Fatty liver disease, more accurately called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease or NAFLD, occurs when more than 5% of liver cells contain fat. The exact cause of NAFLD is not known, but both poor diet and genetics are known to play a part. Left unchecked, fatty liver disease can cause cirrhosis, a condition which is potentially fatal. Unfortunately, there is no direct treatment for NAFLD. Instead, doctors treat the underlying contributing factor, which is typically obesity.
Foods that are high in fat, cholesterol, and sugar are bad for the body in general, but especially the liver. This hard working organ performs a variety of vital tasks including converting food into fuel, processing fat in the blood, clearing away harmful toxins, and making proteins to help blood clot. Whether you already have a fatty liver or are trying to avoid that outcome, avoiding the items on our list – as well as alcohol, which is very difficult for the liver to process – will go a long way toward protecting the health of your liver.
White bread and other baked goods that use refined white flour are harmful to the liver because they are simple carbs that break down into sugar in your system. Blood glucose spikes and insulin levels rise in response. Shortly thereafter, you’ll experience a crash and be hungry again, having not provided your body any actual nutrition with the empty calories in bread. To avoid this vicious cycle, replace anything made with refined white flour with 100% whole grain versions. You’ll even out your blood glucose over a longer period and take in critical fiber plus B vitamins and essential minerals, as well.
Butter is very high in saturated fat, which most health organizations recommend limiting. In general, no more than 5-6% of daily calories should come in the form of saturated fat, but it is very easy to go above this level. Eliminating as much butter as possible from your diet is one way to help get that ratio back in check. Add satisfying richness into your meals by substituting healthier olive oil, nut butters, avocado, apple butter, or hummus instead of butter.
Sugary Breakfast Cereals
Many breakfast cereals are simply junk food masquerading as a healthy choice. They are full of sugar or artificial sweeteners, refined carbohydrates, and artificial flavoring, preservatives, and coloring. Processing all of that stuff at once is really hard on the liver. Instead, go for whole grain cereals without preservatives or dyes. Look for labels that indicate the product is high in fiber and has been fortified with extra vitamins and minerals. Then add the sweetness you crave with fresh or dried fruit, rather than sugar.
Most fast food hits the unhealthy trifecta of being extremely high in cholesterol, simple carbs, and sugar. Even savory foods that you wouldn’t expect are shockingly high in sugar, because this helps to cement the craving for them in your brain. Though not quite the same, a good way to step down from an addiction to fast food is to seek out copycat recipes online that you can make at home. You will be able to reduce the amount of unhealthy stuff that goes into your meal while still feeling like you’ve had a little indulgence.
Sodas and fruit drinks
The caffeine and sugar in soda is often used as a crutch to fight off exhaustion, but it’s actually really lousy at delivering sustained energy. Sodas are high on sugar or artificial sweeteners, plus artificial coloring and acids that erode your teeth, and they contain no useful nutrients. Because excess sugar is turned into fat in the liver, kicking these drinks to the curb is one of the best things you can do to combat NAFLD.
Fruit drinks are a little bit better, but not by much. The naturally occurring sugar in fruit is concentrated when pressed into juice, and all the healthy fiber is left behind. Water with just a splash of fruit juice is a much better option when you’re thirsty. When you need a caffeine boost, drink lightly sweetened tea or coffee instead.
Bacon & other salt-cured meats
Bacon is actually fairly nutritious, containing lots of protein, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, zinc, and potassium. However, it is also extremely high in sodium due to the way it is processed, and has the tendency to increase blood pressure. Plus, about 40% of the fat contained in bacon is saturated fat. It is okay to sprinkle a little bit of it over your baked potato sometimes, but know that all of bacon’s health benefits can also be found in leaner cuts of pork that won’t strain your overtaxed liver.
Red meat is high in fat and cholesterol, on top of being difficult to digest. One study even found that people who consume a lot of red meat have a 50% higher chance of developing NAFLD and/or insulin resistance (which is a contributing factor for NAFLD). Current dietary guidelines suggest no more than one to two servings of red meat per week, and you may want to do even less if you’re worried about your liver. Instead, focus on lean white meats such as chicken and turkey, as well as high protein veggies like spinach, broccoli, potatoes, and avocados.
Cookies, cakes, and candies
There’s not much to say about the unhealthy nature of candy and sugary baked goods that you don’t already know. The sweeteners, preservatives, saturated fat, and chemical colorings simply do not do your liver any good. However, our bodies need a certain amount of sugar, and our brains crave it, too. Dark chocolate is an excellent alternative when you really need a treat – it’s lower in sugar than milk chocolate and contains some healthful antioxidants, too. Other better alternatives to candy include fruit smoothies, frozen fruit puree, and your favorite flavor of tea lightly sweetened with honey.
Moderation is everything
While not an exhaustive list, you can see that the foods we’ve discussed are high in sugar, sodium, and fat – all of which should be limited to protect your liver. Understanding the levels of unhealthy stuff in your favorite foods can help you strike a healthier balance in your diet overall. It’s not necessary to completely avoid splurges when it comes to these ingredients (unless your doctor says so), but reducing your intake greatly will help you lose weight. That is the key goal for treatment of NAFLD, and will do your whole body good as well.