From the Journals

Tailoring the Mediterranean diet for NAFLD



Adults with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) were more likely to implement the Mediterranean diet when they had greater nutritional knowledge and skills, family support, nutritional care, and positive reinforcement in the media, according to an in-depth study of 19 patients.


Barriers to adopting the diet included “an obesogenic environment, life stressors, and demand for convenience. Poor understanding of the causes and significance of NAFLD adversely affected readiness to change dietary habits,” wrote Laura Haigh of Newcastle University in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England, and associates. The study, which included both standard quantitative methods and semistructured interviews, was published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes vegetables, legumes, fish, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and olive oil in lieu of processed foods, sweets, saturated fats, and red meat. This diet has been definitively shown to improve insulin sensitivity and steatosis, even when patients do not lose weight. This has sparked interest in its use for NAFLD disease, but keys to its successful adoption in Northern Europe are not well understood.

Therefore, the researchers recruited 19 NAFLD patients from a tertiary care center in the United Kingdom for a 12-week Mediterranean diet intervention. Most were female, white, in their late 50s, obese, and had type 2 diabetes. “Participants were taught behavioral strategies through the provision of shopping lists, meal planners, and recipes. No advice was given on calorie allowances or physical activities,” the investigators noted.

By using a 14-point assessment tool, they found that dietary adherence rose significantly at 12 weeks, compared with baseline (P = .006). In all, 79% of patients lost weight (mean, 2.4 kg; P = .001 versus baseline), and 72% significantly increased their serum level of HDL cholesterol. Interviews linked successful adoption of the diet with diverse factors, such as believing that NAFLD is lifestyle associated, realizing that healthier nutrition can improve health outcomes, and having access to transportation and budget grocery stories. Patients generally saw the Mediterranean diet as flexible and affordable, but they struggled to adopt it if they worked irregular hours, experienced substantial life stress or were very busy, or tended to eat for self-reward or self-comfort.

Other cited barriers included “diet saboteurs” (including spouses), the plethora of unhealthy foods available in patients’ environments, low nutritional or medical knowledge, and cultural, social, or taste incompatibility, the researchers reported. Taken together, the findings underscore “the futility of a one-size-fits-all approach” when implementing the Mediterranean diet in this population, they concluded. Instead, their patients valued a collaborative, tailored approach – ideally one that incorporated in-person and group-based treatment, as well as online support.

Funders included the North East of England hub of the Allied Health Professions Research Network, the Elucidating Pathways of Steatohepatitis consortium, the Horizon 2020 Framework Program of the European Union, and the Newcastle NIHR Biomedical Research Centre. The researchers reported having no conflicts of interest.

SOURCE: Haigh L et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2018 Oct 31. doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2018.10.044.

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