Pancreas and Nutrition: Your Diet for Pancreatitis

by Columbia Surgery on November 14, 2012

This is the second in a three-part Q&A series on nutrition with Kristin Addona, an oncology registered dietitian at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.

If you would like more information on pancreatitis, call The Pancreas Center office at 212-305-9467. To see a clinician in person, complete our appointment request form and someone will contact you.

Question: What is pancreatitis? Is it a precursor to cancer?

Answer: Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas secretes enzymes that help digest fats, proteins and carbohydrates in food. Normally these enzymes are not activated until they reach the small intestines. If they become activated inside the pancreas, they will begin “digesting” it, which causes damage and inflammation to the pancreas. There are different types of pancreatitis. In both chronic and hereditary pancreatitis, there is an increased risk of pancreatic cancer.

Q.: What is first thing you say to new patients with pancreatitis when you see them?

A.: I would explain to them that my goal is to adjust their diet to help their body absorb nutrients better.

Q.: What is most important thing for patients to be aware of in terms of their diet? Why?

A.: Their body may not be able to digest food well, especially fat, since the pancreas is responsible for releasing enzymes to help digest nutrients. With pancreatitis, this organ is not secreting enough enzymes to break down the food normally so malabsorption can occur. This can result in weight loss, indigestion, abdominal pain when eating, and oily stools.

Q.: Can following specific dietary guidelines help relieve symptoms?

A.: Following a low fat diet may help reduce the symptoms associated with chronic pancreatitis, because this will decrease the amount of enzymes needed to digest meals. If significant symptoms are still present after making these diet changes, I would encourage the patient to speak with the doctor because there may be a need for pancreatic enzymes.

Q.: What specifically should they eat? Avoid?

A.: Patients with pancreatitis should avoid high fat foods. This includes fried foods, most desserts, whole milk dairy products, fatty cuts of meats, nuts/seeds, and avocado. Also, they should limit fats like butter, salad dressings, sour cream, and mayonnaise, and foods with added sugar, like desserts and sweetened beverages. Alcoholic beverages should also be avoided.

Patients can include grains, fruits and vegetables, lean meats (like fish, skinless poultry, eggs), beans, and low fat dairy products in their diet.

Related Links:
The Pancreas and Nutrition: Your Diet for Good Health
The Pancreas and Nutrition: Your Diet during Pancreatic Cancer Treatment

{ 126 comments… read them below or add one }

lucille March 6, 2013 at 2:23 pm

can a pancreatic patient eat salads

Columbia Surgery March 7, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Thank you, Lucille, for your inquiry. I have forwarded it onto Deborah Gerszberg, RD, CNSC, CDN – a Clinical Nutritionist at The Pancreas Center. She has sent the following response:

Pancreatic patients can definitely eat salads. Be careful with your toppings, however, since many of them may be high in fat (nuts, seeds, avocado, cheese, dressings). Elicit portion control by having 1-2 tablespoons of either avocado, nuts or seeds instead of piling on some of each. Lower fat topping include vegetables, egg whites, fresh fruit, legumes, and grilled chicken or tofu. Try to have a light dressing instead of a full fat dressing, which may be too much fat for your pancreas to handle. Thanks for asking this great question. I hope you found the answer to be helpful.

Sabita March 8, 2013 at 10:47 am

My husband had ECRP done which gave him pancreatitis. He was in excruciating pain and was hospitalized . Will this lead to cancer in the future? He had no problems with his pancreas till he got this procedure.
Waiting for your reply.
Thanks.
Sabita

Sabita March 8, 2013 at 10:56 am

What type of meat is he allowed to eat . Are lentils ok to be consumed.
He is schedule to go on a cruise on th e 27th of this month, do you think he will be energetic enough to move around by that time. He is still in the hospital but his pain is
1 on a scale of 10. He was given pork chop in the HOSPITAL and he got the pain back, otherwise he was painless and about to leave the hospital.
What should I be feeding him at home and is apple juice, blended bananas good for him? His potassium level has gone down.
Thanks for your reply.
Sabita

Columbia Surgery March 8, 2013 at 11:31 am

Sabita:

I have forwarded your inquiry along to The Pancreas Center. They request that you call them directly so they can receive additional information to best help you and your husband. You may contact their office at: 212.305.9467. Thank you.

