- Pancreatitis refers to painful inflammation of the pancreas organ.
- Making dietary modifications can help you recover and prevent a recurrence.
- A registered dietitian can help you make dietary changes and create a personalized meal plan that fits your preferences.
The pancreas is an organ that is primarily responsible for producing digestive enzymes to aid with food breakdown and synthesizing metabolic hormones, like insulin and glucagon, to manage your blood sugars.
The pancreas is susceptible to inflammation, a painful condition called pancreatitis, which can alter how well your body absorbs and digests dietary fats.
When you feel better, you should consider making dietary changes to support your recovery and decrease the chances of another flare-up. Keep reading to learn more about pancreatitis, and start the 7-day sample meal plan today.
Pancreatitis Basics: Getting Started
The pancreas is located behind your stomach, and when it is inflamed, it causes sudden pain in the upper abdomen that can spread to your back.
It is most common to experience acute pancreatitis related to gallstones, often caused by high cholesterol or frequent alcohol use. Some people who abuse alcohol may experience chronic pancreatitis due to organ damage from heavy drinking.
Having pancreatitis is extremely painful, and often requires urgent medical treatment. If you have received a diagnosis of pancreatitis, your doctor may prescribe you medications to ease the inflammation, which will help you recover and get back to your daily life.
What to Eat with Pancreatitis
During a bout of pancreatitis, it is very common for appetite to decline while the pain level is high. If you are admitted to a hospital, your primary goal is to rest, stay hydrated, and consume enough calories so you can heal. This can sometimes require a tube feed, but in most cases, it will be temporary until you are well enough to tolerate whole foods again.
Once you are released, you should consider making long-term dietary changes to reduce the chances of a recurrence. This includes eliminating alcohol from the diet. Some nutrition guidelines suggest including foods that are rich in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and probiotics. Examples of these foods include:
- Fruits, such as berries.
- Chia seeds and ground flax seeds.
- Low-fat Kefir (a drinkable yogurt.)
Choosing Low-Fat Foods
Most people will feel better switching to a low-fat diet that is rich in protein. This is especially relevant for people living with chronic pancreatitis who have sustained greater organ damage, and whose ability to absorb fats may be further impaired. Your healthcare team will tell you how much dietary fat you can have.
You can decrease your dietary fat intake by avoiding ultra-processed foods (which tend to be high in fat), such as french fries, ice cream, and most frozen dinners. It is also important to be mindful of your portion sizes of “healthy” fats such as olive oil, avocado, canned fish in oil, and nuts and seeds.
As well as reducing fat, you may want to have smaller meals more often, especially if your appetite wanes throughout the day. It is vital that you get enough calories and nutrients to stay healthy.
You can work with a registered dietitian to learn which foods can help you manage pancreatitis. Sign up with Nourish and book your virtual nutrition appointment with a dietitian today.
Meal Plan for Pancreatitis
Below is an example of a 7-day meal plan for pancreatitis. The portion sizes will vary depending on your nutritional requirements.
- Breakfast: steel-cut oats cooked with non-fat milk, mixed fresh berries, and one teaspoon of ground flax seed.
- Lunch: Mediterranean-style tuna (canned in water) mixed with black olives, sundried tomato, fresh basil, and low-fat feta. Served with whole grain crackers.
- Dinner: Baked sheet pan dinner with chicken thighs, carrots, broccoli, onions, garlic, and sweet potato.
- Snacks: Unsalted pretzels with hummus.
- Breakfast: Spinach smoothie with non-fat Greek yogurt, banana, and a tablespoon of cocoa powder.
- Lunch: Shredded salad with brussels sprouts, kale, carrots, raisins, and a grilled chicken. Conservatively dress your salad with a simple balsamic and olive oil dressing.
- Dinner: Grilled salmon with brown rice, asparagus, and bell peppers. Garnish your fish with homemade pineapple salsa and fresh herbs.
- Snacks: Mixed plate with whole grain crackers, fruit, and cheese slice.
