Even though fatty liver (NAFLD aka Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease) is a condition that’s affecting more and more people, currently there are very few certain things regarding the treatment of the condition. Although there is a general consensus regarding the foods to avoid when you have a fatty liver, a specific treatment does not exist – or at least there is no treatment accepted by the entire medical community. There is also no medicine that has been proven to help cure the fatty liver disease, but many doctors recommend Milk Thistle which rarely has side effects (which are minor) and is considered by many to help the liver. But following the best fatty liver diet is what you need to do!
One thing is clear: after being diagnosed with a fatty liver, you need to make some (probably) drastic lifestyle changes and changing your diet is the most important of them all. And here is where the confusion begins: if you will look over the internet, read books or even ask people around, you will find out that there are multiple possible diets recommended for reversing and curing fatty liver. In my case, after spending tens of hours reading internet pages regarding diets for NAFLD, things were not very clear. Here is what I found:
– most people recommend a low fat diet. This is probably the common element of most diets and the thing that makes a lot of sense: if you have too much fat in your body, you should stop adding extra, right?
– there are also more specific recommendations: some claim that a low fat, low carb diet works best; some say that a low fat, high carb diet works best; there are people that claim that a high fat, low carb diet is actually what you need.
In other words, the more you look and the more you read about the perfect fatty liver diet, the more confused you can get. I sure did at first and I was kind of shocked to hear a friend having the same problem say to me: “Well, choose one and hope you made the right choice!”
I couldn’t risk it with my life, so I kept investigating even more. I started to compare the fatty liver diets out there, I started to write down common elements, I started to note the things that they did completely different and I started to look into those things as well, from the perspective of a healthy person. Understanding the diet as a whole and finding the best possible diet for a human being (not necessarily one with a fatty liver) was actually my goal and in the end I came up with my own version of the perfect fatty liver diet.
So what’s the best fatty liver diet out there?
I don’t claim to have it, but common sense and all the hours of reading and learning made me realize that there’s one diet out there, available for thousands of years, that works perfectly with the fatty liver diet. My answer is:
The Mediterranean Diet
Or, better said, a common sense version of the Mediterranean Diet. This diet is considered by many the best diet for a fatty liver and it surely helps with your overall state of health, being considered an extremely healthy diet for the heart. You can read over on Oldways about this diet and check out a visual representation of the Mediterranean diet pyramid, showing you exactly what to eat and how often to eat those foods.
Of course, I didn’t take everything for granted and I made some small changes based on my personal eating habits and foods that I have easier access to. I also cut down a bit the consumption of fish and seafood because I don’t really like them. These are extremely healthy though and you should not do like I did.
Here are the basics of the perfect fatty liver diet:
– Fruits and vegetables should be the things that you consume the most. Eat as many as you want and eat them raw, boiled, steamed, baked (without any added fat) or grilled. These things should make up most of your food intake. I am not including potatoes on this list, nor sweet corn – from what I’ve read, these two are not top choice foods for fatty liver and should be consumed in moderation.
– Legumes (beans, lentils, peas) are also safe and can be consumed in high quantities, but not on a daily basis. Nuts and seeds go here as well: I usually use them as one of my snacks throughout the day, but don’t eat too much as they are high in calories and fat (healthy fat, though).
– Dairy foods are also consumed multiple times per week, but with caution and cutting some items off this list. I never eat butter or any other high fat cheese, sour cream or yogurt. Only low fat milk, yogurt and cheese is consumed and not in large quantities.
– Meat is consumed a few times per week. Only go for low fat meat: chicken (skinless) but mostly fish, avoiding red meats for as long as possible. When I eat meat, I go for the leanest possible part and the portion is not larger than a regular adult’s hand. If you enjoy eating fish and seafood, you can consume it more often, even on a daily basis.
– Cook your own food. One of the most important aspects here, because you can easily reduce the amount of fat used. I only use extra virgin olive oil and very small amounts of it, mostly for salads. I cook most of the other dishes without using any oil, or adding just a tablespoon when the cooking’s almost over. After just a few days you will get used to eating everything without the added oil and you will find out that most foods still taste delicious!
– Bread is something I still consume on a daily basis, unfortunately, but I have greatly reduced the quantities. Also, I never eat white flour bread anymore, and instead I go for whole grains bread. Rye bread is the best choice, but if you can’t really get used with the slightly bitter taste, whole grain is good too. Eat a maximum of two slices of bread per meal, though.
