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Liver Habits Score

Liver fat and the Mediterranean Diet

Changing your dietary habits so you can enjoy alcohol with less risk.

Brooks Powell

December 1, 2021

KEY TAKEAWAYS

“Blue Zones” are regions of the world where, it is claimed, a higher than usual number of people live much longer than average. The term first appeared on a National Geographic magazine cover story called “The Secrets of a Long Life”. In total, there are 5 regions that classify as blue zones, which is typically designated by a large percentage of people that become “centenarians”—that is, people who live to be 100+ years old.

“It’s reported that residents of these places produce a high rate of centenarians, suffer a fraction of the diseases that commonly kill people in other parts of the developed world, and enjoy more years of good health.” (National Geographic)

That is, not only do a portion of the people live to be 100+, but the general populace of the region goes in total to enjoy longer, healthier, and happier lives.

At Cheers, this is core to why we exist, except through the particular lens of alcohol and liver-related health. Our mission & vision statements are as follows:

Mission (what we do each day): “Bringing people together by promoting fun, responsible, and health-conscious alcohol consumption.”

Vision (our long term goal): “A world where everyone can enjoy alcohol throughout a long, healthy, and happy life.”

Core to our belief is that when used properly, alcohol can not only be part of a long, healthy, and happy life, but may even enhance it. Alcohol serves a bonafide beneficial purpose to humanity through its chemical abilities to reduce barriers and bring people together.

Alcohol isn’t without imperfections, such as disease, drunken mistakes, hangovers, etc. However, to get rid of alcohol just because of some of its risks is to throw the baby out with the bath water. Instead, at Cheers, our goal is to reduce the risks and negative effects of alcohol (it’s downsides) while allowing for its beneficial effects to be enjoyed (it’s upsides). It’s quite simple: reduce the bad of alcohol; but promote the good of alcohol.

One thing that’s so interesting about studying Blue Zones is that in all cases except for one, regular alcohol consumption is part of the lifestyle. Of the 5 original blue zones, 4 of them drink (one abstains for religious reasons), and 2 of them are based in the Mediterranean. As we will discuss, all of the blue zones contain a number of dietary similarities.

One thing that’s clear from studying blue zones is that alcohol consumption and a long life are not inherently at odds with one another if you’re smart about it.

In this article we will primarily be discussing the Mediterranean Diet (MD). Why? Because it is the most studied diet in the world in regard to academic research—especially in relation to liver health. While it may not be inherently better than the diet of those in Okinawa (Japan) or Nicoya (Costa Rica), they share similarities, and the research around diet and liver health is focused on the MD, therefore that’s where we will spend our focus.

If you’re looking to understand the dietary practices that could help set you up for long-term liver health, then you’ve found the right article.

The problems of the Standard American Diet / Western Diet

If you’ve never heard of the “Western Diet”, then it’s pretty simple… it’s what you likely eat. Even if it’s not what you personally eat, it’s what most Americans eat.

One of the simplest ways to look at a diet is to see what it maximally consists of and what it minimally consists of. That is, what it typically has more of and what it typically has less of.

The Western Diet is often defined as a modern dietary pattern that is generally characterized by high intakes of red meat, processed meat, pre-packaged foods, butter, candy and sweets, fried foods, conventionally-raised animal products, high-fat dairy products, eggs, refined grains, potatoes, corn (and high-fructose corn syrup) and high-sugar drinks, and low intakes of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, grass-fed animal products, fish, nuts, and seeds.

When looking at the primary source of calories in the Western Diet, you can basically look to 2 places: fast food and packaged goods. In fact, more than half of the average American diet comes from “ultra-processed foods”.

The fast food looks something like this:


And the packaged goods look something like this:


For the sake of brevity in this article, we won’t focus on the “why” the Western Diet is so bad. That is, we won’t focus on the mechanisms by which it causes obesity and disease. However, if you’re looking for a quick glimpse into this, you can read our article on sugar and liver health.

Instead, to prove our point, we’ll simply show you the effects of the Western Diet over time.

As far as fast food’s rise in popularity goes, we can simply look at their founding date. McDonald’s was founded in 1955. Burger King was founded in 1954. KFC was founded in 1952. Chick-fil-A was founded in 1946. Wendy’s was founded in 1969. Taco Bell was founded in 1962.

You can also look at American sugar consumption by each two decades:


If you look at the obesity of Americans chart, you may notice that the % of “overweight” men is trending downwards. Why? Because more and more people are transitioning from “overweight” to “obese” and “extremely obese”.

Not only is the standard American’s diet making them fat… it’s making them sick across a number of diseases. Heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc. is all on the rise in tandem with obesity. However, in as much as we are concerned with alcohol and liver-related health, let’s look at its impact on liver disease.

As we have explained in another article, many forms of chronic liver disease start with an accumulation of liver fat. In other words, if you’re looking to avoid liver disease, you should work to reduce liver fat as a primary concern.

One thing is very clear. The Standard American Diet (or Western Diet) has failed us in regards to liver health.

If our diet is currently hurting our liver, what can we do to protect and heal our livers? Drinkers experience a greater tax on our livers because of the alcohol. Therefore, besides drinking less and with a reduced frequency, one of the things that drinkers must do is work on other areas of their life to boost their liver health, such as reducing sugar consumption, exercising more, and eating better. Therefore, let’s start discussing how to eat better.


