Most people with hepatitis C do not need a special diet. What's most important is that you try to eat healthy foods and do not become overweight. The advice that an average, healthy person gets will work just as well for people with hepatitis C -- unless those people also have cirrhosis (scarring) or another condition, such as diabetes, HIV, or kidney disease.
Two groups that may need a special hepatitis C diet are those on hepatitis C combination therapy and those with cirrhosis.
Everything you eat and drink passes through your liver. The liver changes food into stored energy and the chemicals necessary for life. Your liver makes nutrients available so your body can use them to:
- Build cells
- Give you energy
- Maintain normal body functions.
A bad diet for someone with hepatitis C can sometimes lead to liver problems. If your diet contains too many calories, you will gain weight. Being overweight is linked to the buildup of fat in the liver, called "fatty liver." Over many years, fatty liver likely contributes to a person with hepatitis C developing cirrhosis. Being overweight and having fatty liver also have been shown in a number of studies to lead to lower rates of hepatitis C clearance in patients treated with interferon and ribavirin.
One's diet also can contain toxins that are harmful to the liver. Some toxins act quickly. For example, eating certain poisonous mushrooms can cause liver failure and death within days. Other toxins, such as alcohol, damage the liver over time.
On the other hand, a good hepatitis C diet can improve liver health in a person with hepatitis C. A balanced diet can lead to better liver functioning and lowered risk of cirrhosis of the liver. It also can help the immune system stay strong and fight off illness.
Finally, people infected with hepatitis C have higher rates of diabetes than those who are not infected, but a good diet can help reduce body fat and control blood sugar. This lowers the risk of developing diabetes.
The hepatitis C medications currently available can cause you to lose your appetite. This can cause poor nutrition (not eating right), which can contribute to weakness and not feeling well.
It's important to eat a good, healthy diet while you are on treatment for hepatitis C and afterwards -- even if you want to lose a few pounds. Your body needs good nutrition and healthy foods to fight the hepatitis C infection and repair the damage it has caused over time.
Some suggestions for a healthy hepatitis C diet during treatment include the following:
|Hepatitis C Recommended Food|
- Take a walk or do stretches before a meal. This may increase your appetite.
- Try eating 4 to 7 smaller meals throughout the day instead of having 1 or 2 big meals.
- Consider buying an instant breakfast mix. You can mix it with milk or juice, or make yourself a fruit smoothie. Another alternative is to use a canned nutritional supplement drink, like Ensure®. The instant breakfast mix or the canned drink can be taken in between your lunch and dinner meals.
- Drink liquid supplements with a straw if you find that their smell makes them less appealing.
- Try different food textures (add chopped nuts, seeds, or water chestnuts to dishes) to make eating more interesting.
- Eat your favorite food, even if just a little bit.
- Keep snacks handy, such as hard-boiled eggs, cheese, and peanut butter. Keep snacks that don't require refrigeration near your bed or by the television.
- Pack foods that don't need to be refrigerated for snacking when you are away from home.
- Stock up on frozen meals in single-portion packages. These are quick and easy to prepare.
- When possible, do not drink fluids with your meals. They can make you feel full sooner.
- Watch cooking shows and keep cookbooks around.
- Make eating enjoyable -- eat with others, eat in a pleasant place, light a candle.