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Cirrhosis Warning: Skip These Salty Dishes

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Find out which high sodium meals people with cirrhosis must avoid when dining at these 10 popular restaurant chains.

Anyone with cirrhosis is likely aware that the foods they eat can help or harm their liver. Besides minimizing chemicals, fat and sugar, people with cirrhosis must drastically restrict their sodium intake. Even though being on a low-sodium diet almost always accompanies a cirrhosis diagnosis, many are unaware of how much salt can accidentally be consumed while dining out. To help bring attention to this common oversight, dishes on the menu of 10 popular restaurant chains containing astronomical sodium quantities are pointed out. The meals described are not the only ‘sodium bombs’ on each menu, but they serve as a reminder to those with cirrhosis that sodium content should always be double-checked when eating food prepared by someone else.

Sodium, Cirrhosis and Ascites

Cirrhosis is the permanent hardening and shrinking of the liver that occurs from repeated liver damage. Because so much of the liver is scarred, cirrhosis typically reduces liver function. This reduction in liver function makes the person extremely vulnerable to fluid retention from salt consumption.

As more salt is consumed, a greater amount of water is retained in the abdominal area. Known as ascites, fluid accumulation in the abdomen is a telltale sign of cirrhosis. Aside from being uncomfortable, excessive fluid buildup can lead to difficulty breathing, infection and other potentially dangerous complications.

In the United States, the typical diet includes about 4,000 mg of sodium a day. Eating a low-salt diet is the surest way to reduce ascites risk. Salt contains a great deal of sodium; one teaspoon contains 2,000 mg. This amount alone nearly meets the recommendation of the U.S. Daily Value for sodium, which is less than 2,300 mg. However, those with cirrhosis are counseled to consume less than 2,000 mg of salt per day.

Skip These Meals!

Upon looking at the nutritional information from the food at some of our nation’s most popular restaurant chains, it became clear that navigating the menu is like working your way through a mine field. One wrong choice can release a sodium bomb that could be devastating for a person with cirrhosis. If exorbitant salt consumption might be harmful to your health, avoid the following meals:

  1. The Olive Garden – Chicken Alfredo Pizza has 3,200 mg of sodium and Chicken Parmigiana dinner contains 3,380 mg of sodium.
  2. TGI Fridays – French Onion Soup has 2,300 mg of sodium and Hibachi Chicken Skewers contain 4,760 mg of sodium.
  3. Applebee’s – Applebee’s Reuben has 5,240 mg of sodium and their Sizzling Skillet Fajitas with shrimp contains 6,080 mg of sodium.
  4. Chili’s Bar & Grill – A full order of Texas Cheese Fries has 5,290 mg of sodium and Cajun Pasta with Grilled Chicken contains 4,580 mg of sodium.
  5. McDonald’s – A Big Breakfast with hotcakes, egg whites and a large biscuit has 2,290 mg of sodium. Add a large nonfat latte with sugar free French vanilla syrup for an additional 240 mg of sodium.
  6. Chipotle Mexican Grill – A seemingly healthy salad with lettuce, carnitas, white rice, pinto beans, corn salsa, cheese and guacamole contains 2,110 mg of sodium.
  7. Quizno’s – A large Turkey Ultimate Club sub has 5,820 mg of sodium and a large bourbon steak sub contains 4,320 mg of sodium.
  8. Romano’s Macaroni Grill – Pasta Carbonara has 3,690 mg of sodium and their Chicken Under a Brick contains 3,640 mg of sodium.
  9. Ruby Tuesday – Ribs and Louisiana Fried Shrimp (BBQ) has 3,405 mg of sodium and their Bacon Cheese Pretzel Burger contains 3,659 mg of sodium.
  10. Buffalo Wild Wings – A honey BBQ chicken salad has 3,950 mg of sodium and the Traditional and Boneless Wing Combo contains 7,940 mg of sodium.

As you can see, just about any type of meal – breakfast, soups, salads, sandwiches, pastas, pizza, meat, burgers and wings – can easily exceed 2,000 mg of sodium; and that’s just one meal! In fact, consuming some of the meals listed above in one sitting can easily throw someone with cirrhosis into a health crisis.

While not intended as a scare tactic, the facts just presented demonstrate how naïve we are about our sodium consumption at restaurants. The good news about dining at chain restaurants is that most of them will provide diners with nutritional information to help them make educated choices. On each menu from the 10 chains listed above, there were low sodium options; you just have to know to actively seek them out. If you have cirrhosis and find yourself dining out, think about the effect salt has on your body – and make sure to order something that is not the equivalent of a sodium bomb.


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http://www.tgifridays.com/nutrition.pdf, TGI Fridays Nutritional Information, Retrieved February 9, 2014, TGI Friday’s, Inc., 2014.

http://www.uhs.wisc.edu/health-topics/healthy-lifestyle/documents/Sodium.pdf, Guidelines for a Low Sodium Diet, Retrieved February 9, 2014, University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinic Authority, 2014.

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About the Author

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM, Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM)®

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM is a long time advocate of integrating perspectives on health. With a Bachelor's degree in Neuroscience from the University of Rochester and a Master's degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Five Branches Institute, Nicole has been a licensed acupuncturist since 2000. She has gathered acupuncture licenses in the states of California and New York, is a certified specialist with the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, has earned diplomat status with the National Commission of Chinese and Oriental Medicine in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology and is a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology. In addition to her acupuncture practice that focuses on stress and pain relief, digestion, immunity and oncology, Nicole contributes to the integration of healthcare by writing articles for professional massage therapists and people living with liver disease.

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