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Saturated or unsaturated fat: Which is better for a fatty liver disease diet?

Researchers asked overweight individuals to eat different types of fat to see if one type was better or worse for a fatty liver disease diet.

Fatty liver disease occurs when too many fat cells accumulate in the liver. Many patients are symptomless but people with fatty liver disease can end up with cardiovascular problems and type 2 diabetes. Ultimately, if the fatty liver disease is not addressed, the liver can scar and not work properly, causing serious health issues.

A major risk factor for developing fatty liver disease is obesity. However, researchers have long been aware that some overweight individuals develop fatty liver disease whilst others do not.

A group of researchers based in Europe designed a study to test whether the actual type of fat in the diet makes a difference to the amount of fat that ends up accumulating in the liver and causing fatty liver disease. The findings of the fatty liver disease diet were published in Diabetes Care.

To test the theory, 38 overweight individuals were split into three different groups. Whilst continuing on the daily food they normally eat, they were asked to eat 1000 calories extra a day of a certain type of fat for three weeks. One group ate a diet of fats that were mainly saturated including coconut oil, butter, and blue cheese. A second group consumed a diet of mainly unsaturated fats including olive oil, pesto, pecan nuts, and butter. Finally, a third group ate a diet of sugar including juice, sugar-sweetened beverages, and candy.

Researchers took several measurements before the study started, and at the end of the three weeks. These included levels of fat in the liver and metabolic processes within the body of fat production.

The results showed that all the diets produced an increase in the amount of fat in the liver, as expected from eating an extra 1000 calories a day. However, the diet rich in saturated fats produced a greater amount of liver fat than the other diets. The saturated fat diet also produced metabolic processes that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, and insulin resistance (which leads to type 2 diabetes).

The researchers concluded that the fatty liver disease diet is an important component of care for patients with fatty liver disease. They recommend that saturated fats should be avoided by individuals with fatty liver disease in order to reduce the amount of liver fat and prevent the associated risk of type 2 diabetes.

Written by Nicola Cribb, VetMB DVSc Dip.ACVS

Reference: Luukkonen P, Sädevirta S, Zhou Y, et al. Saturated Fat Is More Metabolically Harmful for the Human Liver Than Unsaturated Fat or Simple Sugars. Diabetes Care. 2018;41(8):dc180071. doi:10.2337/dc18-0071.

Nicola Cribb
Nicola Cribb
Nicola obtained her Veterinary and Master’s degrees from the University of Cambridge, UK, and Doctor of Veterinary Science from the University of Guelph, Canada. She is board-certified in surgery and has research interests in minimally-invasive surgery. She has worked in a clinical setting, as well as research and teaching disciplines for the past 16 years at the University of Guelph, where she is currently Adjunct Faculty. She is a freelance medical writer and reviews, authors, and co-authors publications and reviews in scientific journals and books.


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