For people with hepatitis, losing weight is not just about fitting into those jeans. It’s about making hepatitis treatment more effective and lowering health risks.
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Hepatitis not only damages the liver — it also increases the likelihood of problems such as heart disease and diabetes.
But don’t despair! “Having a healthy weight helps lower your risk,” says dietitian Anna Taylor, RD.
So what’s the magic bullet? “It’s quite similar to how anyone would want to lose weight,” Taylor says — except you often see double the benefits. Start with these seven tips.
Be a buzzkill and avoid alcohol
“Alcohol, in addition to affecting the liver, is a huge source of empty calories,” Taylor warns. For example, a 5-ounce serving of wine is 125 calories.
Child’s play, you say? An extra 125 calories a day adds up to gaining 13 pounds of body weight each year. Limiting alcohol gives you a weight loss twofer: “It decreases your total calories for the day and protects your liver,” Taylor says.
Subdue your sweet tooth
Taylor says the average American eats around 350 extra calories a day of added sugars: “That’s about 35 pounds of added body weight each year.”
Sugar is here, there and everywhere — especially in your drink. So start there:
- Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soda and juice.
- Read food labels to expose undercover sugars in cereal, granola bars, yogurts and even oatmeal. “People are horrified to see how much sugar has been pumped into their foods,” Taylor says.
- Reduce your sugar, shooting for less than 25 grams (about 6 teaspoons) of added sugar per day if you’re a woman and less than 36 grams (about 8.5 teaspoons) if you’re a man.
Just say no to saturated fat
“When people are overweight, hepatitis treatments become riskier and less effective,” Taylor explains. Complications of hepatitis include a higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease.
Adding insult to injury, a diet high in saturated fat ups your risk as well. So limit foods high in saturated fat, including:
- Processed meats, such as bacon, bologna, bratwurst and kielbasa.
- Marbled meats.
- Sour cream.
- Tropical oils, including coconut and palm oils.
But before you say farewell to all fat, these plant-based fats can be good for your liver:
- Olive oil.
- Nuts and seeds.
Taste nature’s rainbow
Mom was right about eating your fruits and vegetables. Taylor recommends at least three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit every day.
“Colorful fruits and veggies are foods that are support liver function and provide phytonutrients that protect you from chronic diseases,” she says.
“Fruits and vegetables are also low in calories, high in fiber and water, and support a healthy immune system.”
Water, water, everywhere
How does water help you? Oh, let us count the ways: It detoxes your body and helps your organs function.
Shoot for a daily intake of 64 to 80 ounces of water or water-like substances (herbal and decaffeinated tea, decaf coffee, and seltzer and flavored water) — or 8 to 10 glasses.
Protein is your liver disease diet’s secret weapon: It can help you fight infection, heal affected liver cells and rebuild muscle. “Focus on lean sources of protein throughout the day to help with energy levels and tissue repair,” Taylor advises.
Lean proteins include:
- Fish and shellfish.
- Beans and legumes.
- Eggs and egg whites.
- Soy products, such as tofu and edamame.
- Low-fat dairy products, such as Greek yogurt, cottage cheese and milk.
Burn, baby, burn!
“Exercise burns calories, keeps you feeling good and boosts your immune system,” Taylor says. She recommends 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise each week.
But don’t neglect strength training. Both are important if you want to maintain or lose weight. And here’s a bonus: Exercise can help keep your energy levels up when hepatitis C medications sap your strength.
If you’ve developed cirrhosis, Taylor emphasizes the need to see a registered dietitian for support. “You have to follow a stricter diet,” she says. “There is more emphasis on eating regularly, limiting sodium, preventing unintentional weight loss, spreading carbohydrates throughout the day, and including a carbohydrate- and protein-rich snack at night.”