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 its treatment.
Although there is a general consensus regarding the foods to avoid when you have a fatty liver, there is no magic pill that cures the fatty liver – and currently no generally accepted medication to reverse it.
Many doctors recommend Milk Thistle (affiliate link) 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 to reverse NAFLD!
And in today’s article, I will share my opinion and answer to the question that I always get: what’s the best fatty liver diet?
Note: This article was initially published in 2014, soon after being diagnosed. I have reversed my fatty liver since and decided to update this article with all the information I have gathered over the years, so this can be considered a new, heavily article (and extremely useful, in my opinion) on what to eat to reverse your condition.
The good thing about a fatty liver is that it appears that there are multiple approaches that work just as well and you have some options out there.
Eating healthy is the most important part of the equation and there are multiple diets that do the trick. What I will talk about today is the diet that I have followed and which proved to work in my case as I have reversed my fatty liver following it.
Many other people on our Facebook support group have also done the same following this diet.
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 as every person has their own side of the story.
I sure did get confused 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 researching 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 a 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.
When doing research, you should really read between the lines. Many people who are recommending a diet or another actually don’t have a fatty liver and never had.
They don’t really understand all the implications, they haven’t tested it. But this diet that I am recommending (any MANY other people, including liver specialists are recommending) has been tried and tested by yours truly and it worked.
I am confident that it was the most important factor in reversing my fatty liver!
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 best when it comes to healing your liver. My answer is:
The Mediterranean Diet
Or, better said, a common sense version of the Mediterranean Diet, slightly adjusted to make it safer for us. 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 as well.
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 – and there are many other liver specialists out there considering it the best possible approach.
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 (but you shouldn’t, since they are healthy). There is also alcohol consumption accepted by the Mediterranean diet – a bit of wine in moderation won’t be bad for a healthy individual – but we have to completely eliminate it.
With everything I wrote above in mind, here is the approach that I took and helped me reverse my condition. This is basically the best fatty liver diet that I wholeheartedly recommend:
– 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.
Many people say that you should stay away from very sweet fruits like bananas, grapes, melons and so on. I didn’t – I ate a lot of fruits and vegetables and still reversed it.
Of course, you shouldn’t eat pounds of bananas each day: eat everything with moderation and you should have no problem. You can read my detailed guide on fruits to eat here after you’re done with this article.
– 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).
But since we need to reduce calories intake, we have to eat just a small amount of nuts and seeds.
– 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.
There are many people who decide to stay away from all dairy products, and that is completely fine. I decided not to do it and consumed them in moderation and had no problem reversing my fatty liver.
It’s important to only eat the low fat dairy, without added sugars or other things though!
– Meat is consumed a few times per week. Only go for low fat meat like chicken breasts (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 and completely eliminate added sugars, which are just as bad. 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 any kind of fat, 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! And if you’re still wondering what oil to use, read my article here.
– Bread is something I still consume on a daily basis, unfortunately, but I have greatly reduced the number of slices and increased the quality.
This means that 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.
Ideally, you should cut bread completely off your diet. If you are like me and simply can’t do it, try to eat a maximum of 2 slices of healthy, whole-wheat bread (without added sugar or other chemicals) per meal. But also keep your daily slices to a maximum of 4!
– Rice & Pasta is something that I allowed 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 and bad for a fatty liver.
Avoid highly processed rice and pasta and go for brown or ideally black rice (or wild rice) as well as whole grain pasta. The less processed they are, the slower the release of carbs in your blood, being healthier! Keep portions small too.
– Sugar: I have never used sugar in any type of food that I prepared at home since 2014 (so that’s almost 5 years at the moment of writing this article).
So this is completely doable, even though in some cases it’s an adjustment to make.
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. There are some sugar alternatives that you can use, but try to keep them at a minimum.
Note: I do get some unnecessary sugar when I sometimes eat out or when I decide to cheat with a bit of cake or something sweet or something unhealthy. But overall I am feeding my body 95% less sugar than was before being diagnosed. And if I managed to do it, you can do it too!
– 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 no sugar (or maybe just a bit of the alternatives) and only natural ingredients. When I cheat, I make sure to make it no less than two days per month when it comes to 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 – one you’ll have to get used with actually!
– Alcohol is something that I don’t drink at all. 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!
Note: I have never drank, not even a sip of alcohol, during the 5 years since I’ve been diagnosed and I don’t plan to ever drink alcohol again to help my liver even more.
