Pancreas is a large gland located in the abdominal cavity. It secretes digestive enzymes and releases the hormones insulin and glucagon. These hormones regulate the blood sugar levels in the body.1
Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas. Normally, pancreatic enzymes are not active until they reach the small intestine. But when an abrupt inflammation occurs, these enzymes cause destruction of pancreatic connective tissue. Pancreatitis can occur as acute pancreatitis or chronic pancreatitis.2
- Acute pancreatitis is accompanied by diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, fever, swelling in the abdomen, and a sudden onset of radiating pain from the upper abdomen to the back. Most people will recover completely in a few days, post treatment. However, some inflammations damage pancreas severely and progress to chronic pancreatitis.3
- Chronic pancreatitis gets worse over time and leads to permanent damage of pancreas. Chronic pancreatitis is mainly caused due to alcohol consumption, and is seen more in men than women4 Other causes include gallbladder disease, hyperparathyroidism, and pancreatic trauma.
So you are dealing with a bout of pancreatitis – what now? You’ll need to be super careful with everything that you and drink. After all, the pancreas is part of the digestive system. So pancreatitis diet is crucial for recovery. The goal is to let the pancreas rest and get stronger. Reversing malabsorption is also key since the pancreas usually makes enzymes that digest food.
4 Important Diet Tips For Pancreatitis
So if you’re just starting a pancreatitis diet, keep these four parts in mind.
A liquid diet for pancreatitis is the first step of recovery. You’ll have to stick to clear liquids, like gelatin and broth. Other options include water, fruit juices without pulp, tea, ice pops, and colorless sports drinks. 5 These foods are gentle on your digestive system. Your body doesn’t have to work hard to break them down! And since your pancreas is still healing, it’s best to go easy on it.
Even when you’re ready to eat solid foods, continue drinking enough water. Hydration will prevent future flare-ups and help boost the healing process.
2. Small Meals
Recovery from both acute and chronic pancreatitis can benefit from eating small meals. This way, your system won’t be overwhelmed and your pancreas can heal. But these small portions should still be eaten frequently since your body needs the calories.
If you’re on an acute pancreatitis diet, you can start eating small meals after a few days of liquid. Chronic sufferers, however, may need liquid feeding through the nose first. Liquid, soft, and solid foods will come later.6
3. Low Fat
Once your symptoms improve, you’ll have to eat a low-fat diet for pancreatitis. This will give your pancreas time to rest! But make sure it’s healthy and high in protein and carbohydrates. The aim is to give your body enough nutrients and calories to recover from malabsorption. Fat intake should be under 30 grams each day.7
Low-fat protein options include egg whites, light tuna, lean turkey, beans, and lentils. For carbohydrates, you can eat foods like bagels, hot oatmeal, English muffins, and pretzels. Salad dressings and sauces are allowed as long as they’re low-fat or fat-free. As always, don’t forget your fruits and veggies.8 If you’re not sure, always check the label or ask your doctor.
Eating less fat is a big part of a lifelong chronic pancreatitis diet. This type of pancreatitis is severe, meaning that it’s recurring. Low-fat foods can prevent future painful episodes.
Alcohol is bad news for pancreatitis. It can lead to dehydration, causing the pancreas to flare up.9 Drinking alcohol is also linked to a lower level of antioxidants, which are chemicals that can ward off inflammation.
No wonder about 70 to 80 percent of chronic pancreatitis cases are caused by alcoholism.10 It’s also responsible for 35 percent of acute pancreatitis cases.11 In this form, inflammation can develop hours or days after drinking.12 But even if your condition isn’t caused by alcohol, avoiding it is still a big part of a pancreatitis treatment diet.
How To Prevent Pancreatitis
If you’re at risk for pancreatic diseases, learning how to prevent pancreatitis is a good move. It can also stop future relapse.
A high-cholesterol diet puts you at risk for developing gallstones, the number one cause of pancreatitis.13 Avoid saturated fats and processed, convenience foods. Focus on fiber and good fats from nuts, avocados, and fatty fish.Manage Weight
Maintaining a healthy weight will decrease both cholesterol levels and gallstone risk. Your pancreas will also have less oxidative stress, especially if your diet is full of antioxidants.
Smoking may cause pancreatitis by irritating the digestive system. It can also lead to gallstones, giving you another risk factor.14
Aside from gallstones, alcohol abuse is another major cause. So if you drink alcohol, do it in moderation. Men should have no more than two drinks daily, while women should have one.15
Additionally, regular exercise will help manage the risk for pancreatitis. It’ll keep your weight in check while strengthening your body! Physical activity can also prevent – and manage – diabetes, which often develops because of pancreatitis.
|↑1, ↑2||Pancreatitis. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.|
|↑3||Acute Pancreatitis. The University of Chicago Medical Center|
|↑4||Chronic Pancreatitis. Johns Hopkins Medicine.|
|↑5||Diet – clear liquid, MedlinePlus|
|↑6, ↑10||Banks, Peter A., Darwin L. Conwell, and Phillip P. Toskes. The Management of Acute and Chronic Pancreatitis. Gastroenterology & Hepatology 6.2(2010):1-16.|
|↑7||Pancreatitis – discharge, MedlinePlus|
|↑8||Low-Fat Foods, American Cancer Society|
|↑9||Nutrition Advice & Recipes, The National Pancreas Foundation|
|↑11||Quinlan, Jeffrey D. Acute Pancreatitis. American Family Physician 90.9(2014):632-639.|
|↑12||Pancreatitis, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases|
|↑13||Acute Pancreatitis Causes And Symptoms, The National Pancreas Foundation|
|↑14||Tolstrup, JS, L. Kristiansen, U. Becker, and M. Grønbaek. Smoking and risk of acute and chronic pancreatitis among women and men: a population-based cohort study. Archives of Internal Medicine. 169.6(2009):603-609.|
|↑15||Alcohol and Heart Health, American Heart Association|