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patient education : 16210--Nutrition and Cirrhosis

Tip-sheet for patients with cirrhosis that outlines the most important nutritional guidelines for these patients to improve overall health and well-being.

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PDF document icon PE16210_eng_Nutrition & Cirrhosis.pdf — PDF document, 46 KB (47110 bytes)
  1. document content:

    Nutrition and Cirrhosis 

    Good nutrition is important for all of us, but it is even more important if you have cirrhosis. In cirrhosis, your body is working harder than normal, so it requires more energy to do its everyday jobs. Here are some simple things you can do to greatly improve not only your overall health with cirrhosis, but your liver’s health as well.

    Tip #1: EAT!

    Getting enough energy (or calories) during the day to fuel your body is one of the most important things you can do to preserve your strength and nutrition status. If you get full quickly, you can eat smaller portions more often throughout the day; eating 5 or 6 meals/snacks may be easier for you.

    Tip #2: Eat foods low in sodium

    Too much salt in your diet causes your body to hold onto too much fluid, especially in your abdomen and legs. Eating a diet low in sodium can help keep this from happening. You need to eat less than 2000 mg of sodium per day. Reading food labels on packaged foods will tell you how much sodium is in a serving of that food item. 

    5 things you can do to greatly reduce your sodium intake:

    1. Stop adding salt to your foods while cooking or when eating. Use salt-free herb and seasoning blends to flavor your foods instead.
    2. Avoid processed meats such as deli meats, bacon, sausage, ham, hot dogs and scrapple. Choose more fresh chicken, turkey, lean beef, lean pork and seafood as your protein sources.
    3. Eat more fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables.
    4. Avoid canned vegetables or beans unless they are labeled “no salt added”.
    5. Eat fewer fast food and meals from restaurants

    Tip #3: Eat a snack before bed and avoid long breaks between meals

    Your body doesn’t stop working when you go to sleep. It is helpful to eat a small snack (with protein!) before you go to bed so you don’t go too long without giving your body some fuel. This can also help prevent muscle breakdown overnight. Try not to go more than 3-4 hours without eating during the day. If you get full quickly, or it is hard to eat your normal-sized portions, try eating smaller meals and snacks instead.

    Snack ideas (these are low in sodium and high in protein):

    • Peanut or almond butter (no salt added) with an apple, banana, on celery or on low sodium crackers
    • 6 ounces of Greek yogurt mixed with canned, fresh or frozen fruit (can also try mixing with a tablespoon of jam or fruit preserves)
    • Mozzarella cheese stick (low sodium) with a piece of fruit
    • “Very low sodium” or “no salt added” canned tuna, salmon or chicken mixed with mayonnaise spread on low sodium crackers
    • Handful of unsalted nuts (peanuts, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, etc.) with tablespoon of dried fruit (craisins, raisins, cherries)
    • 1-2 hardboiled eggs
    • ½ C oven-roasted chickpeas (“no salt added” canned garbanzo beans)
    • 1 small tortilla with baked chicken, low sodium cheese and black beans
    • Bean salad (black beans, corn, tomatoes, onion, cilantro, lime juice) with low sodium crackers or unsalted tortilla chips (or try on a salad!)
    • Small smoothie made with Greek yogurt, frozen fruit and milk (can add protein powder, dry milk powder or Carnation Instant Breakfast)*
    • 2% milk mixed with Carnation Instant breakfast powder*
    • Ensure, Boost, Equate, or Premiere High Protein shake*

    *If you are on a fluid restriction at home, you will need to count these “snacks” toward your daily fluid allowance.

    Tip #4: Eat good sources of protein

    Eating enough protein every day is very important to keep you healthy and strong, and with cirrhosis, your body needs extra protein. Not eating enough protein can cause muscle loss, and can also make it harder for your body to recover after you are sick. Below are some low sodium sources of protein to eat regularly:



    Beef (ground, steak)


    Low sodium cheeses



    Unsalted nuts

    Protein shakes

    Peanut butter (no salt added)

    Pork chops or tenderloin


    Beans (no salt added)

    Chickpeas (Garbanzo beans)

    Shrimp or other shellfish

    Tip #5: Be active when you can be

    Going for walks, lifting small hand weights, or standing up out of a chair or bed during TV commercial breaks are small ways you can be active on a daily basis to help prevent muscle loss. Talk to your doctor before you engage in any high intensity or strenuous exercise.

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