Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) — or simply fatty liver — is a condition where fat accumulates in the liver.
It’s a progressive disease that can lead to more severe forms of liver disease such as hepatitis and cirrhosis.
Fortunately, you can reverse fatty liver or reduce its progression through your diet.
This article explains what NAFLD is, which foods you should eat and which foods to avoid with the disease, as well as a sample NAFLD diet.
What is NAFLD?
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a condition where fat becomes deposited within the liver.
As the name implies, it doesn’t result from excess alcohol use — the most common cause of liver disease.
Instead, the disease commonly occurs as a consequence of other conditions, namely type 2 diabetes and obesity.
NAFLD is a chronic condition, meaning it takes years to develop.
People with NAFLD commonly experience fatigue but generally have no other symptoms.
Symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes), and loss of appetite occur as the condition advances.
Despite its progressive nature, you can reverse mild forms of NAFLD or halt its advancement to more severe forms of liver disease with diet.
While the evidence for specific diets for the treatment for NAFLD remains limited, a diet that resembles the Mediterranean diet has been shown promote weight loss and decrease fat buildup within the liver (4, 5, 6, 7).
The Mediterranean diet consists of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, fish, and healthy fats like olive oil.
Consuming these foods can help you lose weight and maintain a healthy weight, while also lowering inflammation in the body and supporting healthy blood vessel function (10).
Here are foods to eat and limit with an NAFLD diet:
Foods to eat
- Fruits: Apples, bananas, berries, grapes, kiwifruit, mangos, melons, nectarines, oranges, pears, etc.
- Vegetables: Arugula, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, kale, mushrooms, peppers, etc.
- Whole grains: Brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, and whole-grain breads, tortillas and pasta.
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, brazil nuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, pecans, pistachios, pumpkins seeds, and walnuts.
- Legumes: Black beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, kidney peas, lima beans, and pinto beans.
- Fish and shellfish: Tuna, herring, salmon, sardines, and shrimp.
- Poultry: Eggs, chicken, duck, and turkey.
- Dairy: Cheese and Greek yogurt.
- Oils: Olive and avocado oil.
- Herbs and spices: Basil, bayleaf, black pepper, cloves, garlic, oregano, paprika, and turmeric.
- Beverages: Black coffee, tea, and water.
Foods to limit
- Added sugars: Sugar-sweetened drinks like soda, energy drinks, and speciality coffee drinks.
- Refined grains: White breads, rolls and bagels, crackers, cakes, cookies, and most breakfast cereals.
- Red and processed meats: Ham, sausages, bacon, hot dogs, pepperoni, beef, and deli meats.
- Solid fats: Butter, coconut and palm oil.
- Alcohol: Beer, wine, whiskey, and vodka.
One-day NAFLD diet plan
Here is an example of a one-day NAFLD diet plan:
- 1 cup (80 grams) oatmeal, cooked
- 1/2 cup (70 grams) blueberries, fresh
- 2 eggs, scrambled
- 1 cup (240 mL) black coffee
- 1 cup (227 grams) Greek yogurt
- 1 ounce (28 grams) almonds
- Apple slices
- 1 whole-wheat flour tortilla
- 4 ounces (112 grams) chicken, shredded
- 1 ounce (28 grams) feta cheese, crumbled
- 2 tbsp (30 grams) plain Greek yogurt
- 1/4 cup (57 grams) roasted red peppers and black olives, chopped
- 1 ounce (28 grams) baby arugula or spinach
- 1 slice of whole-grain bread brushed with 1 tsp (5 grams) olive oil and then toasted
- 1/2 avocado, spread
- 5 cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 ounce (28 grams) feta cheese, crumbled
- 4 ounces (112 grams) salmon, grilled
- 1 cup garbanzo beans, roasted
- 10 asparagus spears, grilled
Exercise can also help
A review of 20 studies involving more than 1,000 people with NAFLD found that exercise decreased the amount of fat within the liver, even in the absence of significant weight loss (13).
The same review found no significant difference between aerobic exercise like brisk walking, running, or cycling and resistance training or weight lifting.
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend doing at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) per week of moderate-intensity exercise, 75 minutes to 150 minutes a week of high-intensity exercise, or a combination of both (14).
Here are examples of moderate- and high-intensity activities (15):
- Walking briskly (3 – 4.5 miles per hour)
- Bicycling (5 to 9 miles per hour)
- Weight training
- Recreational swimming
- Jogging or running
- Climbing briskly up a hill
- Bicycling (faster than 10 miles per hour)
- Circuit weight training
- Competitive sports like football, basketball, and soccer
The same guidelines also recommend performing muscle-strengthening exercises that involve all major muscle groups at least twice per week.
NAFLD or fatty liver is a condition that occurs when fat builds-up within your liver.
It’s a common condition and most often occurs in people who are overweight or obese or have type 2 diabetes.
Left untreated, NAFLD can progress to more severe forms of liver disease like NASH and cirrhosis.
Following a Mediterranean-style diet rich in fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and fish can help reverse NAFLD or prevent its progression.
Combine exercise with a Mediterranean-style diet for the best results.