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A fatty liver is a condition in which the organ stores too much fat. If not treated, your liver can ultimately fail. But you can prevent or treat a fatty liver with healthful eating. You may need to focus on certain foods and avoid others.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is one of the most common causes of liver disease in the United States. It’s a condition in which excess fat is stored in the liver.

NAFLD is more common in people who are living with certain conditions like obesity and type 2 diabetes — and unlike alcohol-related liver disease, NAFLD is not caused by heavy alcohol use.

The two types of NAFLD are:

  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver (NAFL), where fat collects in the liver without inflammation, though enlargement of the liver may lead to pain
  • Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which is accompanied by inflammation, and can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure if left untreated.

In a healthy body, the liver removes toxins and produces bile, a greenish-yellow fluid that breaks down fat into fatty acids so that they can be digested. Fatty liver disease damages the liver and prevents it from working as well as it should, but lifestyle changes can prevent it from getting worse.

The first line of treatment for overweight or obese individuals with NAFLD is gradual weight loss, through a combination of calorie reduction, exercise, and healthy eating.

In general, the diet for fatty liver disease includes:

A nutrient-dense, whole-food-based diet rich in fiber, protein, and unsaturated fats is generally recommended for those with NAFLD.

Here are a few foods to include in your healthy liver diet:

1. Coffee to help lower abnormal liver enzymes

Your daily cup of coffee could help protect your liver against NAFLD.

A 2021 review found that regular coffee consumption is associated with a lowered risk of developing NAFLD, as well as a decreased risk of the advancement of liver fibrosis in those already diagnosed with NAFLD.

Coffee also appears to lower the number of abnormal liver enzymes in people at risk for liver diseases.

2. Greens to prevent fat buildup

Compounds found in spinach and other leafy greens may help fight fatty liver disease.

A 2021 study found that eating spinach specifically lowered the risk of NAFLD, possibly due to the nitrate and distinct polyphenols found in the leafy green.

Interestingly enough, the study focused on raw spinach, as cooked spinach did not have the same strong results. This could be because cooking spinach (and other leafy greens) may result in lowered polyphenolic content and antioxidant activity.

3. Beans and soy to reduce the risk of NAFLD

Both beans and soy have shown promise when it comes to reducing the risk of NAFLD.

A scientific overview of diet and liver disease points out that legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, and peas are not only nutritionally dense foods, but also contain resistant starches that help improve gut health.

Consumption of legumes may even help lower blood glucose and triglycerides in individuals living with obesity. In addition, a 2019 study found diets rich in legumes specifically helped lower the likelihood of NAFLD.

A few studies have also found that eating soy (whether replacing a serving of meat or fish, or via consumption of miso soup, which contains fermented soy) may help protect the liver, though evidence is mixed.

Most likely this is because soy contains a high content of the protein β-conglycinin — noted for its ability to help lower triglyceride levels and possibly protect against visceral fat buildup.

Additionally, tofu is a low-fat food that serves as a good source of protein, making it an ideal choice if you’re trying to limit your fat consumption.

4. Fish to reduce inflammation and fat levels

Fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, tuna, and trout are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Research suggests that supplementing with omega-3s may benefit those with NAFLD by reducing liver fat, boosting protective HDL cholesterol, and lowering triglyceride levels.

5. Oatmeal for fiber

Whole-grain, fiber-rich foods like oatmeal are associated with a reduced risk of NAFLD-related diseases.

Studies have shown that a nutritious diet rich in high fiber foods like oats is effective for those with NAFLD and may help reduce triglyceride levels.

6. Nuts to help reduce inflammation

A diet rich in nuts is associated with reduced inflammation, insulin resistance, and oxidative stress, and a lower prevalence of NAFLD.

A large study from China found that increased nut consumption was significantly associated with a lowered risk of NAFLD — and research has found that people with fatty liver disease who eat walnuts have improved liver function tests.

7. Turmeric to reduce markers of liver damage

High doses of curcumin — the active ingredient in turmeric — might reduce markers of liver damage in people with NAFLD.

Studies focusing on turmeric supplementation show the bright orange root may decrease levels of serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST) — two enzymes that are abnormally high in people with fatty liver disease.

8. Sunflower seeds for antioxidants

Sunflower seeds are particularly high in vitamin E, an antioxidant often used (via supplementation) in the treatment of NAFLD.

