5 Nutrition and Exercise Tips for People with Fatty Liver Disease from NYC Registered Dietitian

A Common Health Problem Can Exacerbate Without the Right Care

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If you’ve been reading my blog, you probably know I don’t even like to use the word “fat.” It carries a lot of baggage – more often unfounded than not. There is one thing, though, that is a red flag for health and many more Americans have it than they are probably aware: fatty liver disease. 

Many relate fatty liver disease to alcoholism. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), though, is the most chronic form of liver disease in the United States, affecting between 80 – 100 million people. According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s the fastest growing liver disease in the Western World.  

In the most basic terms, NAFLD is characterized by having too much fat stored in liver cells. Something so seemingly basic can lead to heart disease. If left untreated, and in more serious cases, similar to alcoholic fatty liver disease, the liver can become inflamed followed by scarring and irreversible damage. It’s not something to take lightly. 

First of all, always consult with your health care provider. It’s essential to know the numbers. Those who are overweight or obese, have high triglycerides and/or cholesterol, have metabolic syndrome, hypothyroidism, hypopituitarism, or Type II diabetes are most at risk. That said, with the right diet and exercise, those with NAFLD can stop the disease from progressing and, possibly, reverse NAFLD’s effects, which is of the utmost importance because there is no cure.

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What are you eating? Most of us aren’t aware of what we’re actually eating during the day. Start by doing a food log for five days. There are many apps to help you with this first stage of diet awareness. Once you have a clear idea of what you’re consuming, you can take the right steps to improve your health. These simple changes to your diet can make a big difference:

  1. Reduce sugars in your diet! 
    1. Read food labels and become label literate. So much of the sugars we consume are because we’re not aware of what we’re eating. Ingredients in food labels are listed from highest concentration to lowest. Watch out for words like fructose, sucrose, molasses, corn syrup, honey, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, barley malt, dextrin, dextrose etc.
    2. Good bye simple sugars!  Sugar has been on my watchdog list for many years now. By eliminating simple sugars from the diet, you’re giving your liver a break. So, it’s time to really cut back all those processed desserts.
    3. Reduce sugar intake on the whole. As well as cutting simple sugars, hopefully completely, from the diet, reduce sugars. This means, eating more vegetables than fruits. Restrict fruit intake to three cups/day. Be sugar-aware about your fruits. Berries and summer fruits are generally lower on sugar and give you the extra perk of high antioxidants. Beware of tropical fruits – in particular pineapple, mango, and bananas which are jammed packed with flavor and sugar.
  2. Cut back on alcohol.  And, when possible, cut it out of your diet completely.

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  3. Hydrate with water. For juice-lovers, it’s time to cut back and drink water. Lots of it. Juices are basically liquid sugar (even when they’re fresh). Store-bought juices can have the same amount of sugar as a Coca Cola. And great news for coffee and tea lovers! Drink three cups of coffee or tea each day. When our bodies intake caffeine, we make a chemical called paraxanthine that slows the growth of scar tissue involved in fibrosis. 
  4. Go Mediterranean or DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). This means you want to amp up your complex carbs and restrict your fats intake. Replace saturated and trans fats with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. 
  5. Get moving! Exercise reduces the risk of heart disease, Type II diabetes, and obesity which are all risk factors for NAFLD. So, get moving and get healthy!!

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Get tested. NAFLD can be a silent disease and many might not even have symptoms for it. Ask your doctor about your risk factors and connect with a registered dietitian to help you create a meal plan you can stick to. Awareness and education are half the battle. Being mindful of what you’re eating to make changes to your diet and exercise plan is the first step. Take charge of your health!