- Breakfast: Whole grain toast with light cottage cheese, topped with tomato slices and green onions.
- Lunch: Lentil stew cooked with carrot, cauliflower, and red bell peppers. Top with a dollop of non-fat Greek yogurt.
- Dinner: Stuffed bell peppers with rice and extra-lean ground beef. Serve with tomato sauce on top.
- Snack: Low-fat individual yogurt with fresh fruit.
- Breakfast: Egg omelet with kale, bell peppers, and a spoonful of low-fat feta cheese. Serve on whole-grain toast.
- Lunch: Wheatberry bean salad with corn, edamame beans, peppers, and cucumber. Add fresh herbs such as cilantro and mint for flavor, and dress with your favorite low-fat salad dressing.
- Dinner: Shrimp stir fry with onion, bok choy, bell peppers, ginger, and garlic. Serve over brown rice.
- Snack: Hard-boiled egg served with whole grain crackers and sliced tomato.
- Breakfast: Homemade wholewheat blueberry muffins with ground flax seeds.
- Lunch: Lettuce wraps with seasoned chicken, cucumber, mango, and cilantro. Drizzle a homemade vinaigrette over the wraps before eating.
- Dinner: Roasted tofu with broccoli, squash, and zucchini. Serve over brown rice or quinoa.
- Snack: Roasted chickpeas with fresh-cut fruit on the side.
- Breakfast: Non-fat Greek yogurt parfait with plain oats, diced apple and pineapple, nuts, and sprinkled with cinnamon and unsweetened coconut flakes.
- Lunch: Vegetarian chili made with quinoa, beans, carrots, peppers, and tomato sauce.
- Dinner: Baked trout with dill and lemon vinaigrette, served alongside a green salad and boiled potatoes.
- Snack: Fresh vegetable sticks with hummus.
- Breakfast: Scrambled tofu served on whole grain toast, with low-fat cheddar cheese and a spoonful of tomato salsa.
- Lunch: Rice bowl with cooked salmon, broccoli, and red cabbage. Dress with a small amount of sesame oil, sesame seeds, and a splash of rice wine vinegar.
- Dinner: Lentil-turkey meatballs served with spaghetti and red sauce. Add peppers and onions to your sauce to increase the vegetables, or add a side salad.
- Snack: Whole grain crackers and hummus, top with sliced cucumber.
Do you want more meal ideas? Through Nourish, you can book a nutrition appointment with a registered dietitian, who can work with you to build a meal plan that aligns with your health goals.
Tips for Meal Preparation
Planning your meals ahead can help you stick to your diet goals. You can prepare your meals partly by pre-washing and chopping vegetables, batch-cooking recipes, or freezing leftovers.
You can also buy canned or frozen vegetables with a longer shelf life than fresh varieties. Most of the frozen vegetables are already pre-chopped, which also saves you prep time. Another benefit is that the nutritional quality of frozen vegetables should be on par with fresh vegetables as long as proper blanching has been done prior to freezing. Frozen vegetables usually cost less than fresh options, which can be another incentive to add them to your grocery list.
Remember to hold on to family-favorite recipes because they are easy to reuse on days when you don’t feel inspired in the kitchen. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you cook, and recycling recipes can help ease the mental burden of worrying about what’s for dinner.
Pancreatitis is extremely painful, and if you suspect you have symptoms, you should seek treatment right away. There are medications and treatment options that can reduce the inflammation and help you feel better.
Once you feel better, you should make long-term health changes, starting with your diet. Opting to eat more whole foods and less processed options can be a great start. Include high-fiber options regularly at meals, such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts. You should be mindful of your fat intake at meals and choose low-fat options whenever possible.
If you want nutrition advice tailored to your needs, consider booking a nutrition appointment with a registered dietitian. Most insurance providers cover the cost of these virtual visits, which means you pay no money out of pocket.
Frequently Asked Questions
See a Registered Dietitian with Nourish
- Covered by insurance
- Virtual sessions
- Personalized care