
There are antioxidants in coffee that may promote better liver health. Just be sure to keep your coffee black; adding sugars or creams may offset the effects.
Also high in omega-3s, walnuts may promote better liver health as well. Research published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology found that people with fatty liver performed better on liver function tests if walnuts were a part of their diet.
There is some research indicating that garlic supplementation may help lower body fat in people with fatty liver disease. Because losing fat is an important component of combatting fatty liver, this may be of some benefit.
High in healthy fats and fiber, avocado can help control appetite and promote weight loss. There is also research indicating it may slow liver damage because of its healthy fat content.
Another healthy fat, olive oil may help control weight and lower liver enzyme levels. It can be easily incorporated into a diet when drizzled over salads or vegetables or used in cooking.
Both whey and soy protein might have a positive effect on liver health. You can use powdered supplementation, or eat some soy-based foods like tofu or high-whey foods like cottage cheese, yogurt, low-fat milk, cheese, and kefir.
A mouse study has shown whey can potentially protect the liver from damage, while both forms of protein can help limit refined sugar intake.
This convenient snack is rich in antioxidants including vitamin E, as well as healthy fats. This combination may help offer some protection for your liver.
Foods to Avoid on a Fatty Liver Diet
The foods to stay away from on a fatty liver diet resemble foods that you’d like to stay away from on any diet. Barring one or two specific standouts, a fatty liver diet looks a lot like any balanced, healthful, nutrient-dense model of eating.
Excessive alcohol intake is a major cause of liver disease, so much so that NAFLD has its own classification! To avoid worsening a fatty liver, limit or avoid alcohol consumption.
Processed meats like bacon, sausage, cold cuts, and boxed meats can all promote inflammation and liver fat. Opt for fresh cuts of meat, and go lean more often than not.
Sodium Chloride (Salt)
Salt intake, especially from processed foods, can contribute to liver damage because of its effect on water retention. Getting rid of water helps remove toxins from the body and promotes better liver health.
Low-nutrient, high-calorie foods can promote fat gain, which can deposit itself in the liver. Avoid sugary beverages, candies, cookies, etc.
White bread and pasta lack fiber, and can boost blood sugar. Switch to whole grains and you’ll feel fuller, likely eat less, and lower your risk for weight gain.
High-calorie and high in trans/saturated fats, these foods can also contribute to increased fat storage in the liver. They also promote inflammation.
Sample Diet Plan for Fatty Liver Disease
- 1/2 – 3/4 cup of plain Greek yogurt
- Handful of walnuts or almonds
- Handful of fresh or frozen berries
- Cup of coffee (or 2, if needed!)
- 3 oz. salmon filet
- Spinach salad
- Crushed walnuts
- Sliced peppers
- Olive oil drizzle to dress
- Chicken breast seasoned with garlic, herbs, and spices
- Side of broccoli
- Whole-grain roll
Snacks and Desserts:
- Whey/soy protein shake with frozen spinach berries
- Sliced avocado on whole-grain toast
- Apple and peanut butter
- Fresh berries
- Sliced veggies for dipping in hummus
Eating to Protect and Promote Liver Health
You can protect and promote liver health by taking a conscientious approach to eating. With overall health and fat loss in mind, you can construct a healthy diet plan that can help slow the progression or reduce the risk of liver disease.
Butler, N., “12 Foods to Help Fatty Liver Reversal,” Healthline, June 12, 2017; https://www.healthline.com/health/fatty-liver-diet, last accessed July 5, 2019.
Johnson, J.,“What to eat for a fatty liver,” Medical News Today, November 20, 2017; https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320082.php, last accessed July 5, 2019.
Chen, Y., et al., “Dietary Broccoli Lessens Development of Fatty Liver and Liver Cancer in Mice Given Diethylnitrosamine and Fed a Western or Control Diet,” The Journal of Nutrition, 146(3): 542–550; https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/146/3/542/4578268, last accessed July 5, 2019.
Gupta V., et al., “Oily fish, coffee and walnuts: Dietary treatment for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease,” World Journal of Gastroenterology, Oct. 2015; 21(37):10621–10635; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4588084/, last accessed July 5, 2019.
Molloy, J., et al., “Association of coffee and caffeine consumption with fatty liver disease, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, and degree of hepatic fibrosis,” Hepatology, Feb. 2012; 55(2):429-36; https://aasldpubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/hep.24731, last accessed July 5, 2019.
Soleimani, D., et al., “Effect of garlic powder consumption on body composition in patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial,” Advanced Biomedical Research, Jan. 2016; 5:2; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4763563/, last accessed July 5, 2019.
American Chemical Society, “Avocados Contain Potent Liver Protectants,” ScienceDaily https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/12/001219074822.htm, last accessed July 5, 2019.
Fan, J. and Cao, H., “Role of diet and nutritional management in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease,” Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Dec. 2013; https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jgh.12244, last accessed July 5, 2019.