The liver performs many vital functions in the body including detoxification, metabolization of nutrients and creation of blood-clotting factors. Though the liver has a great capacity to repair itself, certain conditions such as cirrhosis or hepatitis can cause such severe damage that this organ can no longer function at its optimal capacity. Because of its large role in the digestive processes, eating a certain way becomes paramount in reducing stress on the liver and preventing complications of reduced function. Generally, a diet to address liver disease focuses more on which foods to avoid rather than which foods to include in your diet.
The Hepatitis Foundation International urges caution about unfounded nutritional/herbal therapies for hepatitis and other liver disorders. While many recommendations might come from traditional use or have some basis in some sort of medicine system, most have been untested and carry no scientific validity. Furthermore, like certain prescription medications, many herbs can negatively affect the liver, which would prove particularly problematic if you already have liver disease.
Importance of Professional Guidance
The liver has a large part in converting nutrients in food to energy. A diseased liver cannot do this as efficiently, making nutritional deficiencies common among patients with cirrhosis and other liver problems. The fact that you also need to restrict certain types of food can compound this problem. Working with a nutritionist or other health professional experienced in designing a hepatic diet can help you create an eating plan that will ensure adequate nutrition while making sure that you address the limitations of your diet.
Considerations for Protein
Protein has a complex structure that is harder to break down than other types of nutrients. Its breakdown also leads to waste products. A normally functioning liver can process protein efficiently, but a diseased liver cannot. The University of Maryland Medical Center notes that excess protein intake can increase levels of ammonia in the blood, leading to a condition called hepatic encephalopathy, which causes confusion and disorientation. Your doctor or dietitian can suggest how much protein you should consume daily. The Hepatitis Foundation International recommends dividing your weight in half to determine your daily intake. Whether plant protein is better than animal protein has come under debate, but the foundation notes that you might tolerate non-animal sources better. Generally, aim for lean sources such as fish, chicken without the skin, and lean cuts of red meat such as sirloin and T-bone.
The University of Maryland Medical Center and the Mayo Clinic caution against consuming raw seafood if you have cirrhosis. Raw seafood has a bacteria that can worsen symptoms.
Reducing Salt Intake
Liver problems can lead to fluid accumulation in various parts of the body. If you experience these problems, you need to limit salt consumption. Eating fresh, whole foods will take you a long way in accomplishing this goal as they naturally contain little to no sodium. Packaged and processed foods such as canned soups and vegetables, prepared foods, and cold cuts often contain lots of salt. Substitute lemon juice, black pepper and other herbs for seasoning.
Carbohydrates and Liver Function
The Hepatitis Foundation International explains that eating large amounts of carbohydrates can interfere with liver function by creating fatty deposits on the liver. Fast-digesting carbohydrates such as white-flour foods and sugary drinks and foods are the most problematic; they cause large releases of insulin, which cause the body to store more fat. Watch your intake of these "bad" carbohydrates, and focus on better ones such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables.