Liver cirrhosis is a serious disease.

It occurs when healthy liver cells are damaged and replaced by scar tissue, usually as a result of alcohol abuse or chronic hepatitis.

Nutrition plays an important role in not only improving liver health but also in preventing or reducing complications of the disease.

This article explains what liver cirrhosis is, which foods you should eat and which foods to avoid with the disease as well as a sample cirrhosis diet.

What Is Liver Cirrhosis?

Cirrhosis is the severe scarring of the liver.

It’s a slow developing disease in which scar tissue replaces healthy liver cells.

The most common causes of cirrhosis are:

  • Viral infections (hepatitis B and C)
  • Fatty liver associated with obesity
  • Alcohol abuse

Cirrhosis eventually prevents the liver from working properly, leading to health problems.

Complications of cirrhosis include (1):

  • Ascites: Excess fluid in the abdomen, causing swelling and stomach distention.
  • Varices: Swollen veins in the lining of the esophagus, the tube the connects your throat with your stomach.
  • Hepatic encephalopathy: A buildup of toxins in your blood, which can lead to poor brain function.
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma: The most common type of liver cancer.

Nutrition for Cirrhosis

The purpose of a cirrhosis diet is to prevent or reduce complications, and promote liver health (2, 3).

The diet limits sodium and increases protein.

Low Sodium

Limiting your sodium helps your body eliminate excess fluid.

Fluid buildup — especially in the legs and abdomen — is a common complication of cirrhosis.

It’s recommended to limit your sodium to 2,000 mg per day (1).

Foods high in sodium that you will want to avoid or limit include:

  • Canned soups (unless they are sodium-free or low-sodium).
  • Seasoned and packaged rice and pasta mixes.
  • Frozen meals that have more than 600 mg of sodium per serving.
  • Processed meats such as bacon, sausage and hot dogs.
  • Quick breads such as biscuits and cornbread.
  • American, Parmesan, Swiss and cottage cheese.
  • Condiments such as salt, ketchup, soy sauce, salsa, pickles and salad dressings.

Instead, eat more foods that are naturally low in sodium such as fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables and fresh meats.

You can add flavors to your food without sodium with lemon juice, dry or fresh herbs, and sodium-free seasonings.

High Protein

Increasing your protein intake helps improve nutritional status.

Malnutrition is common in people with cirrhosis and is often associated with poor health outcomes (4, 5).

It’s recommended to consume 1.2-1.5 grams per kg of body weight per day (6).

Good protein options include:

  • Eggs and egg whites
  • Fresh chicken and turkey
  • Fresh fish
  • Greek yogurt and other low-fat dairy foods
  • Nuts and legumes
  • Protein powders

Remember to use sodium-free seasonings for adding flavor to meats.

1-Day Cirrhosis Diet Example

Here is an example of a 1-day cirrhosis diet:

Breakfast

  • 1/2 cup oatmeal with brown sugar
  • 1 cup low-fat milk
  • 1 whole egg and 3 egg whites

Snack

  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup blueberries

Lunch

  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken noodle soup
  • 6 whole wheat, no-salt added crackers
  • 5 baby carrots

Snack

  • 1 Protein shake
  • 1 oz unsalted almonds

Supper

  • 4 oz baked chicken breast
  • 1 medium-sized baked potato
  • 1 tbsp margarine
  • 1/2 cup mixed vegetables

The Bottom Line

Liver cirrhosis is the severe scarring of the liver.

It’s commonly caused by viral infections, from fatty liver resulting from obesity, and from chronic alcohol abuse.

A low-sodium, high-protein diet is recommended for liver cirrhosis to prevent or slow complications of the disease and to promote liver health.