While most research around NAFLD and vitamin E focuses on supplements, a 100-gram serving of sunflower seeds has about 20 milligrams of vitamin E, more than 100 percent of the Daily Recommended Value. If you’re looking to increase your vitamin E consumption naturally, sunflower seeds are a good starting point.

9. Increase unsaturated fat intake

Swapping out sources of saturated fat — like butter, fatty cuts of meat, sausages, and cured meats — for unsaturated fat sources — like avocados, olive oil, nut butter, and fatty fish — may be helpful for those with NAFLD.

This is one reason why the Mediterranean diet is sometimes recommended for individuals living with NAFLD, because of its focus on minimally processed whole foods containing unsaturated fat, as well as being high in vegetables, fruit, and legumes, all of which aid its ability to help reduce total cholesterol.

10. Garlic to improve overall health

This vegetable not only adds flavor to food, but small experimental studies also show that garlic powder supplements may help reduce body weight and fat in people with fatty liver disease.

In a recent 2020 study, patients with NAFLD that took 800 mg of garlic powder per day for 15 weeks saw reductions in liver fat and improved enzyme levels.

When it comes to whole food consumption, a 2019 study found that frequent consumption of raw garlic was inversely associated with NAFLD in Chinese men (but not women).

If you have fatty liver disease, your doctor may recommend avoiding certain foods — or at least eating them sparingly. These foods generally contribute to weight gain and can increase blood sugar.

Avoid when possible

  • Alcohol. Alcohol can be a major cause of fatty liver disease as well as other liver diseases.
  • Added sugar. Stay away from sugary foods such as candy, cookies, sodas, and fruit juices. High blood sugar increases the amount of fat buildup in the liver.
  • Fried foods. These are high in fat and calories.
  • Added salt. Consuming too much salt can increase the risk of NAFLD. It’s recommended to limit sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams per day. People who have high blood pressure should limit salt intake to no more than 1,500 mg per day
  • White bread, rice, and pasta. White flour is typically highly processed, and items made from it can raise your blood sugar more than whole grains, due to a lack of fiber.
  • Red meat. Beef and pork are high in saturated fat. Highly processed meats in general (sausage, pepperoni, bacon, etc.) should be limited as well, as they are high in both sodium and saturated fat
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If you’ve been diagnosed with fatty liver disease, your doctor may recommend working with a dietitian to come up with a meal plan. Here’s what a typical daily menu might look like.

breakfast• 8 oz. hot oatmeal mixed with 2 tsp. almond butter, 1 tbsp. chia seeds, and 1 cup mixed berries
• 1 cup black coffee or green tea
lunch• spinach salad with balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing
• 3 oz. grilled chicken
• 1 small baked potato
• 1 cup cooked broccoli, carrots, or other vegetable
snack• 1 tbsp. peanut butter on sliced apples or 2 tbsp. hummus with raw veggies
dinner• small mixed-bean salad
• 3 oz. grilled salmon
• 1 cup cooked broccoli
• 1 cup cooked quinoa
• 1 cup mixed berries

In addition to modifying your diet, here are a few other lifestyle changes you can make to improve your liver health:

  1. Get active. Exercise, paired with diet, can help you lose weight and manage your liver disease. Aim to get at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise on most days of the week.
  2. Lower blood lipid levels. Watch your saturated fat and sugar intake to help manage your cholesterol and triglyceride levels. If diet and exercise aren’t enough to lower your cholesterol, ask your doctor about medication.
  3. Manage diabetes. Diabetes and fatty liver disease often occur together. Diet and exercise can help you manage both conditions. If your blood sugar is still high, your doctor can prescribe medication to lower it.

If you have NAFLD or are at risk for developing this condition, certain lifestyle and dietary changes can help improve the health of your liver and reduce the risk of NAFLD.

Studies show that following a well-rounded, nutritious diet rich in fiber, lean or plant-based protein, and healthy fats is the best way to improve liver health, lower disease risk, and promote healthy weight loss.

If you have NAFLD, or are worried you may be at risk, work with a trusted healthcare professional to come up with a treatment plan that includes dietary changes as well as lifestyle modifications like increasing physical activity, improving sleep, and reducing stress.