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Diet and Hepatitis C

It is inappropriate to recommend that people with Hepatitis C or any other liver disease change their diet in a radical manner.  However, having a consistent diet of healthy nutrients will greatly assist your energy levels.  Combine this with regular low to moderate exercise and you will notice your general feeling of well being begins to increase.

One perhaps ludicrously simple and overlooked technique of improving digestive function is to encourage proper chewing of food and to eat under restful conditions.  People too often in our stressed-out culture, will bolt their food.  This does affect the next stage of digestion in the stomach and in turn the absorption of nutrients later in the digestive process.  Eating under relaxed conditions maximizes parasympathetic nervous system function and allows for maximum nutrient digestion and absorption.

A very important benefit of eating fresh whole foods is that they contain enzymes.  These are substances that help the body digest food and are found only in living food.  High temperatures kill enzymes so most processed food require a lot more effort by the liver to  digest them.  The use of certain spices such as ginger, is another simple way of enhancing digestive and liver function.  Hot spices such as pepper or chilli are contra-indicated in Hepatitis C but other slightly warm to neutral (energetically) spices such as ginger, fennel, cardamon or cumin are warranted in any diet for Hepatitis C.  Bitter foods and ginger are also very good in helping to alleviate nausea and in stimulating the appetite.

Dairy foods are often not tolerated well by people with liver dysfunction.  A simple way of determining if dairy foods are having an affect upon your health is to abstain from dairy foods for a period of 4-6 weeks.  Carefully observe any differences in health, such as abdominal bloating, gas, fullness, stool consistency, tiredness, depression, skin rashes etc.  After the end of the period of abstinence, you should then have a thorough splurge on dairy products and once again compare your sense of well being.

Drinking 2-3 litres of water each day is universally recommended for good health, but also protects against lymphatic congestion - which can put further strain on the liver.  As with other suggestions it is advisable to tune into the needs of your own body as there may be individual differences.

  • The four golden rules for ensuring good immune function are:
  • Get some protein at every meal.
  • Include some essential fats in your diet each day.
  • Eat at least 2 cups of salad or vegetables each day.
  • Avoid excessive sugar and hydrogenated fat.

It is recommended that there be an emphasis on as wide a variety of fruits and vegetables as possible in the diet.  Research is constantly validating that vegetables are a rich source of anti-oxidants which are most important for minimizing free radical damage within the body.  This is particularly so in any condition of chronic inflammation like hepatitis.  It's a good idea to eat fruits and vegetables that are in season

Vegetable juices (fresh whenever possible, otherwise preservative free) have a particular  nature that helps lessen the bloated and stagnant feelings often associated with liver conditions.  Vegetable juices act to flush out the body and relieve some of the symptoms that people with liver disease experience such as heaviness and lethargy.  There are no strict proportions to be followed so experiment for yourself.  Some juices are very strong so you may like to dilute them initially with water.  The only caution is with carrot juice (high levels of Vitamin A can irritate the liver), or spinach juice (high levels of oxalic acid).  Best vegetable juices are celery, cucumber, broccoli and beetroot (tops and bottoms).  Best fruit juices are lemon juice, apple, pineapple, pear, paw-paw, mango and melons as well as red berries.  It has been suggested that it is best to drink melon juice on its own and not mixed with any other fruit.

Eat more wholegrains, rice and legumes (beans, lentils, barley, split peas).  These give you better quality energy.  Some people describe symptoms such as bloating, gas and indigestion after eating some of these foods.  If you experience these or other problems after eating particular foods either reduce your intake of the food or cut it out altogether.  Wholegrains and their products are an important source of vitamins from the B group and minerals like zinc that are essential for so many functions within our bodies, inclusive of liver and proper immune function.  Processed grains and their subsequent products are definitely not as nutritious as wholegrain.

Try and buy organic foods if you can afford them - they have less added chemicals, therefore cause less stress on the liver.  Naturopathically the emphasis is on eating free range chicken to minimize the amount of chemical and hormonal residues that are in chickens raised under modern commercial methods.  The liver of a person with Hepatitis C does not need any further toxins to deal with, especially from a regular source like food.

Red meats are very potent foods and require a lot of effort to digest; nutritionally excellent in moderation, but often high in fats and toxins.  Meat will take a minimum of 8-10 hours to be digested, often sitting in the bowel the whole night adding a further burden to your body.

Generally you should try to broaden your diet and keep away from food that requires the liver to work harder.

  Food Groups

Variety is very important.  Eating too much of one type of food (e.g. fruit) will not make up for not eating another type of food (e.g. vegetables).  A good diet will be made up of a balanced intake of all of the essential building blocks called 'macronutrients'.  These are Proteins, Essential Fats and Carbohydrates.  For proper functioning of the immune system, you need to focus on getting plenty of protein and enough essential fats.


