Best Diet for Liver Disease
Now I will be straight up and honest, the best diet for liver disease never really entered my head not even when I realized my liver was packing in and my life could be days away from ending.
I was pumped with lots of medication and did not realize I was technically suffering malnutrition.
I was a social wine drinker, nothing major compared to many.
And no not judging at all as many of you will have dealt with alcohol in so many ways. Or maybe not at all but you want to reduce your alcohol intake.
Yes I was low carbing which I think did not help and under a lot of stress. I had just been told my job was going after 14 loyal years.
It happens in corporate life and I get it. You have to pick yourself and move on.
I just was not expecting my liver to fail and it seems my diet was key to getting better or even surviving.
So I was not eating that well on the ward and they offered me these cold ice shakes with vitamins and nutrition. They really helped and bit by bit my desire for food came back, I actually stayed on those shakes for a while.
What I did not realize is that what I was eating was not helping and may have been even contributing to my liver disease.
It felt like a random comment from one of the senior nurses on the ward but of course it was purposeful and she said something that made me realize that I need to think about the best diet for liver disease.
She suggested a visit from the hospital dietitian and I can’t tell you what a difference it made and yes I was cynical. However, how wrong I was!
Now before I go into the outline of the diet best suited to liver disease I must stress I am not a dietitian. I am a patient and so my experience is based on the advice I was given by the experts.
I write this as its important to get the patients side as long as you realize getting expert help is key.
For an organization that supported me massively go to the British Liver Trust and they can help you whenever you live in the world or direct you to an organization that can.
I have directed many readers from all over the world to them.
What is the function of the liver?
Have you ever given it any thought? I know I had not and until it really mattered and more fool me.
People often talk about our heart, even kidneys but apart from the jokes aside after a heavy night of drinking occasionally hardly anyone I know really talked about it.
You can read my story of living with liver disease and my symptoms here.
In reality, I don’t think I was drunk very often at all. Yes I loved my wine but it was more a during movie or social lunch thing. I was certainly not what people imagined when you say liver and alcohol in the same sentence.
In fact when I arrived at hospital very yellow because of jaundice they could not find any alcohol in my system at all as I had not a glass of wine for a few days at least.
The fact is the liver is at the heart of our body’s system and without it we will die – its as simple as that.
It’s not all that easy to get a transplant either which is a big myth that they are just a call away as they ain’t on any level. Luckily I did not need one.
Everything from our immune system to getting rid of toxins and the liver is with you every step of the way. Well when its working of course and that’s where the best diet for liver health comes in.
Let’s keep to food though for this blog as it’s about the food your liver needs.
Whatever we eat the liver’s job is to process that food and with the help of bile it breaks down into the components that our body needs.
It creates the energy to live, exercise and to just do the basics when we most need it and of course store it for when we don’t.
Things like vitamins, minerals, sugar in fact everything that we need as a human body is processed internally so we can live a healthy life.
See I said liver health is important!
What I did not realize is that when you have liver disease that whole process is disrupted so you can start suffering from malnutrition. And to be honest I didn’t realize how bad I looked.
Signs that I should have spotted were :
- Not feeling hungry at all
- Feeling sick
- Swelling around the legs and stomach
- Turning yellow because of the jaundice
- Extreme fatigue
And of course I just thought I was stressed.
My stomach was expanding in a weird way which I now realize was ascites which is fluid collection around the stomach and can be very life threatening if it leads to internal
With any illness you need the correct food to be able to deal with the issue of liver disease and that is where a great dietitian can come in. Mine was amazing, non-judgmental and so informative.
Why does salt intake matter if you have ascites?
Water retention is a key symptom which seems at odds with what you would think but the more you drink the less water retention you have and salt does not help one bit!
If you have liver disease you need a low salt diet.
I had never heard of ascites before but it was the reason my stomach was swollen and it’s nothing to do with being hungry.
Quite the opposite actually.
I did not realize that you can hold 20kg of fluid around your stomach.
How crazy is that?
In fact, I could not believe all the fluid coming out of my stomach when they drained it in accident and emergency. I was like where has that come from?
As you can tell I was learning as I went and bowing down to the brilliant medical knowledge that was around me. Liver experts are amazing.
People with liver disease can also suffer with what they called “odema” and this is very different and not to be confused. I had this around my ankles and this as well as my ascites was at the heart of my treatment both as an in and out patient.
Now you may be put on medication as I was but that is out of the scope of this article.
I am not here to dish out medical advice so talk to your consultant or GP and urgently if you think you may have liver disease.
Never be dismissed always push if you get no answers.
It could literally save your life.
I was asked by my dietitian to watch my salt intake level which I think is an issue for many of us. Its not great for high blood pressure as we know.
It’s a bit like alcohol and wheat, until you start to look at the ingredients of labels you don’t realize salt is in everything!
The three things that have been eye-opening since developing liver disease is
- How people react to me
- Alcohol free options
- Labeling, it is truly awe-inspiring when we really check what is in our food and drink and not in a good way
Now I have never been a big salt person for myself but I was shocked to realize that over 70 percent of it generally comes from our processed food.
Those microwave meals are convenient but that is where the benefit ends I have come to think.
But I do like a ready-made meal and sometimes need must. Those traffic light red amber and green information labels on the front of my pasta dishes certainly jumped out.
The rest of our salt intake comes from what we add to our food before we have even tasted it. You see this when you are dining out, the food arrives and people pile the salt on as an automatic response.
It is actually wired into many people’s brains, luckily for me I never ever add salt to anything apart from maybe some salt and vinegar to my chips so my issue was really processed ready-made meals.
