The Best Foods for Hepatitis C
Let’s get the hard stuff out of the way first: Hepatitis C (also known as HCV) is a major bummer for your liver. This virus causes inflammation that can thicken its walls, making it tougher for your liver to do its detoxing job.
But you can bounce back by taking medication prescribed by your doc—it lowers inflammation levels as it takes on the virus—and by eating the right foods that help those meds be even more effective. Heck, even if you don’t have HCV, showing your liver some love through what you eat and drink can be a great way to get healthy.
Let’s kick off with some good news: Coffee is protective of the liver, says Donese Worden, N.M.D., a naturopathic medical doctor in Scottsdale, AZ, who is also licensed in clinical nutrition, noting that in some studies, people who drank the most coffee—even decaf!—were about 40% less likely to have elevated liver enzymes, an indicator of that troublesome inflammation.
Plus, a review published in 2017 suggested coffee may even reduce the ability of the Hepatitis C virus to replicate. Of course, try to limit consumption to an amount that lets you sleep well, but in general, enjoy a cup (or three) of joe in good health.
If you’re looking for a starting point to revamp your diet, grab a reusable bottle and start filling it with water regularly (and don’t forget to drink it), suggests Worden. A good rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in ounces—for example, if you weigh 150 pounds, drink 75 ounces of water daily. Your liver is a big part of your body’s detoxification system, working to convert toxins into waste products, and water is a major part of this process. When you’re dehydrated, your liver can’t work as well—in fact, dehydration is a common sign of liver disease.
Oats are high in compounds called beta glucans, which have been shown in research to help fight against obesity and inflammation—two factors that are significant for liver health, says Sarah Kasman, R.D., a registered dietitian at Copeman Healthcare Centre in Vancouver, Canada. She adds that beta glucans can help reduce the amount of fat in the liver, another big plus for liver function. When fat builds up in the liver, it can lead to fatty-liver disease which, you guessed it, bumps up those inflammation levels.
The recommended serving size for oatmeal? Half a cup. And it looks like any type is fine (steel-cut oats, it’s ON), just skip those sugary oatmeal packets.
Garlic’s high level of sulphur, which gives it that distinctive aroma, aids the detox process, says Kasman; the liver changes that sulfur into antioxidants, which can help repair damage to cells. But that’s only one of its benefits. Garlic can also boost immunity, lower inflammation, improve cardiovascular health, improve hair and skin, and kill bacteria that can lead to food poisoning, Kasman says.
Load up on veggie choices like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, Brussels sprouts, radishes, bok choy, and dark green leafy vegetables like kale, chard, and collards for their liver-health boosting powers. Kasman says cruciferous vegetables like these contribute key nutrients like folate, and vitamins K, C, and E, which allow the liver to detoxify metals, antibiotics, and alcohol—again, by boosting your level of antioxidants. They’re also powerful in reducing inflammation and increasing your vitamin and mineral intake. All that goodness supports liver health, which in turn can only help your HCV treatment.
Insoluble fiber has been shown to have a significant and positive connection to liver-health markers in people with metabolic syndrome, says Jenna Braddock, R.D.N., a dietitian who is also a part-time faculty member in the department of nutrition and dietetics at the University of North Florida, in Jacksonville. But those effects come into play even if you don’t have that secondary condition. Foods that have this fiber include the almighty potato, which when cooked right (not fried, but baked) can be a healthy side, rich in vitamins and minerals that contribute to liver health.
Insoluable fiber—also found in beans—isn’t broken down in by your digestive system, so it passes through your body more quickly and adds bulk to your stool along the way. That helps take some of the work off your liver, which is all about processing nutrients, removing potentially harmful toxins from your food, and digesting fat. Many people think the digestive system is just the stomach and intestines, but the liver plays a huge part. And when transit time for that insoluble fiber speeds up, your liver doesn’t have to multitask quite as much, making it work more efficiently.
Nuts are a powerhouse food when it comes to vitamins and minerals, and they’re another good source of insoluable fiber, Braddock notes. In addition to supporting your liver and digestive system, nuts can help reduce diabetes and heart disease risk. They’re high in calories, so it’s important to limit portions, but they make a great on-the-go snack.
One more top pick for insoluble fiber—the recommendation is to aim for 25 to 30 grams per day in general—is whole grains, particularly whole wheat and wheat bran, Braddock notes. When shopping, be sure to look for food labels that start with “100% whole wheat” as one of the first ingredients, since there are no regulations around the term “whole grains” and these can be highly processed grains and other ingredients instead.
Fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation in the body overall, and that’s a huge help to your liver, says Kasman. Consider choices like wild salmon, mackerel, herring, trout, sardines, and sablefish. She recommends at least 8 ounces of one of these varieties per week. When you’re shopping for fish, walk past the shellfish, adds Worden. Those choices, like shrimp and oysters, can sometimes have bacteria that can increase inflammation in your liver, even if they don’t make you sick.
The best way to protect your liver is to avoid alcohol, ideally completely. Alcohol increases the risk for developing cirrhosis and liver cancer because it really bumps up all that inflammation you’ve been trying to knock down with good food choices. What happens then? The cells in your liver thicken, which means your liver can’t work as well, and you risk cirrhosis in the long run. Try getting creative with non-alcoholic options instead—try products like Seedlip and Curious Elixirs—and make up some zero-proof cocktails that keep you hydrated AND nourished.