Sara Clayton March 27, 2013 at 2:52 pm

My husband age 76 just got out of the hospital with pancreatitis. I would like a list of good foods and bad foods. I know he can not have fatty foods. He doesn’t drink. I think if he had a list in front of him it would help him to change his eating habits. Thanks so much.

Columbia Surgery March 28, 2013 at 11:27 am

Sara –

Thank you for your inquiry. I have forwarded your comment to the Pancreas Center. As soon as I hear a response, I will reply.

To learn more about the Pancreas Center, you may visit http://pancreasmd.org or contact them directly at 212-305-9467.

Priscilla March 31, 2013 at 1:16 am

Hi! I am 38 years old, I was released from the hospital 3 months ago, after being at the hospital two and a half months, with acute pancreatitis due to very high triglicerides (generic). Everyone I asked about what type of diet should I need to follow gives me a different answer, I know I need to be on a low fat diet, but I will feel better if I know what needs to be avoided, what can I take in moderation and what should I eat to have a better quality of life; and what can I do in order to avoid any other pancreatic issues specially cancer. I have two small children and I want to be as healthy as I can. Thanks for your time.

Rahul T. March 31, 2013 at 9:45 am

I am suffering from unbelievable pain due to pancriatitis.
I am just 24 and from India. I have this problem from born.
please suggest me solution to live a better life. is there any treatment from recover this permanently?
please help me.

Columbia Surgery April 1, 2013 at 10:51 am

Priscilla,

Thank you for your inquiry. I have forwarded your comment to the Pancreas Center. As soon as I hear a response, I will reply.

To learn more about the Pancreas Center, you may visit http://pancreasmd.org or contact them directly at 212-305-9467.

Columbia Surgery April 1, 2013 at 10:53 am

Rahul,

I have forwarded your inquiry along to The Pancreas Center. They request that you call them directly so they can receive additional information to best help you. You may contact their office at: 212.305.9467. Thank you.

Columbia Surgery April 3, 2013 at 9:52 am

Sara,

I have received the following response from Deborah Gerszberg, RD, CNSC, CDN, a Clinical Nutritionist here at the Pancreas Center:

The nutrition guidelines for chronic pancreatitis are to avoid fatty foods and alcohol. He should aim to consume more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Choose lean meats rather than higher fat red meat or processed meats; choose low fat dairy rather than full fat dairy. It is okay to eat some healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil in moderation but excess consumption should be avoided. It is best to minimize highly processed and refined foods, such as those with high fructose corn syrup, which may cause your pancreas to work harder to make more insulin.

Everyone’s diet is very individualized, so without knowing your husband’s specific likes and dislikes and the rest of his medical history, I wouldn’t be able to make more specific recommendations.

I hope this helps answer your question. Again, for more information about the Pancreas Center you may visit http://pancreasmd.org or contact them directly at 212-305-9467.

Columbia Surgery April 3, 2013 at 9:57 am

Priscilla,

I have received the following response from Deborah Gerszberg, RD, CNSC, CDN, a Clinical Nutritionist here at the Pancreas Center:

The nutrition guidelines for chronic pancreatitis are to avoid fatty foods and alcohol. I would recommend you follow these guidelines to avoid another episode of acute pancreatitis. Aim to consume more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Choose lean meats or fish rather than higher fat red meat or processed meats; choose low fat dairy rather than full fat dairy. It is okay to eat some healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil in moderation but excess consumption should be avoided. It is best to minimize highly processed and refined foods, such as those with high fructose corn syrup, which may cause your pancreas to work harder to make more insulin. For cancer prevention, consume a varied plant based diet and consume less processed foods.

I hope this helps answer your question. Again, for more information about the Pancreas Center you may visit http://pancreasmd.org or contact them directly at 212-305-9467.

Priscilla April 9, 2013 at 5:59 am

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I will follow the guidelines and advice given. God bless you!

