Some people with liver disease must eat a special diet. This diet helps the liver function and protects it from working too hard.
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 prescribed by your health care provider 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.
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.
The changes you will need to make will depend on how well your liver is working. Talk to your provider about the kind of diet that is best for you so that you get the right amount of nutrition.
General recommendations for people 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 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 provider 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.
- 1 orange
- Cooked oatmeal with milk and sugar
- 1 slice of whole-wheat toast
- Strawberry jam
- Coffee or tea
- 4 ounces (110 grams) of cooked lean fish, poultry, or meat
- A starch item (such as potatoes)
- A cooked vegetable
- 2 slices of whole-grain bread
- 1 tablespoon (20 grams) of jelly
- Fresh fruit
- Milk with graham crackers
- 4 ounces (110 grams) of cooked fish, poultry, or meat
- Starch item (such as potatoes)
- A cooked vegetable
- 2 whole-grain rolls
- Fresh fruit or dessert
- 8 ounces (240 grams) of milk
- Glass of milk or piece of fruit
Most of the time you do not have to avoid specific foods.
Talk to your provider if you have questions about your diet or symptoms.
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: Elsevier Saunders; 2010:chap 5.
Palmer M. General nutritional guidelines for liver disease, cirrhosis, and its complications. In: Mullin GE, Matarese LE, eds. Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease Nutrition Desk Reference. Boca Raton, Fl: CRC Press; 2012:chap 10.
Review Date 4/20/2015
Updated by: Subodh K. Lal, MD, gastroenterologist at Gastrointestinal Specialists of Georgia, Austell, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.