5 WAYS TO IMPROVE FATTY LIVER THROUGH FOOD
Getting the diagnosis of fatty liver can be scary. It’s very common to feel worried about what it all means and uncertain about what you can do.
Fatty liver disease is caused by a build-up of fatty acids between the liver cells. This isn’t directly related to a high fat diet. It’s caused by a complex interaction between genetics, hormones and our dietary intake.
Luckily, the liver is a very clever organ and when given the right dietary factors it can regulate itself really well. So, if you’ve been given a diagnosis of fatty liver, here are some key dietary changes that may help.
INCREASE YOUR VEG INTAKE
This can seem like an obvious recommendation, but sometimes the simplest things are the most effective. Vegetables are high in dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals as well as a range of phytochemicals. These nutrients help to lower the energy density of your meals, decrease oxidative stress in the body and improve your liver’s ability to function effectively.
You may be thinking “I eat vegetables. I have this one covered”. However, how many serves of vegetables are you really eating each day? Only 7% of Australians eat the recommended 5 serves of vegetables or more on a regular basis.
In case you weren’t sure, 1 serve of vegetables equates to:
½ cup cooked/dense vegetables like carrot, pumpkin, beans, and peas
1 cup salad / watery vegetables like celery, lettuce, tomato, or cucumber
So, to reach 5 serves in a day, you would need to be having:
A salad with 2 cups of spinach, roasted beetroot, and pumpkin
1 cup capsicum and cucumber sticks
Stir-fry with ½ cup cooked carrot and ½ cup cooked snow peas
Getting 5 serves of vegetables or more on a consistent basis is associated with a lower risk of fatty liver disease and a decrease in it’s progression.
Even if you are currently eating 5 serves of veges, supporting your liver to reduce the fatty deposits will only be achieved by a greater level of vegetable intake. See if you can add an extra serve to your usual pattern for a few months and check in with the impact on your fatty liver measures.
INCLUDE SOME MEAT FREE MEALS
While it’s not clear whether a completely vegetarian diet reduces the prevalence of fatty liver disease, there is consistent evidence that a diet high in meat and particularly processed meats does increase the risk of fatty liver.
This doesn’t mean you have to give up meat! However, it can be helpful to be mindful of how much red and processed meat you are eating and potentially focus on including some plant based protein options in your meals a few times a week.
This could include:
Using black beans as an alternative to mince in tacos
Making a curry with chickpeas instead of chicken
Adding tinned lentils to a fresh salad
Marinating tofu to have with a satay stir fry
Try some vegetarian sausages or a vegetarian burger patty when BBQing.
Making a conscious swap to a vegetarian meal can increase your vegetable intake across the week and provide you with more dietary variety.
SWITCH UP YOUR SWEET SNACKS
A high intake of added sugars and low amounts of whole foods are often linked to a higher risk of fatty liver disease.
If you find yourself regularly craving sweet foods and raiding the pantry in the afternoon or evening, making some strategic swaps and planning whole food sweet snacks may help to lower your overall sugar intake and manage the risks for fatty liver disease.
Try swapping your usual sweet snack for:
Chopped strawberries and yoghurt with a drizzle of honey
Tropical salad of mango, pineapple, and watermelon with crushed nuts
Orange slices dipped in melted dark chocolate
Trail mix of almonds, cranberries, and white chocolate
Berry smoothie with frozen berries and milk.
CHECK YOUR ALCOHOL INTAKE
Even if your fatty liver condition isn’t caused by an excess consumption of alcohol, any alcoholic drinks put additional pressure on the liver’s function. Reducing your intake of alcohol can be an effective way of letting your liver ‘detoxify’ and reduce deposits of fatty acids.
These are some ways to be more conscious of your alcohol intake:
Stock the fridge with sparking mineral water or infused mineral waters
Keep beer, wine and mixers out of the fridge
Store alcohol in a hard-to-reach place
Pick a few nights to really enjoy your favorite beverage and be alcohol free on other days.
Fill your bottle / can / glass with water in between alcoholic drinks to help slow you down
If you’re feeling keen, you could try a dry month or 3-month period without any alcohol and see what
influence that has on markers of fatty liver markers (when you check with your GP). Why not set a 30 day challenge and have your
family and friends support you while supporting the Liver Foundation.
KNOW YOUR ENERGY NEEDS
Loosing excess body fat has been shown to reduce levels of visceral (organ) fat and as a result, reduce the fatty deposits in the liver. However, restrictive weight loss regimes and diets are often ineffective in achieving long-term, sustainable weight loss.
To lose weight effectively and sustainably it’s important to understand your individual energy needs and how you can meet those needs through whole foods. An Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD) can help you understand your body’s energy needs and how to achieve the right energy balance for sustainable weight management. This doesn’t have to mean calorie counting or weighing and measuring to an excessive degree, but having a clear idea of how much food your body needs can be very valuable and empower you to make more informed choices.
Individualised advice from an accredited practicing dietitian is a great place to start if you’re looking to make long-term sustainable changes to your diet to maximise your liver health.
1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2018. Australia’s health 2018: in brief. Cat. no. AUS 222. Canberra: AIHW
2. Berná G, Romero-Gomez M. The role of nutrition in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: Pathophysiology and management. Liver Int. 2020 Feb;40 Suppl 1:102-108. doi: 10.1111/liv.14360. PMID: 32077594.
Content provided by our partners at The Healthy Eating Clinic
The information in this article is presented by the Liver Foundation for the purpose of disseminating health information free of charge for the benefit of the public. The information accords with the Australian Guide to Health Eating provided by the Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council. While the Liver Foundation has exercised due care in ensuring the accuracy of the information contained in this article, the information in the article is made available on the basis that the Liver Foundation is not providing professional advice and the information must not be a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this article is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice. The Liver Foundation does not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information provided in this article. The Liver Foundation cannot guarantee and assumes no legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, currency, completeness or interpretation of the information.