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Can Your Diet Really Help Fight Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease?

Wondering whether diet is truly all that important when it comes to fighting fatty liver? Discover how much of a role food plays – and if it just might be able to stop this disease from getting worse.

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By now, it’s a no-brainer that what you eat shapes every aspect of your health. But even if you’ve tried to stick to a healthy, balanced (and clean!) diet, ailments can strike. That’s often why so many people are shocked to discover that they’re living with fat buildup in their livers, or a condition called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). 

A whopping 30 percent of Americans have this kind of fat buildup hiding in their liver cells, and many cases go completely unnoticed. While it’s often tied to other health concerns and conditions like obesity, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes, NAFLD isn’t linked to overconsumption of alcohol like other types of fatty liver disease. Rather, it’s an illness that can be silent in almost anyone. But there is good news: Changing your diet could have a significant positive impact on fatty liver.

Diet is your first line of defense and your best treatment option

Diet is one of the first areas that doctors target when treating nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. In fact, it’s the first treatment approach tried for most people. But why is your diet so critical?

Currently, the University of Chicago explains, there aren’t any medications that can treat NAFLD. This means doctors are limited in how they can help individuals with fatty liver disease fight the condition. And that makes lifestyle changes, including diet, the go-to treatment plan.

Fortunately, a healthy diet and regular exercise do work. Diet isn’t a magical cure, but it is one seriously successful treatment. Making dietary changes has shown to have the potential to prevent liver damage. You can also target the causes of fatty liver buildup through your diet, like tackling comorbidities (being overweight or having metabolic syndrome, for example). 

For some people, losing weight is key in treating NAFLD – and changing your diet to lose weight can reduce fat buildup in the liver and inflammation. Altering what you eat can also normalize your liver enzymes. Yet for others, it’s more important to focus on overall nutrition, changing the foods you eat to balance out your nutritional needs and reduce the amount of fat in your liver. 

Sticking with a healthy diet might even reverse fatty liver disease

Changing your diet can slow the progression of fatty liver disease. But it can be even more promising – following certain healthy eating principles might actually be able to reverse NAFLD in its early stages. 

Eating a healthy diet, specifically one that’s rich in veggies, has fantastic potential to fight back against fatty liver. A 2020 research study showed that indole, a natural compound present in popular vegetables, can combat fatty liver disease (specifically, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease). Researchers saw that participants who had lower levels of indole in their bloodstream also had higher amounts of fat deposits in their livers. Upping indole intake in NAFLD-mimicking animal models – or animals that had fatty liver deposits – proved to significantly decrease the liver’s fat accumulation. It even decreased liver inflammation.

Indole, which is found in cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, kale and Brussels sprouts, naturally appeared to reverse the impact of fatty liver disease. Increasing the amount of cruciferous veggies you’re eating each day could lead to potential improvements if you’re already living with NAFLD. And if you’re hoping to protect yourself from developing fatty liver, these indole-rich vegetables might be able to help you stave off the condition.

Additionally, research shows that a low-carb, high-fat diet like the ketogenic diet can also have a positive effect on NAFLD. Adopting a low-carb, high-fat diet – filled with beneficial plant- and animal-based fats rather than trans fats and highly processed oils – has the potential to help those with NAFLD lose excess weight, lessen inflammation and positively impact fat deposits. Getting into ketosis might also offer benefits for those with fatty liver disease, though the jury is still out on how, exactly, ketosis has a positive effect.

So, science shows there’s a lot of promise in adjusting your diet to fight fatty liver. And there are plenty of different approaches you can try. Keep reading about how you better your diet in connection with NAFLD: