Fatty Liver and Sugar: How Much to Eat Per Day?

Many people believe that when you have a fatty liver, you should only look at the amount of fat that you consume and reduce that in order to reverse your condition. Unfortunately, that is only part of the equation.

Sugar is just as bad for fatty liver disease – some consider it even worse than high-fat content – and today I’ll answer the burning question in the title: how much sugar can you eat daily if you have a fatty liver?

NOTE: This article does NOT refer to fatty liver and sugar for those who also suffer from diabetes. In that particular case, the numbers are completely different and you should discuss them with your doctor.

With these in mind, we should know that sugar (I’ll also refer to it as carbs) are really bad for a fatty liver. Excess carbohydrates and sugar, will be stored as fat by our body. And this exactly what we don’t need more of!

So apart from completely eliminating alcohol from your diet, and keeping an eye on the types fats you consume, you also have to be very careful with the amount of added sugars you eat each day.

And that’s exactly what we’re going to tackle in today’s article:

How much sugar is OK per day for Fatty Liver Disease?

Ideally, you should not consume any added sugar if you have a fatty liver disease. Sugar equals empty calories that cause harm to your liver, so you should try to avoid it completely.

When talking about added sugars, for healthy people, the maximum allowed amount per day is 37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons for men and 25 grams or 6 teaspoons for women.

The recommendations come from the American Heart Association, but refer to the maximum amount of added sugars that a healthy person should consume.

If you already have a fatty liver, those numbers should be as low as possible – and as close to zero as possible. We’ll find out why below.

First, it’s worth mentioning that different people react differently to added sugars: if you are extremely active, not overweight or you simply have a great metabolism, then you might have no problems with a bit of extra sugar.

Others, however, respond differently and even low amounts of sugar will be turned into extra fat and will do more harm to the body.

The truth is that added sugar is not required in our diets and our body simply does not need it: it serves no purpose whatsoever – it does make foods and drinks taste better, but otherwise it’s just empty calories.

Empty, harmful calories, in other words. Delicious, yes, but there are still treats that you can have without sugar.

Please have in mind that I am talking here about added sugars and their negative effect over the liver’s health. Yes, the human body does need carbs for energy – but we get all that from eating healthy fruits and grains, as well as vegetables and other healthy foods that we consume.

Plus, these carbs are natural and absorbed slower by our bodies, released over a longer period of time, and therefore healthier than added refined sugar.

So… what is this “added sugar,” in the end?

Unfortunately, it does not refer only to the classic white sugar. Companies are using various names for added sugar in their products- tens of variants, to be precise.

The most common, however, are names like sugar, sucrose, glucose, fructose, corn syrup or other types of syrup.

Generally, everything ending in “ose” is sugar although not always added sugar (for example, lactose is naturally found in milk and rarely added to anything else).

Fructose is the carb we find naturally in fruits – but it is also used as added sugar in many other types of food.

All of these sugars add some sweet flavor and trick our brain into enjoying the said food better, but also add a ton of extra calories and fat for your body and liver to deal with later.

Plus, as already discussed, the human body does not need added sugar. (You can read one of the many articles on this topic on the NIH website here.)

Try to stay away from these types of foods and consume as little amounts of added sugars as possible. The idea is that the less you consume, the better your health will be.

Just for fun’s sake, let’s mention that a regular, 12 oz can of coke has around 35 grams of sugar, while a bar of Snickers contains about 25.

This probably paints a clearer picture of things you should eliminate from your diet or eat much, much less of.

Why are added sugars bad for your liver’s health?

Sugar (and, up to a point, all types of carbohydrates) are bad for your health and especially bad for a fatty liver mainly because they are turned into fat through complex mechanics, and stored for later use.

But later, you will eat an excess of sugars as well, which will be also turned into fat.

Plus, refined sugars like all these added ones, are quickly absorbed into our bloodstream, resulting in a blood spike and the release of inflammatory chemicals into the bloodstream.

You can read more in-depth about all the bad effects that sugar has over one’s health over at Harvard’s University website. But you probably know it all already, as it’s been years since health experts are telling us that sugar is bad for our overall health.

However, not all sugars are the same! In other words, 10 grams of carbs from plain sugar and 10 grams of carbs coming from a fruit you ate won’t have the same effect on your body.

The latter will release slower into your bloodstream and provide energy, and as a result less of it (or none, depending on how much you have) will be stored as fat. This is just a crude example, used to show you how things actually work.

While not all carbs are bad (our body needs them), anything that is in excess is. And added sugars are the easiest method of getting unneeded carbs into your body.

This will in turn make the recovery from a fatty liver a lot more difficult

How much sugar should you eat if you have a fatty liver?

Ideally, you should completely eliminate all added sugars from your diet. This goes for all the processed sugars, from the classic white sugar, to all the other sorts of glucose syrups, fructose and other similar additives, including starches and sugar alternatives.

I did write an article about the best sugar alternatives for fatty liver, though and I recommend going through that as well.

I also recommend keeping carbs overall under control and avoid replacing added sugars and refined options with plenty of fruits, for example.

I do agree that we need carbs from natural sources, but even those consumed in excess will have the same bad effects that plain sugar does. I personally ate fruits in moderation and I was still able to reverse my fatty liver disease.

Realistically, though, it will be extremely different to cut sugars off completely – especially early on after being diagnosed.

Unfortunately, we are eating so much sugar on a daily basis and many foods you wouldn’t expect to have added sugar will have it (just read the list of ingredients and you will see!) Cutting them out will be difficult.

