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When Sugar Turns Fatty

The liver is a very important organ that is often overlooked when we feel relatively healthy. Unfortunately, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is often silent until serious damage has occurred. This life threatening disease is often associated with insulin resistance, diabetes, obesity, and metabolic syndrome. Non-alcoholic fatty liver can lead into cirrhosis of the liver if left uncorrected (Dyson, Anstee, & McPherson, 2013). Nearly one third of the US population suffers with fat build up on and in the liver.

Each organ has a specific role in the body that makes it unique. The liver acts as the body's detoxification system and plays an incredible role in our metabolism. Most everything gets processed and filtered through the liver. Because people are consuming many more non-nutrient foods now than ever, the ability of the liver to keep up the detoxification process becomes hindered. Ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and processed carbohydrates are considered non-nutrient foods and in large quantities can increase the production of fat in the liver (Jensen et al., 2018).

This is the reason why NAFLD is often correlated with diabetes and insulin resistance. When the cells in the body do not respond to insulin, it gets filtered back into the liver to be processed and turned into fatty acids through a process called lipogenesis (Jenson et al., 2018). When there is too much fat in the liver, cellular dysfunction can occur causing inflammation and oxidative stress. One of the top dietary interventions for NAFLD is to replace high sugar, processed foods with high-fiber nutrient rich foods, like vegetables and fruits.

Dietary fiber is beneficial for your digestive system as it bulks up the stool and unwanted waste to be eliminated from the body. This is also deemed protective against non-alcoholic fatty liver syndrome. An increase of dietary fiber decreases insulin resistance, blood LDL, and other fat accumulation in the body. Fiber also controls blood glucose levels (Mirmiram et al., 2017). According to a study cited by Zolfaghari and colleagues (2016), individuals that consumed more dietary fiber also consumed less sugar and had less incidence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Dietary fiber is found in abundance in fruits and vegetables, but also in beans, legumes, and nuts. When consuming vegetables and fruits as the main source of fiber, you are also getting phytonutrients and antioxidants that have additional benefits towards oxidative damage. Fiber varies from food to food. For examples, broccoli has 3.29 gram per 100 gram edible portion of fiber versus flaxseed has 22 grams per 100 grams. The recommended dietary intake of fiber for adults is 20-35 grams of fiber each day (Dhingra, Michael, Rajput, & Patil, 2011).

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease can be a treatable illness if caught early enough. The more dietary sugar we consume increases our risk of developing excess fat in the liver. By consuming more high fiber foods, the rate in which our body processes sugar slows down and the amount of fat accumulated is decreased and excreted with fiber. This simple dietary modification can be made by adding more vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains and nuts/seeds to the diet and replacing the processed white flours and sugary foods.


Dhingra, D., Michael, M., Rajput, H., & Patil, R. T. (2011). Dietary fibre in foods: a review. Journal of food science and technology, 49(3), 255-66.

Dyson, J.K., Anstee, Q.M., & McPherson, S. (2013). Republished: Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: a practical approach to treatment. BMJ, 91(1072). DOI.

Jensen, T., Abdelmalek, M. F., Sullivan, S., Nadeau, K. J., Green, M., Roncal, C., Nakagawa, T., Kuwabara, M., Sato, Y., Kang, D. H., Tolan, D. R., Sanchez-Lozada, L. G., Rosen, H. R., Lanaspa, M. A., Diehl, A. M., … Johnson, R. J. (2018). Fructose and sugar: A major mediator of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Journal of hepatology, 68(5), 1063-1075.

Mirmiran, P., Amirhamidi, Z., Ejtahed, H. S., Bahadoran, Z., & Azizi, F. (2017). Relationship between Diet and Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: A Review Article. Iranian journal of public health, 46(8), 1007-1017.

Zolfaghari, H., Askari, G., Siassi, F., Feizi, A., & Sotoudeh, G. (2016). Intake of Nutrients, Fiber, and Sugar in Patients with Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease in Comparison to Healthy Individuals. International journal of preventive medicine, 7, 98. doi:10.4103/2008-7802.188083

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