Even if you do the basic cooking yourself it is surprising how much salt you can take out.
I was also advised not to use salt alternatives which I think is great advice as the liver has enough to cope with as it is!
There are lots of different spices you can add to your food like chilli and garlic that can add to the flavor and I write about salt and my liver here.
I am sure just my awareness and of course the medication brought my swelling down and it was very bad, and that is an understatement!
So what else was I advised to do?
Now regardless of what I write as I am just a patient. I would really recommend a dietitian and many liver patients don’t ask for one. I was offered the service but if you are not well be bullish about it and don’t take no for an answer.
You will also want a dietitian with experience of liver disease or at least liver issues.
Apart from that the guidelines are pretty clear to follow and actually I was very surprised how well I did .
Here are some headlines.
Eat Frequently and Small
Now this may be stating the obvious as it is part of many good healthy eating plans out there but for liver patients it’s very important that your body gets consistent energy.
There is a danger otherwise that you begin to lose muscle. I know my muscle ratio despite previous exercise dramatically reduced.
If you think about how the liver is key to converting your food like carbohydrates into sugar well it’s also responsible for the release of this energy in between your regular meals.
Now if your liver is not working to full capacity as mine wasn’t and still isn’t really then any food you are eating is only there for use for a few hours.
If it can’t access this food as energy it goes after your muscle, breaks it down and then we feel weaker.
The best advice my dietitian gave me was to eat every few hours and it really made a difference.
Carbs are good so dump your low carb regime if like me its was the cornerstone of your diet!
So think pitta bread, rice, a small slice of toast, a crumpet but avoid really salty crackers. Just check the label and look for the traffic light system if you have that in your country which can be really helpful.
Healthy snacks are key to good liver health with liver disease.
Think about eating something before bedtime
I seriously had a desire to eat something before my sleep although my sleep in hospital was fragmented to say the least.
It makes sense that if your liver is not working to have something before you go to bed so you have energy to draw on and heal while you are in the land of dreams.
I have to say the one of the things that was recommended and it really made a difference was a product called Fortisip or Fortisip Compact drink.
Although you can buy this freely I only used them in coordination with diet advice.
They are effectively well-balanced nutrition drinks fortified with all the ingredients especially if you are suffering malnutrition. For me on the ward and for a period afterward they made a massive difference.
One tip is to freeze them for a bit before you drink them and it makes it taste even nicer. The Banana and Blackcurrant, were my favorite.
As I said, get advice but if you want to read more about them my affiliate link where you pay the same is below. It also comes with its own guidelines. I rate them 10/10 if you are recovering but do check with your dietitian.
My favorite now is a low salt cereal like a weetabix with some skimmed milk but I know a fruit tea cake is also an option. Do what works for you but I really do recommend Fortisip for ease.
Your dietitian can advise more.
However, the one question I did ask is if I am eating as I should be why would I need nutritional drinks and the answer made total sense.
My energy requirements would need to be higher especially in the early months when I was admitted to hospital and just after I left hospital.
I think I used them for about three months and then my dietitian and consultant told me my diet seemed back to normal and I was putting on weight.
Clearly my liver was adjusting to a new way of working or better still it was adjusting to what my liver and body really needed.
Think about your protein intake!
Whatever you think about protein – as a liver patient or someone with liver issues it is really crucial.
Again remember if your liver is not working properly then protein is key to repairing your body tissue.
People tend to think of protein as protein shakes for muscle but in reality protein can be
- Meat and Poultry
- Beans, Pulses ( be aware canned beans can have lots of salt)
- Quorn or the other alternatives if you don’t eat meat.
Fruit and veggies are fine but the advice to me was don’t use these to fill up your hungry pans as they are not protein which your body needs but having them as part of the diet mix is fine and good for nutrients.
This for me was a key point as the diet includes more carbohydrates than I imagined and while low carb veggies can be healthy, because your liver may not be working at full capacity it is those energy rich foods that can really make a difference.
Some surprises in the best diet for liver disease.
I need to have breakfast and that’s a meal I would often skip but do watch the high salt in baked beans, it is really is a lot!
Also, watch your cereals as some are very high in sugar and salt content but have the healthy signs written all over them!
Biscuits as a snack were not ruled out. And neither was a mid-morning snack!
Again the crucial point is frequency before your body makes use of the muscle in your body and makes you weaker. That is certainly what I found.
Baked potatoes, pasta and noodles are all in there as options. Even a good decent curry ( watch the salt) and rice with a chapati was listed.
Even the odd pudding was fine and something I had been avoiding.
That made me a very happy bunny.
Again once you understand how the liver works the advice of the dietitian made total sense.
I guess you could sum it up as high energy, high protein and low salt.
If you follow that you won’t go wrong although the Fortisip drink is a life line especially until you get your energy back.
So ask for the best advice
Like me and whatever your reason for liver disease, you will be judged from assuming drinking problems, to hepatitis and the rest of the stories that people make up.
I was just a social drinker and a mix of genetic, alcohol and stress caused my liver to fail
However, I know people with liver failure who have never had a drink in their lives so you have to wade through all that.
Never be afraid to ask a dietitian or medical professional for the best diet for liver disease. It is actually easy to follow and much less restrictive than you may think.
Always seek advice as this is just my blog from my experience!
On a personal note, having a dietitian to help with the best diet is a must in my view but I know some people don’t get offered it which is crazy.
They are a crucial part of any treatment plan no matter how serious your liver issues are.
I would love to know your view either personally or anecdotally on the best diet for liver disease and leave your messages below. I always respond.