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Cirrhosis Diet

Similar to people without cirrhosis, people with cirrhosis should limit their intake of fats and eat lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other heart-healthy foods. However, some diet changes that are unique to those with cirrhosis include limiting salt, eating more calories and protein, and eliminating alcohol.

An Overview of the Cirrhosis Diet

Cirrhosis occurs when damaged liver cells are replaced with scar tissue. Too much scarring prevents blood from flowing normally through the liver. This causes even more damage and loss of liver function. Cirrhosis can hinder the body's use of nutrients and can lead to malnutrition.

A diet for people who have cirrhosis should be similar to a diet for people without the condition. The ideal cirrhosis diet is a heart-healthy diet -- or one that is low in fats and high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It is also important that people with cirrhosis maintain a healthy weight. But there are a couple of other diet changes unique to people with cirrhosis. A few of these changes include:
  • Limiting salt
  • Eating more calories and protein
  • Eliminating alcohol.
If you have cirrhosis, you should make sure to talk with your healthcare provider about your particular situation. He or she is in the best position to give you recommendations. You also may want to have your healthcare provider refer you to a dietitian who specializes in the dietary needs of people with cirrhosis.

Limiting Salt

Many patients with cirrhosis tend to hold onto (retain) water. This is often first shown by swelling in the ankles, particularly after walking. The swelling may move up the legs to the abdomen. Water buildup in the abdomen is called "ascites."
Too much sodium (salt) in the diet can make the situation worse, because sodium encourages the body to retain water. Your doctor will tell you if you need to limit sodium in your diet. This usually means restricting sodium intake to about 2,000 mg a day or less.
If you need to restrict sodium, here are some tips that can help:
  • Avoid salty foods, salt in cooking, and salt at the table. Anything that tastes salty (such as tomato sauce, salsa, soy sauce, or canned soups) probably has too much salt. Try spicing things up with lemon juice or herbs instead of salt. Fresh foods are usually a better bet than processed foods.
  • Read food labels when shopping. Check the amount of sodium in the foods you are buying.
  • Avoid fast-food restaurants. Most fast foods are very high in sodium.
  • Go easy on meats -- especially red meats, which are high in sodium. When possible, consider vegetarian (meat-free) alternatives.
The more fluid you retain, the greater your need to avoid salt. Your doctor may prescribe diuretics ("water pills") to help you urinate more. But all the water pills in the world won't help if you eat salty foods such as anchovy pizzas.

Cirrhosis of the Liver

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