Hepatitis C Survivor  

The Ideal Diet For A Hepatitis C Patient

Written By:  Teri Gottlieb

Diet and Hepatitis C

Currently there is medical treatment available for those who have Hepatitis C that can cure the disease.  However, there are many people who either cannot tolerate the current treatment medications or who have tried treatment and were unable to clear the virus. There are also people who have chosen not to treat and those who don't need to treat.  In any of these cases, diet is an important part to keeping your immune system strong and healthy.  A diet for a person with Hepatitis C is not that much different from a diet that is recommended for anyone who wants to stay fit.  While anyone is smart to follow a healthy diet, a person with HCV has more reason to do so.  By eating healthy, you can strengthen your immune system and help prevent the progression of the damage being done to your liver by the Hepatitis C virus.   

Here are some general guidelines:

  • Avoid alcohol.  Drinking alcohol when you have Hepatitis C is like pouring gasoline on a fire.  Because of alcohol's known damaging effects on the liver, a person with HCV should avoid alcohol completely.  If you have a problem with alcohol, being diagnosed with Hepatitis C should be all the reason you need to quit drinking.  Also, if you are considering treatment, most doctors will not treat you unless you have been clear from regular alcohol use for at least 6 months. 

  • Eat fresh foods.  A healthy diet that is made up of mostly plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds helps keep the immune system healthy and strong.  

  • Maintain a healthy body weight.  In order to protect your liver as much as you can, it is best to maintain a healthy body weight.  Being overweight can lead to a condition called "fatty liver", where fat deposits around the liver.  Being HCV positive and having a fatty liver puts you at increased risk for cirrhosis and will give you a higher viral load.

  • Avoid excess salt.  For someone with Hepatitis C and/or cirrhosis, a low-sodium diet should be a mandatory part of their treatment plan.  Salt causes the body to retain water and can incite conditions such as low blood pressure, edema and abdominal swelling.  

Be careful what you take to "help" you.  Certain medications and herbal supplements can have detrimental effects on your liver.  Tylenol (Acetaminophen) can be especially hard on a damaged liver.  Please talk to your doctor about your limits with this medication.  Most always your doctor will limit you to regular strength instead of extra strength when it comes to this specific drug.  Herbal supplements like Black Cohosh, certain Chinese herbs such as ma-huang, Chaparral, Comfrey, Germander, Mistletoe, Skullcap and others can be harmful as well. Again, speak with your doctor before taking any supplement.

The Worst Foods For Hepatitis C Patients to Eat  

Eating the wrong foods can overwork your liver which is already compromised because of the effects of the Hepatitis C virus. Some people will find that they can no longer tolerate foods that they used to eat with no issues. This is because the liver is now having a hard time helping to digest those foods. Even if a food is not on this list, but you are having difficulties with it, by all means, avoid it in the future.

  • Raw Shellfish:  Avoid raw or undercooked shellfish such as oysters and clams if you have Hepatitis C. Shellfish are risky because of possible contamination with the Hepatitis A virus, or other viruses and bacteria which can cause trouble for a liver that is already compromised. 

  • Fatty Foods:  Steer clear of deep fried and fatty foods. High fat foods increase the risk of gallstones and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

  • High Sodium Foods:  Avoid foods high in sodium such as salty snacks, canned and prepared foods. Taste food before adding salt. Use other seasonings instead of salt such as vinegar, herbs, garlic, pepper, onion, lemon juice and mustard.

  • Unwashed Foods:  Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly if  you have Hepatitis C. Unwashed produce may contain residue of harmful pesticides that can tax the liver.

  • Foods High in Iron:  Limit foods that are especially high in iron and do not use iron cookware if you have Hepatitis C.

  • Red Meat:  Not always, but sometimes, people with Hepatitis C can have difficulty digesting red meat. If this is the case with you, make sure you get enough protein by eating fish, chicken, dairy products and legumes. Soy, coconut and rice milk are good substitutes if you cannot tolerate dairy products. 

  • Processed Foods:  Limit your intake of processed foods such as frozen, canned and preserved foods. These foods are often high in chemical additives.

Your liver processes and detoxifies everything you eat and these foods can increase it's workload.