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Diet - liver disease

Definition

Some people with liver disease must eat a special diet. This diet helps the liver function and protects it from working too hard.

Function

Proteins normally help the body repair tissue. They also prevent fatty buildup and damage to the liver cells.

In people with badly damaged livers, proteins are not properly processed. Waste products may build up and affect the brain.

Dietary changes for liver disease may involve:

  • Cutting down the amount of protein you eat. This will help limit the buildup of toxic waste products.
  • Increasing your intake of carbohydrates to be in proportion with the amount of protein you eat.
  • Taking vitamins and medicines and prescribed by your doctor for low blood count, nerve problems, or nutritional problems from liver disease.
  • Limiting your salt intake. Salt in the diet may worsen fluid buildup and swelling in the liver.

Side Effects

Liver disease can affect the absorption of food and the production of proteins and vitamins. Therefore, your diet may influence your weight, appetite, and the amounts of vitamins in your body. Do not limit protein too much, because it can result in a lack of certain amino acids.

Recommendations

The changes you will need to make will depend on how well your liver is working. Talk to your doctor about the kind diet that is best for you so that you get the right amount of nutrition.

General recommendations for patients with severe liver disease include:

  • Eat large amounts of carbohydrate foods. Carbohydrates should be the major source of calories in this diet.
  • Eat a moderate intake of fat, as prescribed by the health care provider. The increased carbohydrates and fat help prevent protein breakdown in the liver.
  • Have about 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight. This means that a 154-pound (70-kilogram) man should eat 70 grams of protein per day. This does not include the protein from starchy foods and vegetables. A person with a badly damaged liver may need to eat less protein. Talk to your doctor about your protein needs.
  • Take vitamin supplements, especially B-complex vitamins.
  • Reduce the amount of salt you consume (typically less than 1500 milligrams per day) if you are retaining fluid.

SAMPLE MENU

  • Breakfast
    • 1 orange
    • Cooked oatmeal with milk and sugar
    • 1 slice of whole-wheat toast
    • Strawberry jam
    • Coffee or tea
  • Lunch
    • 4 ounces of cooked lean fish, poultry, or meat
    • A starch item (such as potatoes)
    • A cooked vegetable
    • Salad
    • 2 slices of whole-grain bread
    • 1 tablespoon of jelly
    • Fresh fruit
    • Milk
  • Mid-afternoon snack
    • Milk with graham crackers
  • Dinner
    • 4 ounces of cooked fish, poultry, or meat
    • Starch item (such as potatoes)
    • A cooked vegetable
    • Salad
    • 2 whole-grain rolls
    • Fresh fruit or dessert
    • 8 ounces of milk
  • Evening snack
    • Glass of milk or piece of fruit

Most of the time you do not have to avoid specific foods.

Talk to your doctor if you have questions about your diet or symptoms.

References

DeLegge MH. Nutrition in gastrointestinal diseases. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010: chap 5.

Review Date:4/15/2013

Reviewed by:George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

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