– Rice & Pasta is something that I allow myself to eat often, but I found that I can live without so in practice, I consume these product in very small quantities, maybe a few times per month. These are foods high in carbs, and I don’t want to get too much of those either, as excess carbs are also turned into fat. Avoid highly processed rice and pasta and go for brown or ideally black rice (or wild rice) and for pasta, go for whole grain pasta. The less processed they are, the slower the release of carbs in your blood, and the better!
– Sugar: I try to reduce the quantities of sugar as much as possible. We get enough sugars from fruits and the other foods that we eat, there is no reason to add extra! If you can completely eliminate it, it’s perfect! However, don’t replace it with synthetic sweeteners as they are just as bad, if not worse.
– Other sweets are generally ignored too and kept for special occasions. I no longer eat sweets from the stores or confectionery (candies, cakes, chocolate and so on) and I only eat home made sweets. Why? Because I use less sugar and only natural ingredients. Two days per month is enough regarding these complex sweets. I am not counting fruits here, which, as I said, can be consumed multiple times per day and are actually a perfect desert!
– Alcohol is something that I don’t drink at all – not even non alcoholic beer. I’ve read many studies that claimed that alcohol is extremely dangerous for a fatty liver and even though there are some voices that still claim that a small drink every few days will do no harm, I am not willing to take the risk. Hopefully you are not willing to take this risk either!
– When it comes to beverages, I only drink water and rarely tea and a bit of coffee. It appears that coffee actually helps the liver (according to several reports that I have read) but remember to drink it black or with as little sugar as possible, without any artificial flavorings or cream.
How many times per day should you eat?
When you’re following this fatty liver diet, it’s best to eat five times per day, in smaller quantities. I have many days when I actually eat six times per day, like this:
– breakfast as soon as I wake up (which is sometime between 7 and 7:30)
– morning snack (at around 10:30)
– lunch (at 1 PM)
– afternoon snack (at around 4 PM)
– dinner (at 6 PM)
– sometimes a late snack at around 8 PM (I am trying to cut this out though)
How much should you eat?
Portions should be small, but not to have you starve throughout the day. If you are used to eating large portions, don’t try to cut them down too much from day one because you might find it difficult to adapt and eventually crack. Reduce portions slowly (make it a process that lasts a month, cutting a bit of your food every other day) until you reach the perfect amount for you. Remember that you most likely have to lose weigh as well, and keep your weight low afterwards. It’s a complete and final lifestyle change that we’re talking about now that you have a fatty liver, so you’d better be prepared.
You will naturally lose weight!
One of the things that I was advised to do was to lose weight. When I started this diet, I weighted 210 lbs (I am a 5.11 guy) and I have naturally lost weight without any extra exercise, and without starving. I went down to 190 lbs in just three months and this was the reason why I haven’t started exercising yet: you don’t want to lose weight too fast, or you’ll put extra pressure on your liver.
Please have in mind, though, that this fatty liver diet is not a weight loss diet. In my case, it helped a lot because I used to eat huge portions in the past and unhealthy foods. Just switching to lower portions and eating completely healthy helped me lose weight. It might not work in your case (although I highly doubt it) and you should not consider this diet as a temporary weight loss one, but as a complete lifestyle change. Eventually, you will reach a point where your weight loss will halt and if you’re not at your ideal weight, you should start exercising to speed up the process. From personal experience, it’s after the three months mark that the weight loss slows down considerably.
Is this an easy diet to follow?
From personal experience, I can honestly say that it’s not easy. The diet itself is really nice and allows you to try a huge variety of foods and dishes and you’ll never get bored eating the same things over and over again. The most difficult parts (at least in my case) are reducing the portion sizes, eliminating the unhealthy fats and not eating and excess of any type of fat (be it healthy or not) and ignoring the sweets. I always had a cake or some candy around, and it’s really difficult to put hem away. Fortunately, you will soon get used with eating apples as desert, so it’s not a neverending hell you should prepare for.
Fortunately, only the beginning of the race (which is actually a marathon) is difficult. You will get used to this new life very soon and you will start to love all the foods you’ll eat every day, even though there will be very low fat consumption and you’ll no longer consume anything fried. Actually, if you will taste any fried food a few months after switching to this diet, you will find it yucky and way too greasy for your liking. The good part? It’s all extremely healthy and hopefully you’ll be able to stick to this diet even after your fatty liver will be cured.