Liver Cirrhosis Diet: Foods to Avoid, Meal Plan, and More
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Updated August 28, 2022
Liver cirrhosis is a disease that occurs when your healthy liver cells become damaged and scarred.
This damage and scarring prevent your liver from working properly and can cause many health problems.
Although you cannot reverse liver cirrhosis, you can slow its progression and prevent complications from the condition with certain dietary changes.
This article explains what to eat and avoid with liver cirrhosis and provides a sample 3-day liver cirrhosis diet menu.
What is liver cirrhosis?
Liver cirrhosis is a common liver disease, affecting 4.5 million Americans (1).
The condition develops slowly over time from various factors that injure and scar your liver.
This scarring prevents your liver from functioning properly.
As a result, you may experience symptoms such as (2):
- loss of appetite
- unintentional weight loss
- yellowing of the skin and eye whites
- stomach distension
- itchy skin
These symptoms generally don’t appear until your liver has already experienced severe damage.
Factors that can lead to liver cirrhosis include (2):
- excessive alcohol use
- liver infections (hepatitis B and hepatitis C)
- excess body weight
- nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
One study found that non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) — caused mainly by obesity and diabetes — is the most common reason for liver cirrhosis among all races and ethnicities sampled (3).
The same study also noted that liver cirrhosis is most commonly caused by excess alcohol consumption in whites and hepatitis C in Blacks (3).
Inherited conditions like Wilson’s disease, hemochromatosis, and alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency can also cause liver cirrhosis (2).
Liver cirrhosis can lead to many complications, including (2):
- Esophageal varices: these are swollen veins in the lining of your esophagus, the tube that connects your throat and mouth.
- Hepatic (liver) encephalopathy: a condition where toxins buildup in your blood, which can lead to poor brain function.
- Hepatocellular carcinoma: the most common type of liver cancer.
Although you cannot reverse liver cirrhosis, you can optimize your liver function to prevent or reduce your risk of complications and improve your quality of life by making certain dietary changes (4).
Liver cirrhosis is the unreversible scarring of your liver. It occurs after repeated and prolonged insult to the liver from things like heavy alcohol use or viral infections like hepatitis.
Foods to avoid
You should avoid foods that can cause liver inflammation and worsen your condition.
The main foods or ingredients to avoid or limit with liver cirrhosis include:
- added sugars
- fried foods
- processed meats
Foods with added sugars
Added sugar is sugar added during the manufacturing process. These are different from the naturally occurring sugars in fruit and milk.
Examples of added sugar include:
- regular soft drink
- fruit drinks
- dairy desserts
- many kinds of breakfast cereals
- condiments like ketchup and barbecue sauce
- specialty coffee drinks
Consuming excess added sugars has been linked with liver inflammation and a condition called fatty liver, which can advance to liver cirrhosis.
Liver cirrhosis can cause high blood pressure in the portal vein, which carries blood from your stomach, pancreas, and other digestive organs to your liver.
When this happens, protein-containing fluid leaks from your liver and intestine and accumulates within your abdomen, causing distention. This condition is called ascites.
Consuming less sodium can help lower the pressure in your portal vein and decrease fluid accumulation in your abdomen, helping to relieve the uncomfortable feeling of ascites (5).
Limit high-sodium foods such as:
- canned soups – unless they are low-sodium
- seasoned and packaged rice and pasta mixes
- frozen meals that contain more than 600 mg of sodium
- processed meats such as bacon, sausage, luncheon meats, and hot dogs
- quick bread such as biscuits and cornbread
- American, parmesan, Swiss, and cottage cheese
- condiments such as salt, ketchup, soy sauce, salsa, pickles, and salad dressings
You can add flavors to your foods with lemon juice, dry or fresh herbs, and sodium-free seasonings.
Fried foods and processed meats
Fried foods and processed meats tend to be pro-inflammatory, meaning they produce inflammation and harmful free radicals in your body (6).
Normally, when you consume these foods in moderation alongside a healthy diet, your body can control this inflammation and neutralize the free radicals.
But with a damaged liver, your body can’t fight inflammation like it could if it was healthy.
That said, it’s important to limit or avoid fried foods and processed meats to reduce inflammation and further liver damage.
Examples of fried foods and processed meats include:
- Fried foods: fried fish, french fries, onion rings, chicken strips, cheese curds, etc.
