March 22, 2020

The Best (and Worst) Foods for Pancreatitis Pain

The right diet to ease abdominal discomfort

woman with pacreatic pain

What you eat can have a huge effect on how you feel, especially if you have pancreatitis — a condition that occurs when the organ that produces your digestive enzymes becomes inflamed.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Paying close attention to your diet can help ease abdominal pain that accompanies this condition, says pancreas specialist Prabhleen Chahal, MD. If you choose your food well, you can give your pancreas a break and help it recover.

So, it’s vital to know which foods you can eat, which ones you should avoid, and how those choices can affect your body.

The pancreatitis-food link

With a chronically inflamed pancreas, your body can’t produce enough of the digestive enzymes that help absorb nutrients from the foods you eat.

Over time, you could become malnourished or start losing weight without trying to, Dr. Chahal says. A different diet can make it easier for your pancreas to do its job.

Changes in diet don’t affect all patients the same way, however. The impact depends on whether you have an acute or chronic case of pancreatitis, she says.

“Patients with mild pancreatitis can benefit from diet and lifestyle changes alone,” she says. “However, diet is not always enough, by itself, to control symptoms in moderate to severe cases.”

Best foods for pancreatitis

A pancreas-friendly diet is high in protein from lean meats and low in animal fats and simple sugars, Dr. Chahal says.

You should eat plenty of:

Advertisement
  • Vegetables.
  • Fruits.
  • Whole grains.
  • Beans, lentils.
  • Low-fat or nonfat dairy (almond or flax milk).

Antioxidant-rich foods such as dark, leafy vegetables, red berries, blueberries, sweet potatoes, grapes, carrots, walnuts and pomegranates are also beneficial. But, eat avocado, olive oil, fatty fish, nuts and seeds in moderation.

The Mediterranean diet is a good option for you if you are recovering from mild acute pancreatitis. You can find healthy recipes in the National Pancreas Foundation cookbook, Dr. Chahal says.

Why are these foods helpful?

Focusing on vegetables, fruits and whole grains limits your cholesterol intake and increases your fiber intake. This reduces your risk of developing gallstones or high triglycerides, which are among the leading causes of acute pancreatitis. Antioxidants combat the free radicals in your body, helping reduce inflammation.

Adding medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) — fats that are often derived from coconut or palm kernel oil — can also help boost your nutrient absorption in the setting of chronic pancreatitis, Dr. Chahal says.

Worst foods for pancreatitis

Whenever possible, stay away from fried or full-fat foods, as well as foods that are high in sugar.

Be sure to limit:

  • Red meat.
  • Organ meat.
  • French fries, potato chips.
  • Mayonnaise.
  • Margarine, butter.
  • Full-fat dairy.
  • Pastries.
  • Sugary drinks.

Why are these foods harmful?

Your pancreas processes most of the fat you eat. So, the more you eat, the harder your pancreas works.

Advertisement

High-fat foods and simple sugars also increase your triglyceride levels. This boosts the amount of fat in your blood and increases your risk for acute pancreatitis. Research also shows that processed meat and red meat increases pancreatic cancer risk, Dr. Chahal says.

Recovering through your diet

If you’ve suffered an acute pancreatitis episode, you can help speed your recovery with some dietary and lifestyle changes, she says.

Try these tips:

  • Eat 6 to 8 small meals a day. It’s easier on your pancreas.
  • Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of MCTs to your daily diet and you can continue this if you have moderately severe or severe chronic pancreatitis.
  • Take a multivitamin to replenish vitamins A, D, E, K, B12, zinc and folic acid.
  • Limit total fat intake to less than 30 grams per day. Eliminate saturated fats.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Don’t smoke (or do your best to quit).
  • Stay hydrated.

If your abdominal pain continues, your doctor may also refer you to a pain management specialist.

Ultimately, controlling your diet is often an effective way to protect your pancreas, Dr. Chahal says. “Whether the inflammation is acute or chronic, we want to minimize the extra workload for the pancreas,” she says.

Related Articles

Flaxseed sprinkled on a salad in a white bowl on a dark wooden table
January 31, 2024
Flaxseed: A Little Seed With Big Health Benefits

Ground flaxseed is full of heart-healthy omega-3s, antioxidants and fiber, and easy to add to just about any recipe

Person eating healthy bowl of noodles with fitness items floating around head
January 17, 2024
How To Shed 10 Pounds — For Good!

Actively choose healthy habits not only when it comes to food and nutrition, but also physical activity and your mental health

close-up of plate with eggs, wheat toast, avocados, hands holding knife and fork
January 9, 2024
Does Reverse Dieting Work?

This strategy doesn’t boost metabolism, but it may help maintain weight loss

Person eating a frosted pink donut.
November 9, 2023
Cheat Days: The Great Debate

These breaks may have some benefits — but they promote an unhealthy attitude toward food

Person during a consultation with their dietitian.
November 8, 2023
Could You Have a Fructan Intolerance?

A low-FODMAP elimination diet can help identify your symptoms

person with burgers and fries on plates over their lap
October 15, 2023
13 Reasons Why People Overeat

Being bored, not getting enough sleep and waiting too long to eat can all contribute

Healthy meal of salmon, brown rice and broccoli with peas on a white plate.
September 28, 2023
10 Tips for Changing Your Diet After a Stroke

It can be overwhelming, but habit changes help lower your risk of another stroke

From above, a bowl of riced cauliflower with a melting pat of butter on top.
August 1, 2023
Tweak What You Eat: Healthy Ingredient Swaps To Try

You don’t have to sacrifice your favorite recipes for healthier versions

Trending Topics

White bowls full of pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate and various kinds of nuts
25 Magnesium-Rich Foods You Should Be Eating

A healthy diet can easily meet your body’s important demands for magnesium

Woman feeling for heart rate in neck on run outside, smartwatch and earbuds
Heart Rate Zones Explained

A super high heart rate means you’re burning more than fat

Spoonful of farro salad with tomato
What To Eat If You’ve Been Diagnosed With Prediabetes

Type 2 diabetes isn’t inevitable with these dietary changes

Ad