Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD, is a largely symptomless condition with excess fat accumulation in the liver. NAFLD potentially affects liver function and is unrelated to alcohol consumption. With NAFLD, a person is at a higher risk of colorectal cancer, chronic kidney disease, hypothyroidism, gastroesophageal reflux, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and psychological and growth hormone problems. While medical intervention is often necessary, adopting a healthy diet is essential in managing NAFLD. A new study has found that the Japanese diet helps slow the progression of NAFLD in people with this condition.
The Japanese Diet
The traditional Japanese diet is renowned for its emphasis on fresh, seasonal ingredients, balance, and moderation. It predominantly consists of nutrient-rich foods low in fat, sugar, and cholesterol, making it an excellent choice for individuals with NAFLD. The Japanese diet also includes food rich in isoflavones that have anti-inflammatory effects and may help reduce liver fat.
Here are some key components of the Japanese diet and their potential benefits for combating this condition:
1. Fish and Seafood
Fish, especially fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, is a staple of the Japanese diet. These fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce liver fat, decrease inflammation, and improve liver function. Omega-3s also have cardiovascular benefits, lowering the risk of heart disease, which often accompanies fatty liver disease.
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2. Soy-Based Foods
Soy-based foods such as tofu, miso, natto, soy sauce, and edamame are widely consumed in Japan. They are excellent sources of plant-based protein and contain compounds called isoflavones, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Isoflavones may help reduce liver fat accumulation and improve insulin sensitivity, crucial for managing fatty liver disease.
“Food as medicine is a newer concept in the medical world however, in Asian cultures, this has always been deeply embedded. It is well known that food rich in refined sugars, saturated fat, trans fat, and increased calories can cause fatty deposition in the liver resulting in fatty liver disease. The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of seafood and other components of the Japanese diet have been shown to delay fatty liver disease” says Dr. Mekhala Chandra, MD (consultant for Tata 1mg).
3. Vegetables and Fruits
The Japanese diet emphasizes a variety of fresh, seasonal vegetables and fruits. These provide essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber while being low in calories and fat. Leafy greens like spinach and kale, as well as cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage, are particularly beneficial for liver health. Pickled vegetables (Tsukemono) are also served as a side dish. Vegetables commonly pickled in Japanese cuisine include radishes, cabbage, cucumbers, and turnips. Additionally, fruits like citrus, apples, and berries contain antioxidants that can help protect the liver from damage.
4. Whole Grains
Whole grains like rice, barley, and quinoa are staple foods in Japanese cuisine. Unlike refined grains, whole grains retain their bran and germ and are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Consuming whole grains instead of refined grains can help stabilize blood sugar levels, lower insulin resistance, and reduce the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
5. Green Tea
Green tea is an integral part of Japanese culture and is renowned for its health benefits. It contains catechins, which are potent antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have suggested that green tea consumption may reduce liver fat content and improve liver enzyme levels, making it a valuable addition to a diet aimed at combating fatty liver disease.
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The traditional Japanese diet offers a wealth of health benefits and can be particularly effective in fighting non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Its emphasis on nutrient-dense foods, such as fish, soy-based products, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and green tea, provides a range of essential nutrients, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory compounds. When combined with an overall healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise and weight management, the Japanese diet can play a vital role in preventing and managing fatty liver disease. However, it is essential to consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian before making any significant dietary changes, especially if you have an existing medical condition.
Remember, a well-rounded approach to managing fatty liver disease should incorporate various strategies, including dietary modifications, regular physical activity, and medical supervision.
Reach out to the healthcare team today for your liver wellness roadmap.
(The article is written by Monalisa Deka, Senior Health Content Editor, and reviewed by Dr. Swati Mishra, Medical Editor)
1. Nakashita C, Xi L, Inoue Y, et al. Impact of dietary compositions and patterns on the prevalence of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in Japanese men: a cross-sectional study. 2021. BMC Gastroenterology 21(1). Available online: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/354366782_Impact_of_dietary_compositions_and_patterns_on_the_prevalence_of_nonalcoholic_fatty_liver_disease_in_Japanese_men_a_cross-sectional_study
2. Pouwels S, Sakran N, Graham Y, et al. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD): a review of pathophysiology, clinical management and effects of weight loss. BMC Endocr Disord. 2022; 22: 63. Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8919523/
3. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. American College of Gastroenterology. Available online: https://gi.org/topics/fatty-liver-disease-nafld/
4. American Liver Foundation. Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). Available online: https://liverfoundation.org/liver-diseases/fatty-liver-disease/nonalcoholic-fatty-liver-disease-nafld/