All You Need to Know

Liver cirrhosis is a serious condition believed to affect more than 600,000 adults in the…

Liver cirrhosis is a serious condition believed to affect more than 600,000 adults in the United States (1).

If you, too, have received a diagnosis of liver cirrhosis, you’ve likely been told that the condition can’t be cured or reversed.

Still, it may be comforting to know that following a cirrhosis diet may prevent further damage to your liver, protect against complications, and improve your quality of life both now and in the long term.

This article covers the basics of a liver cirrhosis diet, including what it is, how it works, and whether it’s right for you.

Liver cirrhosis is a condition characterized by scarring of the liver. This can lead to impaired liver function and other side effects, including fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, and nausea (2).

Cirrhosis has several causes, including liver disease, hepatitis, heart failure, certain autoimmune disorders, and excessive alcohol consumption. It can also be caused by nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes (2).

Thankfully, if you’ve received this diagnosis, following a liver cirrhosis diet can help you get the nutrients you need, protect against further liver damage, and prevent long-term complications (3, 4).

Keep in mind that nutritional recommendations vary depending on several factors. While this article covers some basic guidelines for a liver cirrhosis diet, it’s best to work with your doctor or dietitian to find a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs.

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Liver cirrhosis is a condition characterized by scarring of the liver. Following a liver cirrhosis diet can help supply your body with the important nutrients it needs and prevent further damage to your liver.

If you have liver cirrhosis, it’s important to get enough calories and high quality protein each day. This can help prevent malnutrition and preserve lean body mass — the part of your body that isn’t fat.

The general recommendation is to eat 16–18 calories and 0.45–0.68 grams of protein per pound (0.45 kg) of body weight per day (5).

For reference, this means that a person who weighs 150 pounds (68 kg) should consume 2,400–2,700 calories and 68–102 grams of protein per day.

People with cirrhosis should prioritize high protein foods and incorporate both plant- and animal-based protein sources into their diet. Adding protein to every meal and snack can increase your overall protein intake and may help prevent muscle loss (5, 6).

Still, more research is needed.

When following a liver cirrhosis diet, aim to limit any foods and drinks that are difficult for the liver to process.

In particular, limit your intake of foods high in unhealthy fats such as trans fats, including fried foods and processed snacks.

Cirrhosis can impact your liver’s ability to produce bile, which is needed for the digestion of fats. Still, unprocessed fat sources like nuts, salmon, and avocados are fine to enjoy in moderation (3).

You should also avoid alcohol, which can worsen liver damage and scarring. If you have trouble moderating your alcohol intake or struggle with alcohol dependence, don’t hesitate to talk with your doctor and ask for help (7).

Because cirrhosis can impair your immune function, it’s also best to avoid raw or undercooked meat, eggs, and seafood. Otherwise, you run a higher risk of foodborne illness or infection (8).

In some cases, your doctor may also advise that you limit your intake of sodium to prevent ascites. Ascites is a common complication of cirrhosis, characterized by abnormal fluid buildup in the abdomen (9).

Because cirrhosis can increase your protein needs and impact your liver’s ability to store carbohydrates, eating several small protein- and carb-rich meals and snacks throughout the day may also be beneficial (5, 10).

Lastly, certain vitamins or minerals may help manage your condition, since people with cirrhosis may be at a higher risk of deficiencies in nutrients such as zinc, vitamin D, vitamin K, and B vitamins (3).

For specific supplement recommendations that suit your health and needs, talk with your doctor (3).

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A liver cirrhosis diet should provide plenty of calories and high quality protein. You may also need to limit unhealthy fats, alcohol, raw meat and seafood, and high sodium foods.

Although exact dietary recommendations vary depending on your health and needs, there are some general guidelines on which foods to eat and avoid when following a liver cirrhosis diet.

Foods to eat

A well-rounded liver cirrhosis diet should consist mostly of nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes.

