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Refined Carbohydrates Contribute to Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)

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A recent study1 published by the American Society for Nutrition has determined that a diet high in refined carbohydrates may be the leading cause of the development of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in humans.


Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is characterized by the accumulation of fat in the liver. The less harmful form of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is called steatosis and is usually present without symptoms and typically causes no damage to the liver. The more harmful type of this disease, called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), is associated with liver inflammation that, in some cases, may cause the formation of fibrous tissue that can progress to either liver cirrhosis or to liver cancer.


Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is likely the most common disease of the liver in North America, and may be prevalent in up to one-third of American adults2. This disease affects people of all age groups, including children. Most commonly, NAFLD is diagnosed in middle-aged people who are overweight or obese, and who may also have other risk-factors such as diabetes and elevated cholesterol.


In Western countries, the consumption of refined carbohydrates in the daily diet is very high. The term “refined carbohydrates” refers to foods where machinery has been used to remove the natural fibre portions (the bran and the germ) from the grain, with the exception of potatoes. Refined carbohydrates are contained in most processed foods including white bread, sugary cereals, soft drinks, pasta made from white flour, and white rice.


The amount of refined carbohydrates in processed foods has been a growing concern for many years. Past research that found strong correlations between the consumption of refined carbohydrates and the steep rise in obesity and type 2 diabetes in American adults scrutinized food manufacturers for their role in loading processed foods with corn syrup, fructose and other refined carbohydrates3. Now, with new research suggesting that consumption of these carbohydrates can also result in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, it has become increasingly important for people to limit the amount that they consume in their food and drink.


Weight loss, a healthy diet and exercise are essential for reducing the amount of accumulated fat in the liver. The most effective diet for the treatment of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is rich in fibre and low in calories and saturated fat. The following shows simple changes that can be made in a diet to eliminate refined carbohydrates and substitute with healthier unrefined carbohydrates:

  • sugary cereals – switch to Bran Flakes
  • white Bread – switch to whole grain bread
  • granola bars – switch to rice cakes
  • normal pasta – switch to whole wheat pasta

Diabetes and cholesterol control, either with the use of medications and/or diet, are also very important for reducing the amount of accumulated fat in the liver and reversing nonalcoholic fatty liver diease.


Article References:

1 2008 American Society for Nutrition J. Nutr. 138:1452-1455, August 2008.

2 Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease


3 Single food ingredient the cause of obesity ? New study has industry up in arms, 26-Apr-2004.