Hepatitis C Diet: Foods to Eat and Avoid

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There isn’t a specific diet to follow if you have hepatitis C, but eating healthy foods — and cutting out foods that lack a lot of nutritional value — is often a good place to start.

Everything you eat and drink must be acted upon by the liver. Maintaining proper nutrition can improve the health of your liver and may even reduce the impact of hepatitis C.

If you have hepatitis C, your liver is already dealing with inflammation. Over time, this can lead to scarring (cirrhosis) and reduced liver function. In other words, your liver is dealing with a lot. Eating well may help ease some of this pressure.

What your diet should include

Getting the right nutrients is crucial to your overall well-being. Not only can it support a healthy immune system, but it also has a direct effect on weight management.

It’s important to keep your weight in a healthy range, especially if you have hepatitis C. Having obesity or being overweight can lead to hepatic steatosis, a condition caused by excess fat buildup in the liver. This can make hepatitis C harder to control.

People with hepatitis C also have an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, so it’s important to keep an eye on your sugar intake.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate plan recommends the following for a balanced diet:

Fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables provide nutrients such as:

  • fiber
  • folate
  • vitamin A
  • vitamin C
  • vitamin B6
  • potassium

You should eat between 1 and 3 cups of vegetables each day. In order to get the widest range of vitamins, vary the types you eat.

2013 animal study suggested that leafy green vegetables may be especially helpful in decreasing the fatty acid composition in your liver.

When buying canned vegetables, opt for no-salt and no-sugar-added varieties.

Protein

Foods containing protein are very important. Protein helps repair and replace liver cells damaged by hepatitis C.

Great protein options include:

  • fish
  • seafood
  • chicken
  • nuts
  • eggs
  • soy products

The amount of protein you eat daily depends upon your age, sex, and activity level. Usually, 2 to 6 1/2 ounces of protein is sufficient.

Green smoothies that include protein powder can help you hit your protein and fruit and vegetable targets when you’re short on time.

If you have cirrhosis, your doctor may recommend a higher protein intake to reduce your risk of muscle wasting and fluid buildup.

Dairy

Dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese, are a good source of protein and calcium.

Adults who aren’t lactose intolerant need between 2 and 3 servings each day. This means about 1 1/2 ounces of natural cheese or 1 cup of milk, yogurt, or soy milk.

Whole grains

Whole grains are a good source of dietary fiber, which promotes  healthy bowel function and reduces your risk for heart disease.

Whole grains include:

Opt for whole-grain products over white or refined varieties. Whole grains are typically higher in:

  • fiber
  • B vitamins
  • zinc
  • magnesium
  • iron

If you have Celiac disease, eat only gluten-free grains, such as buckwheat, quinoa, and amaranth.

The amount of grain you should have depends on your age, sex, and your activity level. On average, adults should eat around 3 to 8 ounces of grain foodsdaily. At least half of those servings should be from whole-grain foods.

Coffee and caffeine

If you enjoy drinking coffee or tea, talk to your healthcare provider about including it in your plan.

A small amount of caffeine (as little as 100 mg) has been shown to potentially help protect against advanced hepatic fibrosis in men with chronic HCV infection.

More research is needed to better understand these findings and their effects on other groups of people.

Green tea

Other ingredients in foods are in early studies for their potential benefits for chronic hepatitis C, such as phenolic catechins from green tea and oligomeric proanthocyanidin  from blueberry leaves.

Green tea has beneficial properties in general in addition to being an enjoyable drink. Adding it to your routine may prove helpful as we learn more about it’s effects on hepatitis C.

What you should cut back on

Calories count, so think quantity as well as quality. Eating too much may lead to weight gain or obesity, which can increase your diabetes risk.

Your healthcare provider may also advise other modifications to protect your liver, such as a low-iron diet  for chronic hepatitis C. Chronic hepatitis C can lead to iron overload in the body, which can be harmful.

These recommendations will vary based on your personal health history and needs.

In general, you should limit foods that are:

  • fatty
  • greasy
  • processed
  • frozen
  • canned
  • from fast food chains

Reduce your salt intake

Cutting out dishes that are high in sodiumis especially important. Salty foods can lead to water retention, consequently raising your blood pressure. This can be dangerous for people with cirrhosis.

If your disease is in its earliest stages, an occasional shake of the salt shaker may be fine, but you should reach out to your healthcare provider about how much sodium is appropriate for you.

Cut back on your sugar intake

Sugary treats, when eaten in excess, can lead to weight gain. To help stay on the right track, you may find it helpful to indulge every now and then instead of cutting sugar out completely. This way you can have your cake — and eat it too.

Fruit also makes an excellent sweet choice.

Tips and tricks for healthy eating

Do:

  • Drink six to eight glasses of water and other fluids each day.
  • Create a regular eating routine that works for you. This could be three moderate meals a day or four to five smaller meals at regular intervals.
  • Go organic whenever possible. This can help limit the amount of toxins and pesticides ingested through your food.
  • Choose lean protein sources instead of fattier meats like beef.
  • Focus on whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible.
  • Use no-salt seasonings and herbs for flavor.

Don’t:

  • Eat more than necessary to maintain optimal health.
  • Add salt to your food.
  • Drink alcoholic beverages.
  • Eat a lot of overly processed foods.
  • Rely heavily on dietary supplements to fulfill your daily nutrient needs unless advised by your healthcare provider.

The takeaway

If you’re living with hepatitis C, your nutritional needs likely won’t stray far from the typical nutritional guidelines, though your healthcare provider can provide you with individual benchmarks.

In general, a good food plan is one that emphasizes vegetables, eliminates alcohol, and helps you maintain a healthy body weight for you.

Keeping active is beneficial while living with hepatitis C and in general, so talk to your doctor about what amount and type of exercise is right for you.

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