When protein foods are broken down (digested) by the body, amino acids are produced.  Amino acids are the building blocks for our entire body.  Amino acids and the new proteins made from them are essential to build, maintain and repair the body and all its symptoms.  Protein comes from a number of sources including meat, chicken, fish, textured vegetable protein (TVP), eggs, dairy foods, nuts (many people have adverse reactions to peanuts, best to avoid), seeds, soya beans (tofu and tempeh) and other legumes.  Protein foods will also provide other macro and micronutrients (e.g. from meat we get iron, zinc and B-group vitamins; from dairy foods we also get calcium, vitamin A and D; legumes, pulses, nuts and seeds are an excellent source of fibre).  A number of people have described feeling heavy or bloated for quite a while after eating red meat such as beef.  If you have similar problems reduce your intake or cut it out completely.

Essential fats

Fats, when digested, provide fatty acids which are needed for the proper function of your body.  There are four different types of fat found in food but not all of them are needed by the body.  Essential fats (which mainly come from polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats) can only be supplied by food.  The main types of fat are:

Monounsaturated fats: come from vegetables, seeds and plants.  They are important in keeping your heart healthy and your immune system functioning.  These fats should be included in the diet regularly: olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, cashews, pecans, hazelnuts, macadamias, almonds, avocado.

Polyunsaturated fats: come from vegetables, seeds, plants, fish and fish oils; they are vital for keeping your heart healthy, your immune system working and your brain functioning optimally.  These fats should be included in the diet regularly.  Omega-3 fats (from linseed, fish and fish oil) and Omega-6 fats (from vegetable oils) perform important functions in your immune system.  Examples include sunflower oil, safflower oil, fish and fish oil, linseed and flaxseed oil, soybean oil, sesame oil, most nuts and seeds (e.g. evening primrose oil, walnuts).

Saturated fats: can be used as an energy source in helping cells work, or stored away as body fat.  A small amount is essential (and unavoidable) in the diet.  Examples include cream, milk fat, some dairy fats, some animal fats, lard, copha, ghee, dripping, palm oil, coconut oil.

hydrogenated (trans) fats: are processed fats that cannot be used effectively by the body; they are stored as body fat, raise cholesterol levels and have many other detrimental health effects.  They possibly hinder the immune system and they should be avoided wherever possible.  Examples include hydrogenated vegetable oils (e.g. margarine), potato crisps and other snack foods (e.g. Twisties, Burger Rings), donuts, muffins, pasties, pies, sausage rolls, hot chips, cakes, biscuits and many fast foods.


Carbohydrates are quite different from protein or fat.  They are burnt as energy in the body, not used as building blocks.  All carbohydrate foods are broken down into a sugar called glucose (the type of sugar found in your blood stream).  Glucose is the body's energy source but to use this energy effectively, first you need to make sure you are getting enough of the other macronutrients and micronutrients.  Glucose that is not needed for energy is stored as body fat usually around your middle.

There are two types of carbohydrates.  Simple carbohydrates (sugary foods) are broken down into glucose very quickly and rapidly affect blood sugar levels.  Excess sugar appears to depress the functioning of the immune system and can be stored away by the body as body fat, so it is best to avoid a lot of these foods.  A high intake of simple carbohydrates in the diet may also worsen fatigue and deplete energy.  Try to choose foods with less than 10gms of sugars per 100gms (read the nutrition information panel on labels).

Complex carbohydrates (starchy foods) are more slowly broken down into glucose and are the better type of carbohydrate to choose; they also provide a good source of fibre, B-group vitamins, zinc, iron and some other micronutrients.  The less processed the carbohydrate food is, the more nutrients it will contain.  You can fill up with complex carbohydrates, but first be sure you are getting enough protein and essential fats.

Food Labels

Food labels list all ingredients in the product in descending order.  The ingredient present in the largest amount will appear on the label first, then the second largest and so on.  Many labels also tell you how much fat there is in a serve of the food, and in 100g of the food.  Many people may be confused by different names for similar ingredients on food labels.  It is useful to know just how many different ingredients are actually fat.  Sometimes there is more than one type of fat in a food which, if they were all listed as fat, would come much higher up on the list.

Fat may appear on food labels as vegetable oil or fat, animal oil or fat, shortening, copha, lard, coconut oil, palm oil, butter fat, milk solids, chocolate, chocolate chips.  'Creamed' or 'toasted' on a label may also indicate that fat was added during preparation.  'Light' or 'Lite' do not necessarily mean less fat or lower in kilojoules.  Compare nutrition labels of different brands of similar products to help you decide.  'No cholesterol' or 'cholesterol free' doesn't mean low fat.  Foods made with vegetable oil will have no cholesterol but can still be high in fat.  A bottle of vegetable oil has no cholesterol but is still nearly 100% fat.        Dr. Zhang.com

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