Here are a few examples of foods to prioritize on a liver cirrhosis diet:

  • Fruits: apples, oranges, berries, pears, peaches, plums
  • Vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, tomatoes, peas, potatoes
  • Protein foods: eggs, dairy products, seafood, lean cuts of meat and poultry
  • Legumes: beans, lentils, chickpeas
  • Nuts: walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, macadamias
  • Seeds: pumpkin seeds, flaxseed, chia seeds, hemp seeds
  • Whole grains: quinoa, oats, brown rice, buckwheat
  • Heart-healthy fats: olive oil, avocados, avocado oil, salmon, nuts, seeds
  • Beverages: water, coffee, tea
  • Herbs and spices: black pepper, cumin, dill, parsley, thyme

Foods to avoid

A liver cirrhosis diet should limit alcohol and foods high in unhealthy fats or sodium.

Here are some foods to avoid on a liver cirrhosis diet:

  • Highly processed foods: fast food, convenience meals, canned soups, packaged snacks
  • Unhealthy fats: margarine, vegetable shortening, fried foods
  • Salty snacks: chips, crackers, pretzels, microwave popcorn
  • Processed meats: hot dogs, sausage, deli meats, bacon, beef jerky
  • High sodium condiments: soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, steak sauce, spaghetti sauce
  • Undercooked foods: raw or undercooked meat, poultry, eggs, fish, oysters, or mussels
  • Alcohol: wine, beer, spirits, cocktails

summary

When on a liver cirrhosis diet, eat plenty of nutrient-dense, minimally processed ingredients like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Meanwhile, limit alcohol, processed foods, and ingredients high in sodium and unhealthy fats.

Although liver cirrhosis is not reversible, modifying your diet can help prevent complications.

For example, limiting your intake of salty foods can promote sodium balance and prevent fluid retention and the associated condition ascites (11).

Further, moderating your intake of unhealthy fats can protect against steatorrhea, or excess fat in the stool, which can be a sign of malabsorption in your gut (12).

It’s important to focus on getting enough calories and consuming a variety of foods. This helps prevent malnutrition, which is a common complication of cirrhosis (13).

Not only can malnutrition increase the incidence and severity of cirrhosis symptoms, but it can also impair immune function, decrease muscle mass, slow wound healing, and reduce your quality of life (13).

Lastly, it’s important to get enough protein. Aim to consume plenty of high quality protein sources throughout the day, including foods like meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, and legumes (5).

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Following a liver cirrhosis diet may prevent or improve certain complications and side effects of cirrhosis.

Depending on what your current diet looks like, transitioning to a liver cirrhosis diet may be somewhat difficult.

For example, it can mean cutting down on foods and drinks you often eat and enjoy, such as packaged snacks, alcohol, or fast food. Further, the restrictions can make dining at restaurants or eating in social situations more challenging.

It may feel disheartening that because liver scarring can’t be reversed, you may need to follow the diet long-term to prevent further damage.

Therefore, it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor or a dietitian to learn how to put together a diet that you’re not just able to stick to long-term but also excited about.

It’s important to work closely with a healthcare professional because liver cirrhosis is a complicated condition that may be accompanied by other conditions or complications. Together, you can ensure your diet plan meets your body’s needs.

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A liver cirrhosis diet may be difficult to follow and usually needs to be followed long-term to prevent further liver damage. It also requires you to work closely with a healthcare professional to tailor your diet to your specific needs.

While a diet plan based on the details above can be a good starting point for those with liver problems, it’s important to also work with a healthcare professional. They can help determine whether a liver cirrhosis diet is right for you.

They may recommend combining certain dietary changes with other treatments, such as prescription medications, certain medical procedures, or lifestyle changes like exercise or quitting smoking.

Additionally, they may advise you to take certain supplements to protect against nutritional deficiencies caused by cirrhosis and malabsorption.

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If you have liver cirrhosis, it’s important to talk with your doctor or a dietitian to find a specific treatment plan that meets your needs.

Liver cirrhosis is a serious issue that causes irreversible scarring of the liver.

Making changes to your diet can be an effective way to protect against complications and prevent the disease from progressing.

Be sure to work with a healthcare professional to find a course of treatment and diet plan tailored to your needs.