- Processed meats: sausages, hot dogs, salami, bacon, canned meat, smoked meat, etc.
As a primary cause of liver cirrhosis, excessive alcohol use can severely damage your liver (7).
Even drinking small amounts of alcohol with liver cirrhosis can cause damaging effects since the liver is the organ that metabolizes alcohol.
Therefore, you should avoid all alcohol to reduce further damage to your liver and other organs.
Foods to eat
Eating a diet low in sodium, high in protein, and rich in anti-inflammatory foods can help improve your nutritional status and better manage liver cirrhosis.
Many people with liver cirrhosis become malnourished and lose their muscle mass and strength (8).
Therefore, you should consume plenty of protein to support your health and reduce the loss of muscle.
Good sources of protein include:
- Poultry and eggs: chicken, turkey, duck, pheasant, chicken eggs
- Meat: beef, lamb, turkey
- Dairy: milk, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt
- Protein supplements: whey and casein protein powder, branched-chain amino acid (BCAAs) supplements
- Beans, nuts, and seeds: garbanzo beans, soybeans, peas, almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds
- Fatty fish: salmon, tuna, herring, sardines, trout
Fatty fish contain essential omega-3 fatty acids. These fats can decrease liver inflammation and triglyceride levels, a type of fat in the blood, that when elevated, can increase your risk for heart disease (9, 10).
Fish oil supplements have also been shown to lower triglyceride levels and decrease liver inflammation (11, 12).
You can buy fish oil supplements online.
Having a protein-rich snack or protein supplement before bed can further help support liver function and reduce muscle wasting that often occurs with liver cirrhosis (13, 14, 15, 16).
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins and minerals, as well as beneficial plant compounds called polyphenols.
Consuming a diet rich in polyphenols can help lower inflammation and neutralize free radicals that damage your body’s cells (17).
Fruits and vegetables with the highest polyphenol content include (18):
- Fruits: black elderberry, plums, cherries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, grapes, apples, and peaches
- Vegetables: artichoke, spinach, broccoli, asparagus, carrots, red lettuce, chicory, olives, and onions
Whole grains are a great source of fiber and anti-inflammatory nutrients like zinc, selenium, and vitamin E (19).
In one study, people with fatty liver disease who consumed a diet rich in whole grains for 12 weeks experienced a decrease in liver inflammation and blood pressure compared with those who didn’t (20).
Add these whole grains to your diet:
- brown rice
- whole-grain bread and pasta
As a significant source of antioxidants, coffee may have protective effects against liver cirrhosis and cancer (21, 22).
The caffeine in coffee may also be responsible for some of these liver protective effects (23, 24).
Several observational studies have demonstrated that consuming 2–4 cups (480–960 mL) of coffee per day is associated with decreased liver scarring and inflammation (25, 26).
To prevent further liver damage, eliminate or reduce your intake of fried foods, processed meats, alcohol, and foods high in added sugars and sodium. Instead, consume more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and coffee for their liver protective effects.
3-day sample liver cirrhosis diet menu
Here is a three-day sample liver cirrhosis diet that is low in sodium and high in protein and anti-inflammatory foods:
- Breakfast: poached egg and avocado toast
- Lunch: grilled chicken wrap with a side salad
- Dinner: baked salmon, mashed red potatoes, and steamed broccoli
- Snack: Greek yogurt and an apple
Day 2 (vegan)
- Breakfast: tofu scramble and oatmeal topped with berries
- Lunch: garbanzo bean salad
- Dinner: black-eyed pea soup
- Snack: pea protein shake and stovetop popcorn
- Breakfast: overnight oats
- Lunch: tuna patties and asparagus
- Dinner: chicken piccata and a side salad
- Snack: whey protein shake and unsalted almonds
Include protein with each meal to support muscle health and include a variety of fruits and vegetables for their liver protective effects.
The bottom line
Liver cirrhosis is the scarring of the liver that develops slowly over time from various factors that injure and scar your liver.
While you can’t reverse liver cirrhosis, you can reduce its progression and reduce your risk of complications from the condition by eating certain foods and avoiding or limiting others.
Limit your intake of sodium, added sugars, and fried and processed foods, and avoid alcohol.
Instead, eat plenty of protein and anti-inflammatory foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to protect your liver from further damage.