Acute Pancreatitis Diet and Meal Plan

Updated April 17, 2017

The pancreas is a large gland located behind the stomach and near the small intestine. It produces enzymes that, combined with bile from the liver, digest food and releases the hormones insulin and glucagon into the blood stream. When inflamed, the enzymes inside the pancreas damage it. Complications include the development of gallstones that may need to be removed surgically. Acute pancreatitis happens suddenly and usually improves within a few days with proper treatment. This may require hospitalisation to manage pain, administering intravenous hydration and antibiotics and meeting special nutritional needs.

Initial Recovery Diet

If ill enough to be hospitalised, be prepared to fast for at least several days to keep the pancreas inactive so it can recover. If vomiting occurs, a tube may be placed through the nose and into the stomach to remove fluid and air. Once it’s safe to resume eating, patients may need to be fed special liquid conveyed through a tube that is inserted through the nose and throat and into the stomach for several weeks while the pancreas heals.

Once patients can eat normal meals, they may need synthetic pancreatic enzymes, to be taken with every meal, to replace those the pancreas cannot produce yet. These synthetic enzymes help patients to digest food and gain lost weight, the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) reports.

Permanent Diet Plan

To prevent further pancreatic attacks, adopt a healthy low-fat diet and eat small meals several times a day. Patients should drink plenty of water; green tea, which is high in antioxidants, is also acceptable. Avoid all alcohol; alcohol can cause acute pancreatitis, in many cases. Caffeinated beverages cause dehydration and should be limited.

Eating antioxidant-rich foods such as berries, tomatoes and green vegetables can prevent attacks or reduce symptoms, the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) advises. Maryland Medical Center suggests that patients eat foods high in B-vitamins and iron, which include whole grains, dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale, and sea vegetables; use only healthy monosaturated oils for cooking, such as olive oil; eat lean non-red meats, tuna, mackerel, salmon and other cold-water fish, and tofu or beans; avoid refined foods such as white breads, pastas and sugar and many commercially baked products such as cookies and cakes, and other high-fat foods such as onion rings and French fries, margarine and butter; and avoid tobacco as well as alcohol and caffeine.

Menu Plan

Emphasise foods that are high in antioxidants and low in fat. Breakfast could consist of yoghurt--which has enzymes that aid digestion and reduce inflammation, the Nutralife web site explains--and blueberries or other fruit. You can add whole-grain toast with low-sugar blueberry jam.

For lunch, consider vegetable soup using either a chicken or tomato-based broth, to which you can add brown rice, quinoa or bulgar.

For dinner, have tuna or salmon, or tofu and spinach, either braised in a bit of oil, garlic and some Parmesan cheese or as part of a salad with tomatoes, broccoli, bell peppers and squash. Whole grain carbohydrates, such as those mentioned above, could round out the meal. Patients whose pancreatitis is not related to alcohol use can drink red wine, which is rich in antioxdiants. Those who should avoid alcohol can eat red grapes.

Additional Nutrition Sources

Take multivitamins and, potentially, other supplements to address any nutritional deficiencies, especially after severe weight loss. Also consider taking omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil), which reduces inflammation and boosts immunity, the UMMC advises. Probiotic and alpha-lipoid acid supplements may also be helpful. This source also suggests adding supplements containing high-antioxidant herbs such as Holy basil, Cat's claw, Reishi mushrooms and Indian gooseberry.

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About the Author

Barbara Bryant has been writing professionally for 25 years. She has contributed to "The Military Engineer" and ASCE's "Civil Engineering" magazines as well as many other publications. Through newsletters and blogs, Bryant specializes in health and fitness topics, drawing on expertise from personal trainers and a naturopathic doctor.