A surprisingly high number of people have got a fatty liver. Closely associated with Type 2 diabetes and overweight and obesity, while left unmanaged fatty liver can progress to cirrhosis and liver failure, the good news is that a number of lifestyle risk factors can be modified to help halt the progression of fatty liver and ensure that the largest organ in the body retains its functioning.
The liver has a lot of important roles in the human body. It helps to break down carbs, proteins and fats to be used as energy; it stores a number of vitamins and minerals and most importantly it helps to metabolise toxins including alcohol.
As we age, drink too much alcohol, eat too much fat and gain too much weight, fat can accumulate in the liver causing its cells to store fat and lose their functioning, which is why measures of our liver health on blood tests can show abnormal results several years before significant and irreversible damage is done to the liver. These abnormal tests though are signs that our livers are not coping and steps need to be taken to change the underlying factors causing fat to accumulate in the liver.
So if you have signs of early liver damage or are already managing fatty liver, here are the key changes to your diet to make now to help stop the progression of liver disease and look after your liver.
1. Get strict with your carbs
While a high intake of sugar is linked to fatty liver, so too is insulin resistance, the condition in which the hormone insulin is not working well in the body. High levels of insulin in the bloodstream over time will eventually lead to Type 2 diabetes and is also closely related to weight gain around the abdomen. While medication is sometimes warranted is help manage insulin levels and prevent the progression to Type 2 diabetes, controlling our intake of carbohydrate is important to help control the amount of insulin being secreted. While you do not need to cut out your carbs entirely, limiting the total volume to 30-40% of total calorie intake or roughly 100-140g in total per day. In food terms this translates into some carbs at breakfast and lunch before tapering off during the second half of the day.
2. Watching saturated fat
One of the oldest dietary recommendations yet one which few of us adhere too. Aussies still get significant amounts of saturated fat in their diets courtesy of fatty meats, fried foods and pastry and it is this type of fat that accumulates around the central organs in the body including the liver. Get strict with your intake of saturated fat by choosing only lean cuts of meat (this means ditching the fatty sausages, mince, chicken thighs and chops), minimize your intake of fried food to just once a month at most and avoid pastry entirely.
3. Focus on good fats
Of the limited evidence available to show what the best type of diet is for individuals managing fatty liver, there is growing evidence to show the omega 3 fats may help to reduce inflammation in the body. As fatty liver is an inflammatory condition, bumping up our intake of these fats to 4-6 grams each day should reap the benefits. Good food sources of omega 3 fats include oily fish, grain bread, walnuts and omega 3 enriched eggs while a daily fish oil supplement is a must.
Read more about my top supplements here.
4. Load up on coloured vegetables
It does not matter if it is beetroot, kale, spinach, tomatoes, broccoli – all you need to know is the brighter the colour of the fresh vegetable, the higher the antioxidant content and the better it is for your liver. Aim for at least 7-10 serves (3-5 cups) of brightly coloured vegetables or salad every single day to naturally boost your antioxidant intake. Individuals with fatty liver disease have been shown to have lower blood levels of key antioxidants. This means the more antioxidant rich foods we can include in the diet, the better.
5. Get rid of the alcohol
When it comes to the health of our liver, the less alcohol we consume, the better. For individuals who already have a fatty liver, the liver is already working overtime to maintain its basic function. Drinking alcohol regularly will in turn put more pressure on this organ so if you can say goodbye to the grog completely.
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*Susie is currently a brand ambassador for D&X. To learn more about the partnership, click here.