The liver is essential for body function, filtering out unneeded substances. Small amounts of fat in the liver are normal, but an excess can result in health issues. Fatty Liver Disease, also known as hepatic steatosis, is fat build up in the liver beyond healthy levels, leading to damage, scarring, and even liver failure. Diet plays a large part in the development of non-alcoholic liver disease (read about the types of liver disease, causes, symptoms, and treatments here), so knowing what to avoid is important to maintaining a diet that supports your health. Here are 6 items that you should avoid for liver health.
Consuming too much sugar can wreak havoc on your body. High blood sugar increases the amount of fat buildup in the liver, increasing the risk for fatty liver disease if the diet and lifestyle consistently includes high levels of sugar. Sugar-filed drinks have been tied to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. The risk for weight gain and type-2 diabetes also increases with consuming too much sugar. Sugar has even been linked to increased levels of inflammation and pain. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 9 teaspoons (38 grams) of added sugar per day for men, and 6 teaspoons (25 grams) per day for women.
Stay away from sugary foods such as candy, cookies, sodas, and fruit juices (even those with artificial sweeteners). Although labels are required to list the amount of added sugar in the product, keep in mind that there are many (too many!) ways that sugar can be listed as an ingredient, including: agave nectar, barbados sugar, barley malt, beet sugar, brown sugar, buttered syrup, cane juice, carob syrup, castor sugar, coconut palm sugar, fructose, dextrin, and many more.
Alcohol is a major cause of fatty liver disease, with alcoholic fatty liver disease being categorized separately from fatty liver disease not attributed to alcohol intake. You can read more about AFLD here. Abstaining from alcohol can reverse the causes AFLD, but in later stages, such as cirrhosis, the impact on the body cannot be reversed. However, not drinking alcohol has been shown to increase life expectancy in those with liver damage and cirrhosis. Water is the ideal beverage to consume if you’re feeling thirsty, but to mix things up, try added fresh herbs and sliced fruit or even these 17 “mocktails” that you can enjoy without the risk of liver damage.
Not all dietary fats are created equally, and how foods are prepared can make a significant difference in how your body processes the ingredients. Knowing how to fry in a way that minimizes the amount of oil absorbed by the food, and also using oils that are healthier (like olive oil, canola oil, and peanut oil), allows you to still enjoy foods without the impact on your body of other dietary fats. Deep fried foods typically contain trans fats, which can increase total cholesterol and LDL and also ultimately lead to an excess of fat in your liver. Avoid foods that are labeled as made with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats or lard. Read this guide on how to make healthier fried foods by selecting heart-healthy oils, and even how the right temperature and cleanliness of the oil while cooking can impact how much fat is absorbed into the food. Still, for overall health, the best bet is to limit or avoid fried foods.
While the body does need sodium to carry out essential functions like transporting water through the body and maintaining electrical impulses in nerves, eating too much can also damage the body. Some negative effects of excessive salt intake are high blood pressure, water retention, and ultimately also changes in the liver, increasing the chances of developing fatty liver disease.
Studies show that changes in the liver that are a result of excessive sodium intake range from misshapen cells, a higher rate of liver cell death, and a lower rate of cell division, all of which can lead to liver fibrosis. Fibrosis is the excess of proteins which can prevent the liver from being able to filter properly, metabolize fat for energy, and remove old and damaged cells.
As a guide, the FDA suggests that when reading labels, 5% Daily Value or less of sodium per serving is considered low, and 20% Daily Value or more of sodium per serving is considered high. The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that Americans consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day as part of a healthy eating pattern.
Processed grains include white pasta, and breads and pastries made with white flour. Highly processed grains can can raise your blood sugar more than whole grains due to a lack of fiber. As part of a sustained diet, high blood sugar can lead to insulin resistance, where the body’s cells don’t respond normally to insulin. Glucose can’t enter the cells as easily, so it builds up in the blood. This can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes. It has been shown that NAFLD is closely associated with insulin resistance, as 70%–80% of obese and diabetic patients have NAFLD.
Maintaining a diet full of whole grains and limiting processed grains can help maintain steady blood sugar and reduce the risk of NAFLD as well as diabetes and other health complications. Work to include grains like barley, buck wheat, quinoa, wild rice, flaxseed, into your diet to reap the benefits of their vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber, and antoxidants- all elements that support liver health and overall wellness.
A 2019 study found that saturated fat intake increases the amount of fat that builds up around organs, including the liver. Beef, pork, and deli meats are all high in saturated fats, so when working to maintain liver health, limit or avoid these foods.
Lean meats like white meat (chicken, pork), fish, tofu, or tempeh make great substitutes for red meat. Wild, oily fish is a great option to incorporate into your diet because it also provides omega-3 fatty acids, healthy unsaturated fats with essential nutrients that are important in preventing and managing heart disease, support brain health, and lower blood pressure.
On Wednesday, we’ll share recipes that incorporate foods that support liver health!