A Recipe for Living With Liver Disease


Paige Greenfield Fowler

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Grilled salmon with vegetables

If you have liver disease, you have the ability to improve your quality of life by doing something simple everyday: eating. That’s because eating a balanced diet, with enough calories, carbohydrates, fats and proteins, can actually improve your condition. It helps the liver regenerate new cells.

It can also help prevent cirrhosis of the liver and other illnesses. Find out what you should and shouldn’t put on your plate and how you can use your diet as medicine.

Partner With Your Doctor

When choosing what foods to eat, it’s important to first talk with your doctor. People with some types of liver disease, such as hepatitis C, don’t need to follow a special diet. Rather, they should focus on eating the same balanced, healthy foods that are recommended for all Americans.

People with other types of liver disease, like cirrhosis of the liver, have more specific dietary needs. For example, people with cirrhosis who are malnourished require a diet rich in protein. However, they need to carefully monitor their protein intake. A damaged liver can’t process protein very well. Too much protein can cause ammonia to build up in the blood, affecting how well the liver heals.

To play it safe, ask your doctor if you need to follow a diet plan. He or she can prescribe a specific amount of protein—as well as fats, carbohydrates, and other nutrients—that’s right for you.

Pack in the Right Nutrients

Liver disease can reduce your appetite. That’s why it’s so important to get the most out of the foods you do eat. As a general rule, people with liver disease need a balanced diet of fruits and vegetables, protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Try to eat a variety of foods to get the nutrition you need.

Aim for antioxidantsAntioxidants help protect the liver and aid in its recovery if damaged. They also benefit the body in other ways, such as helping prevent diseases like cancer. Many fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants. Try eating produce of all colors, such as spinach, kale, sweet potatoes, carrots, watermelon, and tomatoes. Vary your intake so you get plenty of different nutrients and don’t get bored.

Opt for lean proteinIncorporating the right amount of protein in your diet is important for people with liver disease. Once you know how much you need, fill your shopping cart with lean, healthy options. Some include chicken breast, turkey, fish, dairy products like skim milk and nonfat yogurt, eggs, and beans. To avoid excess fats, bake, grill or broil your food instead of frying it.

Watch your grains. Ask your doctor or registered dietitian how many carbohydrates you need at each meal. Eating too many carbohydrates can add to liver dysfunction and cause blood sugar problems. This is important because people with liver disease are at higher risk for diabetes. When eating carbs, focus on whole grains. For example, opt for whole wheat bread over white bread and brown rice over white rice.

Eat the right fats. Fats are important in the diet because they provide needed calories, essential fatty acids, and fat-soluble vitamins. Whenever possible, eat “good” fats, including polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, such as those found in olive oil, walnuts, avocados, and fatty fish like salmon.

Try These Balanced Mini-Meals

Eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day can help you get the nutrition you need as well as reduce side effects of treatment, such as nausea and vomiting. Aim to eat four to six times a day, and try to include some protein with each mini-meal. Below are some ideas for healthy meals and snacks:

Breakfast Bites

  • ½ C oatmeal with brown sugar, raisins, and cinnamon
  • 1 C milk
  • 1 slice whole wheat toast with margarine and jam
  • ½ C orange juice

Light Lunch

Turkey sandwich made with:

  • 2 oz whole wheat pita bread
  • 3 oz roasted turkey, sliced
  • 2 slices tomato
  • A few leaves of romaine lettuce
  • 1 tsp mustard
  • ½ C grapes

Snack Attack

  • 6 oz yogurt with 2 Tbsp. granola

Mini Dinner

  • 3 ounces roasted chicken breast
  • 1 small sweet potato, roasted
  • ½ C steamed broccoli
  • ½ C orange slices

Key Takeaways

  • Talk with your doctor about your diet. Some people with liver disease have specific needs, such as a diet rich in protein.

  • Antioxidants, found in many fruits and vegetables, help protect the liver and aid in its recovery if damaged.

  • Eating too many carbohydrates can add to liver dysfunction and cause blood sugar problems.

  • Eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day can help you get the nutrition you need as well as reduce treatment side effects such as nausea.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Sep 21, 2016

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View Sources

Medical References

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  2. Diet & your liver. National Liver Foundation. Accessed August 22, 2014. http://nlfindia.com/patients/diet_nutrition.asp
  3. Polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed August 27, 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/fat/unsaturatedfat.html
  4. Sample Menus for a 2000 Calorie Food Pattern. United States Department of Agriculture. Accessed Sept. 14, 2014. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/downloads/Sample_Menus-2000Cals-DG2010.pdf
  5. Tips to help you eat whole grains. United States Department of Agriculture. Accessed August 27, 2014. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/grains-tips.html
  6. Tips to help you make wise choices from the protein foods group. United States Department of Agriculture. Accessed August 27, 2014. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/protein-foods-tips.html
  7. Hepatitis C treatment side effects management chart. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Accessed August 21, 2014. http://www.hepatitis.va.gov/products/patient/side-effects-chart.asp
  8. Your liver will be as healthy as your diet. Hepatitis Foundation International. Accessed August 24, 2014. http://www.hepfi.org/LIVER/L-Nutrition.html
  9. Nutrition and liver disease. Canadian Liver Foundation. Accessed August 21, 2014. http://www.liver.ca/liver-disease/having-liver-disease/healthy-living-guidelines/nutrition.aspx
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