Is Too Much Saturated Fat Bad For Your Liver?

If you have been diagnosed with fatty liver disease, the best available scientific evidence suggests eating less saturated fat will probably help.

But why is this the case and which foods are highest in saturated fat?

Let’s find out!

Top Sources Of Saturated Fat

  • Beef and other red meat like pork
  • Cheese, and certain cheese heavy dishes ( think Italian, Mexican cuisine)
  • Butter
  • High %MF dairy products
  • Ice Cream
  • Processed meat like sausages, ham, hot dogs
  • Chips, cookies, cakes, pastries
  • Pizza

Saturated Fat & Liver Health

Now the first strong indicator we have that these types of foods are not helpful for those living with fatty liver disease is that the low saturated fat Mediterranean Diet pattern, which I’ve written about previously here, shows the best potential for those living with fatty liver disease to reduce liver fat accumulation, reduce inflammation and to improve insulin sensitivity.

These are all the things we want in NAFLD, and remember that this style of eating is naturally very low in saturated fat.

In fact, the relationship between saturated fat intake and insulin resistance has been noted in experimental studies from 20+ years back.

From here, let’s take a look at what some of the latest scientific papers have found about the relationship between saturated fat and fatty liver disease.

PLoS Medicine 2016

Found that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat ( equivalent of swapping beef with fish, let’s say) reduced insulin resistance in multiple human studies.

Journal Of Endocrinology And Metabolism 2019

Found that, all else equal, saturated fat intake increased liver fat accumulation as compared to different types of dietary fat which prevented accumulation.

Frontiers In Nutrition 2021

A review article which identified saturated fat as one of the biggest dietary risk factors for worsening liver fat accumulation and insulin resistance in NAFLD.

Diabetes Care 2018

An experimental study which found that, when provided as excess calories, saturated fat increased liver fat accumulation by 40% more than other fat types (MUFA).

Nutrients 2016

Found that, in those living with NAFLD, the people who had the highest dietary saturated fat intakes also tended to have higher liver fat content.

Saturated Fat & The Mitochondria

The totality of the evidence points strongly towards individuals living with NAFLD to reduce their saturated fat intake to improve their health.

But why is this?

One of the current scientific hypothesis, as explained in this scientific paper, is that saturated fat negatively affects the mitochondria (a component of human cells).

Our mitochondria have a very important role to play in metabolizing fat and so if their function is compromised, one could see how this failed breakdown of fatty acids could then become problematic and theoretically, potentially lead to increased liver fat storage.

It should be noted as well that a relationship also exists between proper (or improper) mitrochondrial function and insulin resistance.

The explanation above is obviously a gross oversimplification, but gives some indication into where current science is headed.


If you’d like to be on the right side of this science and learn how to optimize your diet to fight back against fatty liver disease, I can help.

One of the first things I recommend?

Swapping out some of your beef and pork intake for more seafood, especially choices like salmon, sardines, trout and mackerel.


Hope this helped!

Until next time,

Andy De Santis RD MPH