Fatty liver isn’t just a problem for people who drink heavily. With the majority of German adults now overweight, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is becoming a widespread problem. We spoke to nutritionist Yvonne Matthei from Nordhorn about the causes of fatty liver and how the right diet can melt fat in the liver.
What groups of people most often suffer from NAFLD?
Every third or fourth adult has fatty liver. It affects up to 90% of people with severe obesity or type 2 diabetes. Thin people can also have NAFLD. Fat can be detected in the liver in even around 30% of overweight children. The number of overweight children has increased steadily in the last two years. Unfortunately, the effects of the corona pandemic are very visible here.
How does a fatty liver develop?
A fatty liver develops when a person consistently eats more calories than they consume. The causes are overeating and lack of exercise. Most of the excess energy consumed ends up as fat in the abdomen, known as visceral fat.
What are the typical signs of NAFLD?
A fatty liver is hardly noticeable for a long time. Waist circumference may increase. Symptoms such as a feeling of pressure in the upper right part of the abdomen, tiredness or concentration problems only appear later. Elevated liver values in the blood can only be detected when the liver is inflamed. Then symptoms of jaundice may also appear.
What are the consequences of fatty liver?
Possible direct consequences are diseases of the heart and vascular system, chronic kidney failure and type 2 diabetes. Due to fat deposits, the organs can become inflamed and, as a result, they can no longer fully fulfill their real functions. This can lead to disorders of glucose and lipid metabolism, high blood pressure, and cirrhosis of the liver, and in the further course, to liver cancer.
What foods are recommended and which should patients avoid?
Bans don’t help. The eating plan should be based on vegetables. A dish is perfect when half is filled with vegetables and the other half is shared with carbohydrate and protein sources, such as fish. Fruit is allowed in moderation, a total of two handfuls per day. Carbohydrates play a crucial role in fatty liver. Any excess is converted to fat and stored in the liver, among other things. In particular, foods that are high in sugar and fat, such as potato chips, chips, or cookies, should be replaced with healthier alternatives.
Why should fructose be avoided?
Not only fruit sugar, but also household sugar should be reduced, since it is made up of glucose and fructose, i.e. fruit sugar. In a nutshell, it can be said that fructose enters the metabolism very quickly. In the liver, fructose is converted into triglycerides, that is, fat. When shopping, attention should be paid to fructose mixtures, such as fructose-glucose syrup, and they should be avoided. They are often found in drinks and candy.
Is it true that foods rich in bitter substances are good for the liver?
Yes, the bitter substances in vegetables, herbs and spices promote the flow of digestive juices and have been used in naturopathy for a long time. When you’re hungry for sweets, they can distract your taste buds. Unfortunately, you don’t change our habits and you don’t conjure up excess sugar.
Does the number of meals per day matter?
Yes, one or two large meals a day favor the development of fatty liver. Four or five smaller meals are better, but not more. Nothing should be eaten for three to five hours between these meals and for 10 to 14 hours during the night.
What influence does exercise have on therapy?
Exercise plays an important role in balancing energy expenditure and calories consumed. Physical activity has a strengthening effect on the immune system and has an anti-inflammatory effect.
Is it possible to treat NAFLD with dietary changes alone?
In principle, this is possible if all lifestyle factors are taken into account. Under favorable circumstances, the liver takes about three months to recover. However, eating behavior is more than food intake. Emotional, social and cultural needs determine how we eat. Therefore, a unilateral and quick solution is not necessarily the correct one.
Fatty liver sufferers have many options to get rid of liver fat through lifestyle changes:
– An adjusted eating rhythm with sufficiently long fasting times;
– an energy-restricted diet that meets energy and protein requirements;
– a low-sugar and carbohydrate-conscious diet;
– an optimized intake of dietary fiber;
– an adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids;
– if necessary, the intake of pre and probiotics to strengthen the intestinal flora and therefore the immune system;
– sufficient exercise;
– avoid alcohol, drugs and ideally also nicotine.