Foods to Avoid With Liver Problems

Bacon
A plate of freshly cooked bacon. (Image: Bottaci/iStock/Getty Images)

Liver disease is a general term that can describe many conditions or diseases that affect the liver's functions. Examples include hepatitis, which is an inflammation of the liver, cirrhosis, which is scarring of the liver, or infections. No matter what your liver condition is, if the liver's functions are affected, you might experience problems with the digestion and processing of foods. Avoiding certain foods can help you prevent any discomfort, and prevent any complications related to malnutrition and malabsorption.

Functions of the Liver

The liver is one of the most important organs in your body. It filters your blood, makes bile, which helps with fat digestion and absorption, processes and distributes fats to the rest of your tissues that they can be used for energy, and makes many important proteins. Examples of these proteins include those in charge of blood clotting, and those in charge of fluid transport, such as albumin. In addition, your liver helps metabolize and process important vitamins such as iron, vitamin D and vitamin A.

Limit Fluid and Sodium

When you have liver disease, your blood vessels' ability to retain fluid is diminished because of decreased protein synthesis in your liver, mainly albumin. This causes fluid leaks in your blood vessels, which in turn, causes fluid buildup in other tissues, or ascites. By limiting the amount of salt and fluid in your diet, you can decrease fluid retention and swelling. Foods that are high in sodium or salt include canned soups and vegetables; processed meats, such as bacon, sausages and salami; cheeses; condiments; and most snack foods. You can also determine if a food is high in sodium if its nutrition information label says that it has more than 300 mg of sodium per serving. As a rule of thumb, you should try to limit your sodium intake to less than 2,000 mg per day.

Control Protein Intake

Because your liver functions are impaired, your body cannot process proteins well, which may cause a buildup of ammonia in your body. Ammonia is toxic and can cause brain function problems. Ask your physician or your registered dietitian what your individual needs are, but in general, the American Dietetic Association recommends that you should not eat more than 1 g of protein per 1 kg of your weight per day. Foods that are high in protein include meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, legumes, nuts and seeds, and some cereals.

Avoid Saturated Fats

Because liver disease is usually accompanied by unintentional weight loss, you shouldn't limit fat intake completely. Additionally, liver disease might reduce your liver's ability to produce bile. Bile is a substance created by the liver and distributed by the gallbladder into the stomach and is necessary for the digestion and absorption of fats, which is why it is important you consume enough calories from healthy fats. Your body needs some fats for general health, but choose unsaturated fats, rather than saturated or trans fats. Examples of foods with saturated fats include butter, whole milk and all animal products. Examples of foods with healthy fats include olive oil, canola oil and avocados.

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