Effects of dietary macronutrients on liver fat content in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials

Esther Winters-van Eekelen*, Inge Verkouter, Harry P. F. Peters, Marjan Alssema, Babette G. de Roos, Vera B. Schrauwen-Hinderling, Kay H. M. Roumans, Jan W. Schoones, Peter L. Zock, Patrick Schrauwen, Frits R. Rosendaal, Olaf M. Dekkers, Renee de Mutsert

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review

9 Citations (Web of Science)
101 Downloads (Pure)


Dietary macronutrient composition may affect hepatic liver content and its associated diseases, but the results from human intervention trials have been equivocal or underpowered. We aimed to assess the effects of dietary macronutrient composition on liver fat content by conducting a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials in adults. Four databases (PubMed, Embase, Web of Science, and COCHRANE Library) were systematically searched for trials with isocaloric diets evaluating the effect of dietary macronutrient composition (energy percentages of fat, carbohydrates, and protein, and their specific types) on liver fat content as assessed by magnetic resonance techniques, computed tomography or liver biopsy. Data on change in liver fat content were pooled by random or fixed-effects meta-analyses and expressed as standardized mean difference (SMD). We included 26 randomized controlled trials providing data for 32 comparisons on dietary macronutrient composition. Replacing dietary fat with carbohydrates did not result in changes in liver fat (12 comparisons, SMD 0.01 (95% CI -0.36; 0.37)). Unsaturated fat as compared with saturated fat reduced liver fat content (4 comparisons, SMD -0.80 (95% CI -1.09; -0.51)). Replacing carbohydrates with protein reduced liver fat content (5 comparisons, SMD -0.33 (95% CI -0.54; -0.12)). Our meta-analyses showed that replacing carbohydrates with total fat on liver fat content was not effective, while replacing carbohydrates with proteins and saturated fat with unsaturated fat was. More well-performed and well-described studies on the effect of types of carbohydrates and proteins on liver fat content are needed, especially studies comparing proteins with fats.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)588-601
Number of pages14
JournalEuropean Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Issue number4
Early online date22 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021



Cite this