Diet and Nutrition Tips for Pancreatitis

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Healthy grilled chicken salad

Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, an organ behind the stomach that secretes digestive enzymes and the hormones insulin and glycogen. Pancreatitis can be acute or chronic, but both cause severe upper abdominal pain and nausea among other symptoms. Diet plays an important role in controlling pancreatitis and reducing the risk of developing related health issues like diabetes.

Acute pancreatitis, often caused by gallstones, develops suddenly. Mild cases may not need treatment, but pancreatitis can become severe enough to require a hospital stay. Recurrent acute pancreatitis can develop into chronic pancreatitis, which can also be caused by heavy alcohol use or certain diseases like cystic fibrosis. Chronic pancreatitis can worsen over time and lead to organ damage. If you have pancreatitis, it’s important to eat foods that can reduce pain and help avoid future flares.

What to Eat If You Have Pancreatitis

If you have chronic pancreatitis, you are at risk for malnutrition because your pancreas may not be able to function well. Your body can have trouble absorbing nutrients and keeping your blood sugar stable. After an attack, you want to give your pancreas a chance to recover and keep it from working too hard in the future.

The right diet can help you get the nutrition you need, reduce the chance of flares, and lower the risk of developing conditions associated with pancreatitis like diabetes and kidney disease. A diet for people with pancreatitis includes:

  • Lean proteins like chicken and non-fatty fish
  • Low-fat foods like fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Fats made from coconut or palm oil
  • Avoiding greasy foods
  • Avoiding alcohol, especially if your chronic pancreatitis is due to heavy alcohol use
  • Avoiding processed foods and refined sugars

Eating vegetables, fruits and whole grains helps keep your cholesterol and blood sugar at a healthy level and increases your fiber intake, making digestion easier. Fiber also lowers the chance you will develop gallstones or high triglycerides, which can lead to acute pancreatitis. Fats from coconut or palm kernel oil can help you absorb nutrients better.

How to Eat Well With Pancreatitis

The high-protein, low-fat diets recommended for people with pancreatitis can be satisfying and delicious. Think of breakfast foods like oatmeal with cranberries or a fruit smoothie, a lunch of curried tuna salad and lentil or carrot soup, a dinner of citrus chicken with brown rice and spinach, and for dessert, baked apples. You can eat a wide variety of tasty and healthy foods that support pancreatic health.

Eat small meals and snacks rather than large meals and stay hydrated. Avoid fried and processed foods, which are hard to digest, and remember to eat a healthy diet to avoid malnutrition and reduce your risk of pancreatic flares.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Jun 10
  1. Pancreatitis. Medline Plus. U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/pancreatitis.html
  2. Nutrition Advice and Recipes. The National Pancreas Foundation. https://pancreasfoundation.org/patient-information/nutrition-advice-recipes/
  3. The Pancreas Center. Columbia University Department of Surgery. https://columbiasurgery.org/pancreas/pancreatitis-diet
  4. The Best (and Worst) Foods for Pancreatitis Pain. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/best-and-worst-foods-for-pancreatitis-pain/
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