Chronic Pancreatitis: When Good Meals Turn Bad

plate of pasta and vegetablesWe all enjoy a good meal. If you suffer from chronic pancreatitis, that simple pleasure can become a source of agony.

We don’t think that much about our pancreas, but it’s there nestled partially behind the stomach, quietly doing its job to digest and absorb nutrients in our food.

Chronic pancreatitis is a progressive inflammation of the pancreas that leads to structural damage and eventual loss of pancreatic function, explains Anthony Griffin, MD, an internal medicine physician with Memorial Physician Services-Jacksonville.

Chronic pancreatitis often develops in patients between the ages of 30 and 40 and is more common in men than women, according to the National Pancreas Foundation. The disease affects fewer than 10 out of every 100,000 people. Dr. Griffin has seen few cases in his Jacksonville practice but encountered more when he worked in Chicago.

Patients with pancreatitis are not able to digest their food well, particularly fat.

Most individuals with chronic pancreatitis experience upper abdominal pain, although some have no pain at all, according to the National Pancreas Foundation. The pain may spread to the back, become worse with eating or drinking, and become constant and disabling.

A LiveWell reader who suffers from chronic pancreatitis takes medication for the condition but it offers no relief. The individual contacted LiveWell to ask what foods to avoid.

Persons with pancreatitis should “consume a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grain  and avoid foods high in fat,” said Christina Rollins, a clinical dietitian at Memorial Medical Center and spokesperson for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“Saturated and trans fats, such as those found in butter and margarine, should be consumed very rarely and only in very small amounts,” Rollins said. Need an alternative? She suggests trying reduced-fat, whipped or liquid spreads.

Dr. Griffin recommends low-fat food and plenty of water. The National Pancreas Foundation offers a variety of recipes on its website.

Patients should also quit drinking alcohol and smoking and take pancreatic enzyme supplements to help with the absorption process as well as analgesics for pain, Dr. Griffin advised.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics provides the following list of foods that are not recommended for people with pancreatitis

Grains Products made with added fat (such as biscuits, waffles and regular crackers); high-fat bakery products (such as doughnuts, biscuits, croissants, Danish pastries, pies and cookies); snacks made with partially hydrogenated oils (such as chips, cheese puffs, snack mixes, regular crackers and butter-flavored popcorn).
Fruits and Vegetables Fried fruits or vegetables; fruit served with butter or cream; vegetables prepared with butter, cheese or cream sauce.
Meat and Beans Higher-fat cuts of meat (ribs, T-bone steak, regular hamburger); bacon; sausage; cold cuts (such as salami and bologna, corned beef, hot dogs); organ meats (liver, brains, sweetbreads); poultry with skin; fried meat, poultry and fish; whole eggs and egg yolks.
Dairy Whole milk; reduced-fat (2%) milk; whole milk yogurt; whole milk ice cream; cream; half-and-half; cream cheese; sour cream; cheese.
Fats and Oils Limit fats and oils to 6 teaspoons or less per day. Butter; stick margarine; shortening; partially hydrogenated oils; tropical oils (coconut, palm and palm kernel oils).
Beverages Alcohol, wine, beer, liquors.
Desserts Any desserts, pies and cookies made with whole milk, eggs and added fat.