Jennifer F. April 11, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Hi Columbia Surgery,
I had acute pacnreatitis last October. It took more than a couple of months for my lipase to get close as possible to the normal values. It’s still 10 points higher than normal as opposed to 2000+ the first time I was diagnosed. The terrible pain has gone but I still feel daily doscomforts on my upper left side. I’ve done the MRCP with secritin and apparently, it showed normal results. My amylase fluctuates, and my Gastro thinks that it is not really a specific parameter. I was told that the pattern is not usual for people with pancreatitis, so they can’t truly say that I do have it. I’m confused, my smptoms say that I might have it but my test results have been so vague. I’m currently on Ursodiol and Protonix. Suffice to say, our management for now is let’s try what works. I keep my diet conservative but I have been conservative since the attack and I’ve only seen the lipase decrease to almost normal last month. I hope you could offer me better insghts about my condition. Thanks for taking the time in reading my comment.

Columbia Surgery April 12, 2013 at 10:54 am

Jennifer:

I am going to forward your message to the Pancreas Center and will reply to you on the blog or have someone from the center get back to you privately.

If you would like to talk to someone immediately please feel free to contact them directly at 212-305-9467.

Columbia Surgery April 18, 2013 at 10:10 pm

Jennifer:

I just heard back from my clinician in The Pancreas Center and she says that due to the nature of your condition and question, you could get the best advice by speaking with a nutritionist in person. (It’s not always easy nor the best approach to provide advice for a specific situation over the Internet.)

If you were looking for a Registered Dietician in your area, you can visit the web site for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics at this link: http://www.eatright.org/programs/rdfinder/default.aspx. Alternatively, you can call The Pancreas Center at 212-305-9467 if you live in the area.

I am sorry we couldn’t provide you with more of answer to than this, but we’d rather you get the best advice.

If you need anything else, please feel free to leave another message.

alifna May 1, 2013 at 6:23 am

i m a 10 year old child suffering from acute pancreatitis from 4 years old.. i want to know that whether i have to suffer this for my lifetime, also allowed food for acute pancreatis patients..

alifna May 1, 2013 at 6:26 am

can i eat bread, banana, choclate?

Columbia Surgery May 1, 2013 at 9:50 am

Alifna -

Thank you for your inquiry. I have forwarded your question onto the Pancreas Center. As soon as I receive a response, I will reply.

For additional information about Pancreatis and diet, please visit our recent article: http://www.columbiasurgery.net/2013/04/11/help-take-pain-out-of-pancreatitis-with-your-diet/

The Pancreas Center is always happy to review the patients records and get back to you as soon as possible. The records can be faxed to 212-305-1571. You may contact the New Patient Coordinators Lynette or Priscilla at 212-305-9467 with additional questions.

Columbia Surgery May 1, 2013 at 1:40 pm

Alifna,

I have received the following reply from Deborah Gerszberg, RD, CNSC, CDN, Clinical Nutritionist at The Pancreas Center:

Thank you for your inquiry. Since diets are so individualized and I am not familiar with your specific nutritional habits and medical history, I would be doing you a disservice by offering you blind nutritional advice. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to read my blog post about the diet and pancreatitis http://www.columbiasurgery.net/2013/04/11/help-take-pain-out-of-pancreatitis-with-your-diet/. You will find guidance on finding further nutrition advice at the end of the blog. I hope you find this information helpful. If you have further questions, please call me at 212-305-5403.

muddsar a. May 15, 2013 at 3:07 pm

how much time it take to compleatly heal ?

Columbia Surgery May 16, 2013 at 9:52 am

Muddsar,

Thank you for reaching out to us. I have forwarded your comment onto the Pancreas Center. As soon as I hear a response, I will reply.

If you wish to contact the Pancreas Center directly, their number is: 212-305-9467 and their website is: http://pancreasmd.org

More information about Pancreatitis can be found on a follow up article: http://www.columbiasurgery.net/2013/04/11/help-take-pain-out-of-pancreatitis-with-your-diet/

I hope this helps. Please let me know if we can provide any further information. Thank you.

Columbia Surgery May 16, 2013 at 11:11 am

I have received the following response from the Pancreas Center:

Depending on your diagnosis of acute or chronic pancreatitis, each patient varies on the length of their “healing time”. Because diet and nutrition is such an important of part pancreatitis care, we encourage you to call 212.305.9467 and make an appointment with our nutritionist, Deborah Gerszberg. You may find her profile here: http://asp.cpmc.columbia.edu/facdb/pancreas/dir/profile_list_pancreas.asp?uni=db2681&DepAffil=Surgery

sanjay June 13, 2013 at 8:56 am

Hii….im sanjay ….havin abdoman pain frm past 3 years….wenever i eat sumthing gets pain…n my gb s removed due to sludegs

Columbia Surgery June 13, 2013 at 2:35 pm

Hi Sanjay,

Thank you for reaching out to us. I am sorry to hear about your difficulties. Unfortunately however, we are unable to help you over the internet as we do not have the ability of taking a proper medical examination. If you would like to make an appointment, you may call us at 855-CUSURGE. More information can be found on our homepage: http://www.columbiasurgery.org. Best regards.

