Fatty liver disease occurs when too much fat is stored in the liver, usually defined when more than five to ten percent of the liver is fat. According to the Mayo Clinic, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (that is, fatty liver disease that is not caused by alcohol) affects 80-100 million Americans. Yes, you read it right! That’s a huge number. With all the polished dietary guidelines, that feels unbelievable.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFL) is far more prevalent in people who have type 2 diabetes or other metabolic diseases. Especially obese people in their 40s and 50s are at risk for both fatty liver disease and heart disease. Diabetes, heart disease and fatty liver often go hand in hand.
Previously, mainly heavy drinkers got the fatty liver disease. However, nowadays, one of the primary causes of fatty liver disease is eating too much sugar. As we see, it should be noted that sugar can be just as destructive to your liver as alcohol and the damage it creates in your liver is essentially the same type of damage. So no difference there. You are just cheating yourself if you omit alcohol because you think it destroys your liver, but at the same time overindulge in sugar- and starch-filled food – no matter if it contains natural or added sugars. Your body doesn’t know the difference. Sugar is sugar. And it destroys your liver.
As people become more aware of the dangers of sugar, there is a common misconception that this disease is only caused by eating too much fructose, including high fructose corn syrup, but not sucrose (table sugar made from sugar cane or beets). This is not true because sucrose molecules are half fructose. Specifically, sucrose molecules are made of one glucose molecule loosely attached to one fructose molecule.
When you eat sucrose, it is broken down into glucose and fructose. With the help of insulin, glucose can be taken into and processed by every type of cell in your body. This is not true for fructose. Your liver is the only organ that has the capability to process fructose. So, all the fructose you eat, including half of the sucrose you eat, gets delivered to the liver for processing.
However, unlike glucose that gets converted to energy, fructose gets converted to fat. If the liver is having to process an excess of fructose, it ends up being stored as fatty deposits in the liver!
Some scientists and clinicians, like Dr. Lustig at the University of California, go so far as to say that fructose is a “liver toxin!” Obviously, eating healthy portions of low-sugar fruit or berries (unless you’re in a strict ketogenic diet) will not be toxic even though there is some fructose in it. Remember, the old adage is, “Eat an apple a day, keep the doctor away.” It did NOT say, “Eat five highly-cultivated overtly sweet apples a day”, or “Five glasses of apple cider a day”.
To make matters worse for those of us who have an inkling to love sweet foods too much, fructose, like sucrose and glucose, trigger the reward pathway in the brain. In other words, you can just as easily become addicted to fructose as you can sucrose or glucose! There will be more about the topic in this blog later. As a former sugar addict, I just find the subject intriguing.
Why Care About the Liver?
I have to admit it… my least favorite food going through the cafeteria line in grade school was liver! I would always yank my tray away because I could hardly stand to look at it, let alone touch it or smell it. I always went a little hungry that day (yes, I know it’s healthy for you, yadda, yadda, yadda!).
If you’re like me and always went “ick!!” at the sight of liver, I hope you will join me in a new-found admiration for this important organ by the time you finish reading this section. You may even learn to love liver… well, not to eat… not if you are going keto-vegan!
But without our liver, we could not live. It is one of the primary organs responsible for detoxifying our system. With all the pesticides, herbicides, PCBs, heavy metals, solvents, etc. we are exposed to every day, we should all be showing our livers a little more respect!
The liver is also responsible for fat (lipid) metabolism. It produces the bile necessary for our intestines to break down fat and utilize it as energy. It also actually removes fat out of the bloodstream and processes it. This is a wonderful service to keep our blood vessels from becoming clogged with fat. The liver helps to recycle old blood cells and help the blood clot. The liver even indirectly helps to regulate blood sugar.
Wow! Those are lots of reasons to LOVE your liver and want to protect it from fatty liver disease. Let’s all keep our livers lean, mean, hardworking machines by not eating so much sugar!
It’s a bit ironic that the liver is boomerang shaped. When you throw a boomerang, it keeps coming back. When you abuse your liver by throwing sugar at it, it keeps coming back because it’s one of the hardest working organs in the body…. but remember, even boomerangs break if you throw them against a brick wall! Be nice to your liver and lay off the sugar and, that is, sugar, starch, and grains. Going keto (keto-vegan if you want to stay vegan) is your best bet!