A green Mediterranean (MED) diet reduces non-alcoholic fatty liver disease by half, according to a study from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. This modified version of the MED diet targets intrahepatic fat more than other healthy diets, according to the 18-month clinical intervention trial.
Professor Iris Shai, the study’s lead researcher, is an epidemiologist in the BGU School of Public Health and an adjunct lecturer at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“Our research team and other groups over the past 20 years have proven through rigorous randomized long-term trials that the Mediterranean diet is the healthiest,” said Professor Shai. “Now, we have refined that diet and discovered elements that can make dramatic changes to hepatic fat and other key health factors.”
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease affects 25 to 30 percent of people in the United States and Europe. Excessive fat in the liver – 5 percent or higher – leads to type two diabetes, cardiovascular risk, and poor gut health.
Currently, the only treatment for fatty liver is losing weight and cutting back on alcohol.
The clinical trial conducted for the study, called Direct-Plus, is the first to develop and test a new green Mediterranean diet. The modified MED diet includes the daily consumption of vegetables, walnuts, and green tea. The dietary regimen also includes an aquatic green plant called Mankai, which is rich in protein, iron, B12, vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols.
“Addressing this common liver disease by targeted lifestyle intervention might promote a more effective nutritional strategy,” said study last author Dr. Anat Yaskolka-Meir. “This clinical trial demonstrates an effective nutritional tool for NAFLD beyond weight loss.”
The long-term trial was focused on 294 adults in their fifties with abdominal obesity. The participants were divided into three groups: healthy dietary regimen, Mediterranean diet, and green Mediterranean diet. Before and after the trial, MRI scans were used to measure the exact proportion of excess intrahepatic fat of each individual.
The results showed that every diet led to fatty liver improvement. The greatest reduction of liver fat,, however, was achieved through the green MED diet. This group dropped an average of 39 percent of hepatic fat compared to a 20 percent reduction with the traditional Mediterranean diet and a 12 percent reduction in liver fat with the more general healthy guidelines.
Furthermore, the prevalence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease dropped from 62 percent at baseline to 31.5 percent in the green MED group,
The study is published in the journal Gut.