Endocrinology Nutrition / Diet

What foods should you eat if you have pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is a serious condition that occurs when the pancreas becomes inflamed. The pancreas is an organ that produces insulin and digestive enzymes. The same enzymes that help with digestion can sometimes injure the pancreas and cause irritation. This irritation can be short-term or long-term.

Certain foods may make abdominal pain caused by pancreatitis worse. It is important to choose foods that will not make symptoms worse and cause discomfort while recovering from pancreatitis.

Read on to learn more about the best foods to eat and those to avoid during episodes of pancreatitis.

Best foods to eat for pancreatitis

Bowl of lentils and beans for pancreatitis diet.
Beans and lentils may be recommended for a pancreatitis diet because of their high fiber content.

The first treatment for pancreatitis sometimes requires a person to refrain from consuming all food and liquids for several hours or even days.

Some people may need an alternate way of getting nutrition if they are unable to consume the required amounts for their body to work properly.

When a doctor allows a person to eat again, they will likely recommend that a person eats small meals frequently throughout the day and avoids fast food, fried foods, and highly processed foods.

Here is a list of foods that may be recommended and why:

  • vegetables
  • beans and lentils
  • fruits
  • whole grains
  • other plant-based foods that are not fried

These foods are recommended for people with pancreatitis because they tend to be naturally low in fat, which eases the amount of work the pancreas needs to do to aid digestion.

Fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, and whole grains are also beneficial because of their fiber content. Eating more fiber can lower the chances of having gallstones or elevated levels of fats in the blood called triglycerides. Both of those conditions are common causes of acute pancreatitis.

In addition to fiber, the foods listed above also provide antioxidants. Pancreatitis is an inflammatory condition, and antioxidants may help reduce inflammation.

Lean meats

Lean meats can help people with pancreatitis meet their protein needs.

Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs)

For people with chronic pancreatitis, adding MCTs to their diet may improve nutrient absorption. People often consume MCTs in supplement form as MCT oil. This supplement is available online without a prescription.


List of foods to avoid with pancreatitis

Alcoholic drinks in bottles lined up on counter.
Alcohol may increase the risk of chronic pancreatitis, and should be avoided.

Alcohol

Drinking alcohol during an acute pancreatitis attack can worsen the condition or contribute to chronic pancreatitis.

Chronic alcohol use can also cause high triglyceride levels, a major risk factor for pancreatitis.

For people whose chronic pancreatitis is caused by alcohol abuse, drinking alcohol can result in severe health issues and even death.

Fried foods and high-fat foods

Fried foods and high-fat foods, such as burgers and french fries, can be problematic for people with pancreatitis. The pancreas helps with fat digestion, so foods with more fat make the pancreas work harder.

Other examples of high-fat foods to avoid, include:

  • dairy products
  • processed meats, such as hot dogs and sausage
  • mayonnaise
  • potato chips

Eating these types of processed, high-fat foods can also lead to heart disease.

Refined carbohydrates

Registered dietitian Deborah Gerszberg recommends that people with chronic pancreatitis limit their intake of refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and high sugar foods. Refined carbohydrates can lead to the pancreas releasing larger amounts of insulin.

Foods that are high in sugar can also raise triglycerides. High triglyceride levels are a risk factor for acute pancreatitis.

Diet tips for recovering from pancreatitis

People recovering from pancreatitis may find that they tolerate smaller, more frequent meals. Eating six times per day may work better than three meals per day.

A moderate fat diet, providing around 25 percent of calories from fat, may be tolerated by many people with chronic pancreatitis.

The Cleveland Clinic recommend that people recovering from acute pancreatitis eat less than 30 grams of fat per day.


Prevention tips

Certain risk factors for pancreatitis, such as family history, cannot be changed. However, people can change some lifestyle factors that impact risk.

Obesity increases the risk for pancreatitis, so achieving and maintaining a healthy weight may help lower risk of developing pancreatitis. A healthy weight also lowers risk for gallstones, which are a common cause of pancreatitis.

Drinking large amounts of alcohol and smoking also raise an individual’s risk for pancreatitis, so cutting back or avoiding these can help with preventing the condition.

Other treatment options

Vitamin and mineral supplements being poured into persons palm.
Vitamin supplements may be recommended, and the type of vitamin will be based on the individual.

Treatment for pancreatitis may involve hospitalization, intravenous fluids, pain medicine, and antibiotics. A doctor may prescribe a low-fat diet, but people who are unable to eat by mouth may need an alternate way of receiving nutrition.

Surgery or other medical procedures may be recommended for some cases of pancreatitis.

People with chronic pancreatitis may have difficulty digesting and absorbing certain nutrients. These issues raise the risk of the person becoming malnourished. People with chronic pancreatitis may need to take digestive enzyme pills to help with digestion and absorbing nutrients.

Depending on the person, certain vitamin supplements may be recommended. Supplements may include the following:

People should ask their healthcare provider if they should take a multivitamin. Consuming adequate amounts of fluid is also important.

It is also important to speak to a healthcare provider before starting to take any supplements, such as MCT oil.


Outlook

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, acute pancreatitis typically resolves after a few days of treatment. However, some cases of acute pancreatitis can be more serious and involve a long hospital admission.

Chronic pancreatitis is a long-term illness that can permanently damage the pancreas.

It is essential to seek medical attention for pancreatitis, as both acute and chronic forms can have serious complications.

Following dietary recommendations can help people to improve the symptoms of pancreatitis, and allow for a quicker recovery in some cases.

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