Kelli P. June 24, 2013 at 11:36 am

I have chronic pancreatitis and under went an EDG but my gastro doctor would
not biopsy or drain the cyst because it is blocking one of the three arteries in the abdomen. I have to now see a surgeon. What will the surgeon do that my gastro DR
could not?

Christina June 24, 2013 at 7:28 pm

I had my gall bladder removed two years ago. I’ve had three ‘episodes’ of severe upper right quadrant pain with elevated lipase and amylase, but only double of normal..not in the thousands. Two MRCP’s, one ct and threeultrasounds and we still don’t have an answer, but I’ve been put on Prilosec and pancreatic enzymes until I see the ‘super’ specialist. So i know they think something is going on with my pancreas. I’m starting a bland diet now, just had applesauce for dinner…yum. My question is when can I expect some relief from the pain until we figure out what my guts are doing?

Columbia Surgery June 25, 2013 at 10:04 am

Kelli,

Thank you for reaching out to us. I have forwarded your comment to our Pancreas Center. As soon as I hear a response, I will reply. If you would like to contact them directly, please call: 212-305-9467. For more information about our center, you can also visit: http://pancreasmd.org

Columbia Surgery June 25, 2013 at 10:06 am

Hello Christina, Thank you for your interest in the Pancreas Center. We would be glad to review the patients records and get back to you as soon as possible. The records can be faxed to 212-305-1571. If you have any further questions please feel free to contact the New Patient Coordinators Lynette or Priscilla at 212-305-9467.

Columbia Surgery June 26, 2013 at 10:50 am

Hi Christina -

I have received the additional follow-up information from the Pancreas Center:

Your doctor may want to rule out any dietary causes of your pain, which may be one of the reasons you are on a bland diet. If you are having difficulty with this diet, or maintaining your weight on this diet, please seek the help of a registered dietitian: http://www.eatright.org/iframe/findrd.aspx. As for your inquiry about pain, it really varies from patient to patient. The Pancreas Center also has affiliation with the Pain Management Clinic as this is a common effect of pancreatic disease. For more information, please call us at 212.305.9467.

I hope this information helps. Please let me know if I can provide you with further assistance.

carol B June 30, 2013 at 8:39 pm

I have been trying to get on the right diets,and all the bowel problems and can’t seem to get anything right . Still have a lot of pain under my shoulder blade and radiates down to the bottom of my back. I have been to the Mayo clinic twice and they done a eucpr ( I think that’s what that was) cause here in Bismarck N. Dakota said it looked like a mass. They decided there that that they never saw cancer and also the second time, usually you have a 9.5 out of 10 that it is. Now in July I have to have another mri and social security won’t let me go back to the mayo and I have to go to Fargo n. dak. and I don’t think that’s right that I cant go backto the Mayo. Is there any way you could help me. Also my bile ducts are swollen and I have gained at least 50 lbs. and never weighed over 115 most of my life. I cant do very much walking because I have ostoartireitis on my knee and had surgery on there about a yr. ago and my knee and ankle still gets big and swollen at times. I am asking for help. Isnt there anything to do to get rid of those swollen duct? my stomaches is just hard from them. please try to help

Columbia Surgery July 2, 2013 at 10:31 am

Carol -

Thank you for reaching out to us. I’m sorry to hear about your struggles. Unfortunately, we cannot offer you medical advice over the internet without a complete patient exam. If you would like, please call 855-CUSURGE for a referral to one of our doctors. Best regards.

arif July 8, 2013 at 6:37 am

i was attacked by acute pancreas before one year ago. is there any possibility to re-attack me ? if the vegetables are cooked by more oil, can i eat them? plz answer -

Columbia Surgery July 8, 2013 at 10:10 am

Thank you, Arif, for reaching out to us. I have forwarded your comment onto the Pancreas Center. As soon as I hear a response, I will reply.

