When most people think of a healthy diet, a vegan diet is usually near the top of the list.
Depending on who you talk to, you’ll have some vegans who claim it can cure anything from cancer to heart disease.
And while I’m a huge supporter of being vegan, it’s important to understand it’s not a magical diet that will make all your issues disappear.
So let’s go over a few relevant studies to fatty liver treatment, and see if and why a vegan diet may or may not help you.
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Could a Vegan Diet Reverse Fatty Liver?
Other than not drinking alcohol, the most important part of a fatty liver disease treatment plan is weight loss.
You must lose the excess fat being stored in your liver, there’s just no way around it.
Not surprisingly, studies have found exactly this:
- One study found that reducing caloric intake by 30%, or about 750-1,000 calories per day resulted in a significant improvement in fatty liver status. (1)
- Another study found that weight loss through diet and exercise improved or even resolved the disease in those with NAFLD or NASH. (2)
So in theory, if a vegan diet promotes weight loss, it could be a useful treatment tool.
The key component of managing or reversing fatty liver disease in most cases is weight loss. If a vegan diet can help someone lose weight, it may be an important part of a treatment plan.
Research on Vegan Diets for Fatty Liver
Here’s the main takeaway from a study that looked at the effect of vegetarian diets on nonalcoholic fatty liver (3):
Vegetarian diets, replacing meat and fish with soy, and replacing refined carbohydrates with whole grains, may be inversely associated with nonalcoholic fatty liver related to BMI.
In other words, there’s some evidence that transitioning to a vegetarian (not necessarily vegan) diet is correlated to a lower chance of having fatty liver disease.
Considering they replaced fish with soy, that’s closer to a standard vegan diet than a standard vegetarian diet. If you’re new to the terms, a vegan diet is technically one particular type of vegetarian diet.
That result isn’t too surprising to me, since multiple studies show that vegans are generally thinner.
Weight loss is the key component of a fatty liver treatment. If a vegan diet helps you do that, which it may, then it can be an effective option.
Not Just Any Vegan Diet Will Help Against Fatty Liver Disease
All that above stuff sounds great, but studies deal in the general case.
Just switching to a vegan diet won’t work for everyone. There are plenty of fat vegans after all.
Quite a bit of alcohol is still vegan. Refined carbohydrates are still vegan. There’s also plenty of vegan junk food. Not all vegan diets result in weight loss.
The type of diet the subjects followed in the study we looked at above consisted of:
- A vegetarian diet rich in whole plant foods
- Replacing refined carbohydrates (e.g. sugar, white rice, white bread) with whole grains
- Reducing calorie intake
- No, or limited alcohol
The last one’s probably the most important here.
Certain Plant-Based Diets Can Be A Part of a Treatment Plan
Not just any vegan diet will give you a good chance at improving fatty liver disease.
It needs to be an actually healthy one that focuses on calorie reduction. This is typically done by not eating much, if any, junk food, and reducing or eliminating refined carbohydrates that are easy to overeat.
Secondly, you need to be able to stick to it. If you have fatty liver disease, a diet change isn’t just for a little while until symptoms improve, it’s a long-term lifestyle change.
That’s why patients need to work with your doctor or dietician to find a sustainable vegan diet if they decide to try it.
Finally, doctors can typically provide alternative and complementary treatments, while also monitoring a patient’s progress to see if a particular diet change is helping.