Alcohol is a toxin that in large quantities can affect your health. If your liver becomes cirrhotic, or scarred, your body's ability to break down and absorb fats as well as fat-soluble vitamins is damaged. Because cirrhosis can affect your nutrition in so many ways, working with a dietitian can benefit you in planning meals that will keep your nutrient levels high.
When the liver cannot break down fat because it doesn't produce enough bile, fat passes unabsorbed in the stool. If you have mild fatty liver disease, which occurs in the early stage of alcoholic liver disease, reduce fat intake to 25 percent, the C. Everett Koop Institute states. Choose medium-chain triglycerides oil, a type of fat that doesn't require bile for absorption and is more easily digested than other fats, for use in cooking. MCT oil is sold in health food stores.
Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, vegetables and fruits are the best sources of glucose, the body's main fuel in alcoholic liver disease as well as the best source of vitamins and minerals often depleted in alcoholics. Alcohol especially depletes the B-complex vitamins found in whole grains including folate, or B-9 and B-1, called thiamine as well as B-6. Vitamin B-1 deficiency can cause brain damage called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. People with alcoholic liver disease should not take a multivitamin or nutritional supplement without first getting a physician's approval, the National Liver Foundation warns.
People with cirrhosis also need a diet rich in protein -- about 2,000 to 3,000 calories -- to repair damaged liver cells, according to the National Liver Foundation. However, protein may be restricted in some patients because too much protein can cause a buildup of ammonia in the blood. Do not add or restrict dietary protein without speaking to your doctor first.
Ascites, accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity, is a potentially life-threatening complication of alcoholic liver disease. People with ascites often need to restrict their sodium intake, because sodium increases fluid retention. Your doctor will determine the proper level of sodium restriction for you, but many limit sodium intake to 2,000 mg per day, according to the Digestive Health Center of Arizona. Canned soups, cold cuts and condiments as well as many processed meals contain very large amounts of sodium; avoid processed foods as much as possible and do not add salt to foods or when cooking.
- The C. Everett Koop Institute; Nutrition for Cirrhosis; 2011
- National Institutes of Health; Alcoholic Liver Disease; January 2005
- Digestive Health Center of Arizona; Ascites; 2011
- American Heart Association; Fat; 2011
- Nutrition and Diet Therapy Reference Dictionary; Rosalinda T. Lagua, Virginia Serraon Claudio; 1996
- National Liver Foundation: Anatomy and Physiology of the Liver