Many chronic liver diseases are associated with malnutrition and one of the most common of these diseases is cirrhosis.

Cirrhosis refers to the replacement of damaged liver cells by fibrous scar tissue which disrupts the liver’s important functions.

Cirrhosis occurs as a result of excessive alcohol intake, viral hepatitis, obstruction of the bile ducts or exposure to certain drugs or toxic substances.

Nutrition and the liver are interrelated in many ways.

Everything we eat, breathe and absorb through our skin is refined and detoxified by the liver thus special attention to nutrition can help keep the liver healthy.

The liver performs important metabolic tasks because it processes carbohydrates, proteins, fats and minerals to be used in maintaining normal body functions.

Good nutrition — a balanced diet with adequate calories, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates — can actually help the damaged liver to regenerate new liver cells.

People with cirrhosis often experience loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and weight loss, giving them an emaciated or very thin appearance.

In addition, people with cirrhosis often experience an uncomfortable buildup of fluid in the abdomen called ascites or swelling of the feet, legs or back referred to as edema.

The foods you need to avoid or limit depend on the type of liver disease and health problems you have.

The following are some of the dietary changes you may need to make; keep in mind this is a guide and a registered dietitian can assist you in developing an individualized meal plan to correlate with your medical needs.

Sodium: You may need to decrease the amount of sodium in your diet. Sodium causes your body to retain fluid. When your body holds on to fluid, you will have swelling which can be reduced by limiting or avoiding high-sodium foods. Some foods that contain high amounts of sodium include:

• Bacon, sausage and deli meats

• Canned vegetables and vegetable juice

• Frozen dinners

• Packaged snack foods like chips and pretzels

• Soy, barbecue, and teriyaki sauces and other condiments like ketchup

• Soup

• Table salt

Liquids: You may also have to drink fewer liquids if you have swelling. Liquids include water, milk, juice, soda and other beverages.

Liquids also include any food containing liquid, such as soup. This also includes food which melts when it is not cold, such as gelatin.

Calories: Eat a variety of foods each day to help your liver work as well as possible and to keep a healthy weight. You may not feel hungry or you may feel full right away after eating. This may make it hard for you to eat enough calories. Eat several small meals throughout the day instead of large meals to make sure you eat enough calories.

Protein: It is important to eat the right amount of protein when you have liver disease. The following foods are excellent sources of protein. The amount of protein follows each listed food.

• Three ounces of meat, poultry (chicken), or fish (21 grams)

• One cup of milk or yogurt (8 grams)

• One large egg (7 grams)

• Two tablespoons of peanut butter (7 grams)

• ¼ cup of cottage cheese (7 grams)

• One ounce of cheese (7 grams)

• ½ cup of cooked, dried, pinto, kidney or navy beans (3 grams)

Carey Stites is a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor and a Registered Dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition. Carey is currently the Registered Dietitian working with Wellstone in Harker Heights. Contact her at

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