Liver Disease and Nutrition

The liver serves many purposes in the body, including filtering harmful substances from the blood, producing substances that assist with food digestion, and helping to change food into energy. There are many kinds of liver diseases, such as:

  • Cirrhosis: Scarring and hardening of the liver
  • Fatty Liver Disease: Build-up of fat in liver cells
  • Bile Duct Disease: Bile is a liquid made in the liver that helps break down fats in the small intestine. Bile duct disease keeps bile from flowing into the small intestine where it is utilized.
  • Hepatitis (A), (B) and (C): Disease of the liver caused by the hepatitis A, B, or C virus
  • Hemochromatosis: Buildup of iron in the liver (inherited disease)
  • Others can be the result of drugs, poisons, or drinking too much alcohol

Some of the effects of liver disease include weight changes, loss of muscle mass, ascites and/or edema (fluid retention), jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), dark urine and/or light-colored stools, fatigue or loss of stamina, nausea, vomiting, anorexia, altered taste perception, and/or signs/symptoms of vitamin and mineral deficiency. Depending on the diagnosis, alterations in calorie, protein, fluid, fat, vitamins or minerals may be recommended. For most liver diseases, a healthy diet will make it easier for the liver to function and may help repair some liver damage.

In general, it is important to:

  • Limit high sodium foods
  • Avoid foods that may cause foodborne illness such as:
    • Unpasteurized milk products
    • Raw or undercooked meat, poultry, fish, seafood, and eggs
    • Unwashed fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Eat enough food to obtain adequate calories, vitamins, and minerals.

How can these changes be made?

  • It may be easier to eat several small meals throughout the day (4-6) as opposed to a few large ones.
  • Look for no-sodium or low-sodium versions of foods you like to eat, such as crackers, cheese, canned vegetables, or soups.
  • Avoid overly processed foods, as these tend to be higher in sodium.
  • Use herbs, spices, vinegar, oils, juice, or herb mixes (e.g., Mrs. Dash) to flavor food instead of salt.
  • Between meals, enjoy healthy snacks, such as:
    • Fruits and vegetables with dip, whole milk, yogurt, cereal, bagels, roasted nuts, and peanut butter.

Check with a dietitian or doctor for your specific dietary needs.


Keeping Peace During Holiday Gatherings

The holiday season should be a time devoted exclusively to peace and joyful celebrations. When you think about this time of year, what comes to mind? For me, it’s time with family and friends. In the hustle of everyday life, it is nice to take a step back to spend time with the people you love.

But, the holidays are often the only time that most of the family can get together at once. So, many times families must have difficult conversations during this time. For example, a common conversation is how to continue caring for an aging parent, uncle, aunt or grandparent.

In truth, tensions like this among family members are often exacerbated by ongoing disputes,  rivalry  and conflicting expectations for the holiday. Of course, we feel it is our responsibility to keep the peace, which is not always easy when you bring together several different personalities,  all with different opinions.

Here are a few strategies to help keep the peace during your holiday gatherings:

  • Set a time and place for difficult conversations that you have to have. And, only have the decision makers in the room. Too many opinions can make a hard conversation, even harder.
  • Fun is the always a great buffer.  Singing Christmas carols, playing musical instruments, putting on a talent show and playing games are all great ways to get everyone to relax and enjoy each other’s company.  One year we did our own photo booth, which was a huge hit.
  • Learn something new.  During your holiday gathering, have each family member tell something new they learned or did for the first time this year.   Your family will learn that they have a lot more in common than they think.  We did this a few years ago, two family members who wanted to learn to quilt are now doing so with other family members.

Hopefully your holiday gatherings are peaceful, and the only disappointment you experience is when all of your loved ones leave.  Remind everyone to reach out to each other throughout the year, and you could even set a goal for the family to come together again in the summer!

*Updated article from December 19, 2014


Stroke and Nutrition

A stroke occurs when there is a change in the flow of blood to the brain that leads to a change in and/or loss of function. Some risk factors for stroke include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Stress
  • Family history
  • Health conditions including diabetes, heart disease, and obesity
  • Lifestyle factors, such as a diet high in fat and cholesterol, lack of exercise, and smoking

The effects of a stroke can vary, and depend on the location of the damage in the brain and the amount of damage. There may be changes in behavior or the ability to perform daily activities. Some individuals may find it more difficult to feed themselves or swallow. If these problems are present, an Occupational Therapist can help with self feeding, while a Speech Therapist can help with swallowing problems. A doctor can help determine appropriate treatment options.

Healthy eating may help with weight and blood pressure management, which can help to prevent another stroke. In general, healthy eating involves:

  • Low sodium: to help control blood pressure.
  • Plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products: to help keep blood pressure under control.
  • Choosing heart-healthy fats: such as soybean, canola, olive, or flaxseed oil over saturated fats and trans fats to reduce the buildup of plaque in your blood vessels.

There are many ways to incorporate healthy eating into your diet. Some ways to start include:

  • Choose foods with less than 300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per serving.
  • Use herbs and spices, or herb mixes (e.g., Mrs. Dash) to flavor food.
  • Choose carefully when eating out. Restaurant foods can be high in sodium.
  • Choose fiber-rich foods. These include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Choose fruits like bananas, oranges, cantaloupe, and apples, and vegetables like sweet potatoes, spinach, zucchini, and tomatoes. Whole grains include whole wheat bread products, oatmeal, brown rice, and quinoa.
  • Eat fatty, cold-water fish (e.g., salmon, mackerel, and sardines) twice a week. These provide heart healthy fats. Try to choose fresh or frozen varieties, as canned may be too high in sodium.
  • Limit saturated fat and trans fat. Saturated fats are found mostly in animal foods, foods made with animal products, or fried foods. Trans fats are found in meat and foods that contain hydrogenated oils (e.g., peanut butter and margarine).
  • Limit cholesterol from food to 200 mg per day. Foods high in cholesterol include egg yolks, shrimp, and full fat dairy foods.

Check with a dietitian or doctor for your specific dietary needs.