Diet said to bust liver fat with plant goodness unveiled by Israeli academics

Beersheba researchers and their collaborators at Harvard say they’ve adapted the Mediterranean diet to make it twice as effective in eliminating liver fat

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Illustrative: A green shake, like the ones in the diet developed by Prof. Iris Shai (id-art via iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative: A green shake, like the ones in the diet developed by Prof. Iris Shai (id-art via iStock by Getty Images)

Israeli researchers say they have found a diet that significantly cuts liver fat, by tweaking the traditional Mediterranean regimen to include special greens. 

“Over 20 years our research team has shown through rigorous, randomized long-term trials, that the Mediterranean diet, rich with wholegrains, fruit, vegetables and nuts, is the healthiest,” said epidemiologist Prof. Iris Shai. “Now, we have found that specific changes to this diet can cause a big reduction in liver fat.”

In an 18-month 294-participant study conducted in southern Israel, two-thirds of participants ate a Mediterranean diet, and exercised regularly. They lost weight in similar amounts, but those who ate the adapted “green” version, featuring less meat, more plant products, and lots of green tea, saw particular benefits in their liver.

“Even though the Mediterranean Diet and the Green Mediterranean Diet led to equal weight loss overall, fat loss in the liver was doubled among those who had the green diet,” Shai told The Times of Israel.

Ingredients for a mediterranean diet (inaquim via iStock by Getty Images)

“The liver is so important for general human health, and fatty liver disease has wide implications, but there’s a lack of drug treatments and a lack of dietary protocol beyond general weight loss, which makes this finding important.”

The modified diet aims for high levels of polyphenols, organic compounds produced by plants, seemingly to protect themselves from stress. 

The study conducted by Shai, professor at Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba and an adjunct professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, was recently published in the peer-reviewed journal Gut. Several Harvard scholars were involved in the study.

One of the items in the diet is an aquatic plant called mankai which an Israeli company, Hinoman, is marketing as a superfood. Shai is an advisor to the company.

An estimated 20 percent to 35% of adults have fatty liver disease, a condition which doctors say increases the risk of insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular conditions, as well as decreased gut microbiome diversity and microbial imbalance. But no drug is currently available and the only intervention is weight loss and curtailing of alcohol consumption.

Powdered form of the an aquatic plant mankai (Schachar Fleishman)

The diet is rich in vegetables, includes a daily intake of walnuts (28 grams), and less meat than a regular Mediterranean diet. It is enriched with green items including three to four cups of  green tea per day and 100 grams of a mankai green shake.

Shai said: “We believe there are components like polyphenols and fibers that modify the microbiome which make this diet help with cleaning fat from the liver.”

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