And then we’ll have the sugar cravings that we’ll have to deal with. They are a real beast for most (myself included). But it is something that must be done if you want to get rid of your NAFLD.

However, you will most likely not be able to reduce the amount of added sugars to zero. Therefore, an acceptable compromise is to reduce it as much as possible.

For example, if you used to drink your daily coffee with 2 teaspoons of sugar, reduce that amount to only a quarter of a teaspoon, and use something natural instead (like honey).

If it’s too much of a shock for your taste buds, add a teaspoon for a week or two, then add just a half, then get to the lowest amount possible. It took me a few years to be able to go from very sweet coffee to the black coffee that I drink today.

Same goes for all the other types of foods and things you eat. If you just can’t cut out sugars instantly, take it slow.

But do set a goal and make sure you get there ASAP (in a couple of weeks, not several months: that would be too slow!).

Remember that your goal is to completely stop adding sugars or anything similar, but if that’s not possible, reducing the quantity by as much as possible (think something like cutting 90%) is an acceptable approach in my opinion – at least this is how I did it and I still managed to reverse my fatty liver.

Do fruits count as added sugar?

Although fruits have a lot of carbs, they fortunately don’t make it to the blacklist. In this article, we are only talking about added sugars, and not all sugars or carbs – although I did talk about them a bit already.

It’s actually recommended to have a diet rich in fruits and vegetables: despite the fact that they have a fair amount of sugars, they also have fibers, vitamins and minerals that help our body and liver, and are considered natural sugars that are absorbed slower, and therefore do less harm if any.

Not to mention the fact that our bodies have been consuming fruits for tens of thousands of years… so no, don’t even think about cutting down on fresh fruit to reduce your sugar intake, as long as you don’t go overboard.

Dried fruits? Kiss them goodbye because they usually have added sugars (and some preservatives too).

Anything with added sugar must go, but I personally believe that fruits are safe to consume.

Sure, you will need to eat fruit in moderation as well – two pounds of bananas each day, on top of a few pineapples and watermelons are definitely too much. But eating fruits as snacks and toppings without going overboard is definitely healthy and useful.

Remember: our body needs these sugars (carbs) for energy. It doesn’t need added sugars though, or excess carbs.

Conclusion

It’s worth nothing that even though the maximum amount of added sugar recommended by the AHA could be used as a guideline by those with a fatty liver disease, it’s best to reduce the consumption of these sugars as much as possible because, really, you get nothing but empty calories along with the sweet taste.

Always opt for fruits when you feel the need to eat something sweet and learn to sweeten your foods with fruits also (use, for example, a banana instead of sugar when baking sweets).

And if you can’t really cut out all sugars overnight, take it slow, but make it your main goal to reduce sugar consumption drastically if you want to reverse your fatty liver.

It might not be the easiest thing in the world to get used with the fewer amounts of sugar in your diet, but it’s healthy and the right thing to do. I managed to do it and I am sure you can do the same!

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12 thoughts on “Fatty Liver and Sugar: How Much to Eat Per Day?”

  1. Hi, I got diagnosed with NAFLD nine days ago. I went onto the diet: no sugar, low carbs and no saturated fats diet the same day. Can you get headaches from sugar withdrawal? I’m also feeling irritable and tired. Furthermore, I have been dreaming of sugary carbs like doughnuts and caramel corn! Both are junk foods that I didn’t even eat weekly before!
    I am trying to hang on to my sanity. I am very glad I found your site.
    Thank-you.

    Reply
    • The first couple of weeks are really bad, Brenda. Things get better afterwards, so stay strong. Your body does go through some important changes and the things it was addicted to (the sugars) probably make it react the way it does.

      Try to find some replacement for your sweet tooth: eat some fruits, maybe more than usual, to get some satisfaction and stay sane. The key is not to burn out and give in – this is a marathon and you have to stick to it long term.

      Reply
    • I have seen that claim too, but it’s really difficult for me to believe that all those carbs are healthy. I never had it and I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody, to be honest.

      Reply
      • I tried drinking some sugarcane juice and definitely all that sugar is not good for me. I heard that it has antioxidants that are good for the liver, but I don’t think it’s a good idea either.

        Reply
  2. Hi Lynn!
    Thanks for your website, it has lots of ideas for coping with the diet changes one needs with this stuff…
    I am curious though, why you are so dogmatically against a very moderate amount of alcohol, but ready to
    compromise on added sugars.
    Both are bad, and both are unnecessary for our bodies. Both are just a question of pleasure, as far as I see it.
    I personnally always had the intuition that drinking half a liter of coca cola was rather worse than a pint of beer (of course,
    between a liter of rhum and a liter of cola, the answer would be different…).

    Is there some scientific data out there that convinced you for your different approach on those two items that are
    to be avoided for (non alcoholic) fatty liver disease?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Yes, you are 100% correct. If possible, you should reduce added sugars to 0. I personally believe that it’s more difficult to do it than to cut on alcohol. This is why I think that adding some substitutes or using less might be a better choice here.

      In my opinion, alcohol is easier to completely eliminate. And yes, all types of soda/juice should be put on the “not allowed” list.

      But no, I didn’t read any studies comparing sugar and alcohol’s potential harm – it’s just a personal opinion. But I did compromise with alcohol as well and started drinking zero alcohol beer every now and then. After one year of not touching it, it will taste like the “real thing” 🙂

      Reply
    • I have been using it for years no with no problems. Do read the ingredients though, as some labeled as Stevia are mostly erythritol (which I’ve also consumed over the years, but there have been some recent studies raising some questions – I wrote about this on the blog too)

      Reply

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