You can still live a happy life without it, including a social life. I wasn’t a big drinker in the first place, but like most people out there I enjoyed drinking a glass or two of wine every now and then or had a few beers when going out.
Transitioning to never having alcohol at all was easier than I had initially thought. I also started drinking non-alcoholic beer (usually when going out, but not always) a year after reversing my NAFLD and it doesn’t seem to have done any harm.
But I only did this AFTER reversing it and I am drinking this non-alcoholic beer with moderation (maybe a total of 4 per month, but I have many months when I have none).
– When it comes to beverages, I only drink water mostly, as well as tea and coffee. It appears that coffee actually helps the liver (according to several reports that I have read) but remember to drink it black and with as little sugar as possible, without any artificial flavorings or cream.
Freshly squeezed juices are a treat every now and then – but don’t consider them healthy as they are just a lot of sugar since the most important part of the fruit (the puplp) is gone.
Smoothies are fine, but I personally don’t like them – if you do though, enjoy them! I also treat myself with sparkling water every now and then as a replacement for fizzy drinks, sodas and alcohol.
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)
You can adapt this to your own schedule, of course. The golden rule of thumb here is to eat multiple times per day in order to reduce hunger (the hungrier you get and the longer this lasts, the easier it will be for you to break down and eat unhealthy).
Also, try to eat your last meal or snack at least 2 hours before sleeping.
How much should you eat?
Portions should be small, but you don’t have to eat like a supermodel in tiny amounts. 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 break down.
Reduce portions slowly (make it a process that lasts a month, cutting a bit more 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 permanent lifestyle change that we’re talking about now that you have a fatty liver, so you’d better be prepared.
The key here is calories deficit: this is the one and only thing that you need to lose weight. So if you need 2,000 calories per day to keep your current weight, try to eat around 1,500 calories per day. This will see you lose around half a kilogram (1.1 pounds) per week, which is a safe amount to lose.
During this time, you will also get used with the smaller portions (we usually eat a lot more than we actually need), and taking it slower will have the benefit of making it easier for you to stick to this.
If you’re currently eating 4,000 calories and cut them to 2,000 per day, it will be a lot more difficult long term. So take it slow: not too slow if you need to lose weight, but don’t overdo it either!
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, then stick to my new weight over the years.
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.
Afterwards (or even sooner), you should bring in exercise into play. Exercising is extremely important, so do something extra even if it’s just walking 8,000 steps per day.
The higher the intensity of your exercising, the better. Aim to exercise at least 3 times per week, ideally every day. Here as well you should take it slow and increase intensity every few days.
When I started exercising, I was only “running” on a treadmill three times per week.
However, I was so much out of shape that when I first started doing it, I was only able to run for about 3 minutes straight at a very low pace during my 45-minute session. But just a month later I was running for about 3 minutes with 5-6 minute breaks in between and I kept improving over time.
Today, I can easily run, without taking a break, for 35 minutes (and I could probably do more if I wanted to). So take things slow, but be consistent: you will get there too!
Is this an easy diet to follow?
From personal experience, I can honestly say that it’s not easy. In my case, it came as a drastic change and cutting all those unhealthy foods was difficult.
So probably you will find it a bit difficult too – there’s no need to sugarcoat this. Be prepared!
Fortunately, 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, reducing the amount of fats and eliminating sugars (this was the hardest!).
I always used to have a cake or some candy around me before being diagnosed, and it’s really difficult to put hem away. Looking back at this, it was probably one of the reasons why I developed a fatty liver in the first place.
Fortunately, you will soon get used with eating apples as desert instead of sugary sweeets, so it’s not a never-ending hell you’re going to go through (but the first two weeks will be really tough!)
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 way more sugars than you were probably eating.
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 you’ll soon start to feel a lot better: you will feel less tired, you’ll be happier, you’ll even start appreciated different tastes that you didn’t before.
These will come sooner or later – it varies from individual to individual – but they will come. I think that you will start seeing improvements after the first month, but at the 6th month mark you will feel like another person (slimmer, healthier, full of energy).
And after you will reverse your fatty liver, make sure to still stick to this Mediterranean diet. Don’t get back to old habits as your fatty liver can return easily. Stick to eating healthy, follow this balanced diet and you’ll always feel good!
IMPORTANT: Don’t forget to bookmark this page to be able to easily visit it in the future to make sure that you are indeed following the correct steps and eating the right things for your body.
There’s a ton of information above so you might not remember it all after one read. So bookmark this article and visit it as often as needed.