Did the doctor ever tell you that you have fatty liver? Liver disease? Well, a fatty liver used to be associated with heavy alcohol use, but now we know much more! There are two main ways that you can get a fatty liver. One is with excess alcohol consumption, and the other, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), is caused by a poor diet, and is totally treatable! Read on to learn how to clean up your liver!
What is Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)?
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a condition characterized by the buildup of excess fat in the liver, not by excessive alcohol consumption. Both types, however, can lead to liver cirrhosis. While it is estimated to affect between 25-30% of the US population, one research study from 2021 found that it actually affects nearly 1/3 of the world population!
Who Can Get NAFLD?
This disease does not discriminate. You can find it in people of any age, race, or even ethnicity. While people are more likely to get it as they get older, it is becoming more and more common in children and teens with sedentary lifestyles and poor dietary food and snack quality.
How Do I Know if I Have It?
NAFLD is typically considered a silent disease. You generally won’t know if you have it unless you get tested by a lab, or have imaging done.
What puts me at risk?
Some factors that are associated with an increased risk of developing NAFLD include:
- Consuming a diet high in calories, particularly from saturated and trans fats
- Consuming a diet high in refined carbohydrates and added sugars
- Consuming a diet low in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- Being overweight or obese
- Having Diabetes type 1 or type 2
- Having high total cholesterol, LDL, triglycerides, or a low HDL
- Consume moderate amounts of alcohol in addition to any of the above
How Can I Keep My Liver Healthy
To manage NAFLD and clean out your liver, try to:
- Consume a balanced diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats
- Limit the intake of calories, saturated and trans fats, added sugars, and refined carbohydrates
- Aim to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, gradually losing 3 to 5% of your current body weight, if recommended by a doctor
- Avoid skipping meals and try to eat regular and balanced meals throughout the day
- limiting alcohol intake, if any
A Mediterranean diet which is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats, low in saturated and trans fats, and moderate in calorie intake is particularly recommended for individuals with NAFLD. Currently, there are no drug therapies to treat NAFLD. In fact, there are many supplements and diets out there claiming that they heal or "cleanse" the liver, but managing a healthy diet and lifestyle is still the main treatment recommendations. There are some natural foods that may help with liver function, so read our other articles for more!
In summary, diet plays a significant role in the development and management of NAFLD. A balanced diet that is low in calories, saturated and trans fats, and added sugars, and high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, can help to prevent and manage the condition. Maintaining a healthy weight, lowering cholesterol, and controlling glucose are all also important. Talk with your Dietitian and your doctor about how to manage diet for your condition, and how to bring your bloodwork back to normal levels.