Enter the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet puts a large emphasis on healthy fats, complex carbs, and plenty of vegetables, and is typically accompanied by a lifestyle that is “effortlessly active” —that is, a lifestyle that forces one to be active without thinking about it, like that of a farmer or shepherd. It’s important to note that the Mediterranean Diet isn’t some super-optimized perfect diet. Rather, it’s looked to as an example of one of the healthiest diets because 1) people following it  live much longer on average than other individuals, and 2) as a result of #1, it has quickly become the most studied diet, so there’s a lot of data to draw from. If you look at the Mediterranean Food Pyramid above, you’ll notice that it doesn’t list the number of servings for each food group. Accordingly you should look at this as a guide, and tailor it to your personal nutritional needs and practical limitations. That being said, let’s look at why this diet is so healthy.

Excessive intake of saturated fats has been linked to increased blood lipid and triglyceride levels, and heart disease, along with a range of resulting issues from those effects. You might also remember in our article “You Can Be a Drinker or You Can Be Overweight, but You Can’t Be Both”, that high blood concentrations of lipids and triglycerides can contribute to fat accumulation in the liver. Saturated fats are typically found in animal sources, such as meat and milk products, and are usually solid at room temperature. Throughout history, these animal products (and thus, saturated fat) would’ve been a minimal part of most people’s daily diets, due to livestock requiring a large amount of time and resources to produce. With the advent of modern farming techniques over the last century though, livestock has become cheaper and cheaper to raise, and animal products are now a staple of the Western Diet. Think of how many meals you had over the past week where meat wasn’t the centerpiece. Unless you intentionally avoid animal products, I’m willing to bet it’s not many.

However, fats are necessary for the body. They provide a longer lasting source of energy than carbs alone, and are essential for the production of hormones, which regulate many of the body’s functions. People following the Mediterranean Diet navigate this inconvenient duality by putting an emphasis on unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats typically come from plant sources, and can usually be found as a liquid at room temperature. They provide all the same nutrients as unsaturated fats, so the body can complete its essential functions, but don’t have quite the same effect on blood lipid concentrations. This is possible because the Mediterranean Diet focuses much more on plant products than meat, and a large portion of the meat eaten is from fish and seafood, which are naturally very low in fat. This allows them to get all of the necessary benefits of fat, while minimizing the negative effects.


The other main change that the Mediterranean Diet makes is a focus on “slow-acting” complex carbs and whole grains, as opposed to “fast-acting” processed carbs and sugars. As a matter of obvious logic, you are limited in how much energy you can use at once, and the excess has to go somewhere; in this case, body fat. When you ingest food, your body immediately gets to work converting most of it to glucose. Without getting too technical, this is basically the core molecule that your body produces nearly all of its energy from. Glucose then is distributed through your bloodstream to all your cells, to be immediately used or converted and stored. There are many bottlenecks that slow the conversion of food to glucose, and so under normal conditions your body will produce a steady supply of glucose over multiple hours, and then trigger a hunger response around the time of your next meal. 

The issue comes when ingesting carbs that don’t take as long to break down to glucose, or just ingesting glucose directly. Suddenly, your body is turning the same amount of food to glucose over a much shorter time period. As mentioned above, when your bloodstream has more glucose than it can immediately use, it is stored. This influx of glucose leads to a greater potential accumulation of fat from the same number of calories (this can also lead to insulin resistance, the main cause of type 2 diabetes, though that’s outside the scope of this article). Additionally, when your body runs out of food to break down, it triggers the same hunger response it would otherwise, causing individuals to need more frequent meals throughout the day to remain satisfied. Complex carbs require a longer process to be converted to glucose, and so they are able to be utilized for energy over a longer time period, alleviating many of the issues caused by simple carbs.

The nice thing about the Mediterranean Diet is that it’s reasonably easy to follow day to day. Basically, if it’s something that’s a traditionally “healthy” food, it’s allowed. Think brown rice over white, fish and veggies over beef and pork, olive oil instead of butter. Anyone that’s tried Keto and had to track their carbs down the gram would find this immensely refreshing. At the end of the day, a diet doesn’t work if you’re unwilling or unable to follow it.

As we’ve mentioned multiple times before, holistic liver health is very important to us, and if someone wants to drink regularly, steps need to be taken to help ensure they can properly enjoy life for many years to come. In this case, quite literally, one needs to eat their vegetables before they can have dessert.


¡Salud!

Brooks, Founder of Cheers





This blog provides general information and discussions about health and related subjects. The information and other content provided in this blog, website, or in any linked materials are not intended and should not be considered, or used as a substitute for, medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This blog does not constitute the practice of any medical, nursing or other professional health care advice, diagnosis or treatment. We cannot diagnose conditions, provide second opinions or make specific treatment recommendations through this blog or website.

If you or any other person has a medical concern, you should consult with your health care provider or seek other professional medical treatment immediately. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something that you have read on this blog, website or in any linked materials. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911 or call for emergency medical help on the nearest telephone immediately.

References

About Cheers

Cheers is the leading alcohol-related health brand focused on developing products that support your liver and help you feel great the next day. As a student at Princeton, Cheers’ founder Brooks Powell discovered the potential advantage of incorporating the natural plant extract Dihydromyricetin (DHM) into an after-alcohol consumption regimen and began working with his professors to make products that addressed the unique challenges of alcohol-related health. . Since its official launch in 2017, Cheers has sold more than 13 million doses  to over 300 thousand customers. The research-backed line of products includes three versions of supplemental pills and powders – Restore, Hydrate and Protect. Cheers is now releasing read-to-drink versions of their products—starting with Cheers Restore. Each product is equipped to meet different health needs such as rehydration, liver support, and acetaldehyde exposure. Cheers places an equal emphasis on the responsibility and health aspects of its mission and vision. The brand’s mission is bringing people together by promoting fun, responsible, and health-conscious alcohol consumption. The vision is a world where everyone can enjoy alcohol throughout a long, healthy, and happy lifetime. For more information, visit cheershealth.com or join the social conversation at @cheershealth.