If you have not seen this already, Deborah Gerszberg, RD, CNSC, CDN has written a follow up article with additional information about nutrition and pancreatitis. You may view her “Help take pain out of pancreatitis with your diet” at: http://www.columbiasurgery.net/2013/04/11/help-take-pain-out-of-pancreatitis-with-your-diet/

Bill S. August 28, 2013 at 4:52 pm

During an MRI for kidney stones, Jan, 2012, the radiologist commented on an 7, 8, and 9 mm hypodense cysts on my pancreas. Since then it’s been the 800 lb gorilla in the room. I had a MRCP w contrast, in Mar, 2012 when it was determined they are ‘simple cystic foci’ and that there were, in fact, also two 4mm hypodense ‘simple cystic foci’. I had a followup MRCP w contrast in Sep, 2012 with no additions and no changes. I am scheduled for another MRCP w contrast in Sep or Oct, 2013 to monitor. If it continues with ‘no changes’, can I assume a normal life? I don’t want to live with the Sword of Damocles over me. If I can not, options, please ? How does a patient find the specialists and hospitals specializing in pacreatic cysts to offer options? Thanks,
Bill

Kathleen A. August 29, 2013 at 12:14 pm

I suffer with anomalous pancreaticobiliary union, and SOD. I know this is a rare condition, but it causes chronic pancreatitis, chronic swollen liver, among other issues. I have huge dietary issues, and I am too complicated for a dietation. I struggle with my eating habits, because I have so many restrictions. I am only 44 years old and I feel like I am constantly on a roller coaster ride with my diet. I need an easy to follow diet that tells me exactly what to do. I have a hard time breaking down carbs and sugar. When I eat too much of either I will get a headache in my right eye. Same thing will happen if I use diet anything. Woof… I need help. Please don’t tell me I need to see a dietatian.

Columbia Surgery August 30, 2013 at 10:36 am

Kathleen,

Thank you for reaching out to us. We are sorry to hear about your frustrations. However without a complete examination, it would be a disservice to you to offer a diet plan. In these types of situations, we like to approach our patients with our multidisciplinary efforts incorporating GI, interventional endoscopy, nutrition, and potentially more, to gain a better understanding of your anatomic concerns and tailor to your specific needs.

One of our clinical nutritionists has written a previous article about general guidelines for those with pancreatitis. You can find it: http://www.columbiasurgery.net/2013/04/11/help-take-pain-out-of-pancreatitis-with-your-diet/ We hope some of this information may help.

You may always contact Pancreas Center New Patient Coordinators Lynette or Priscilla at 212-305-1571 regarding any further questions about our approach or setting up an appointment. Best regards.

Columbia Surgery August 30, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Hi Bill,

Thank you for your comment. Here at The Pancreas Center we do have a Pancreatic Cyst Surveillance program. You can find more information in a previous blog article, http://www.columbiasurgery.net/2013/01/22/pancreatic-cyst-surveillance-clinic/

As each case is different, The Pancreas Center would be glad to review your patient records and get back to you as soon as possible. Records can be faxed to 212-305-1571. If you have any further questions please feel free to contact the New Patient Coordinators Lynette or Priscilla at 212-305-9467.

Vipul V. September 17, 2013 at 2:10 pm

I am suffering with recurrent acute pancreatitis since 4.5 years. i had went with CT/SCAN, MRCP for diagnosis but the report seen clear with no reason. before on month i had went with ENDOSONOGRAPHY. in this report found that, Gall bladder distended with FINE ECHOGENIC SLUDGE SEEN IN FUNDUS OF GB. CBD-NORMAL, Traced up to ampulla. Doctor suggested to remove gall bladder. should i go for this? kindly give me suggestion or help me out in this matter.

Columbia Surgery September 17, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Vipul,

We are sorry to hear about your frustrations. However without a complete examination, it would be a disservice to you to offer medical advice.

If you would like to set up an appointment with one of our doctors, please feel free to contact the New Patient Coordinators Lynette or Priscilla at 212-305-9467. Thank you.

Vipul V. September 17, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Suggest me more examination required apart from which i mentioned. i done every examination which is available in medical field. still if anything remaining than suggest me.

Vipul V. September 17, 2013 at 2:57 pm

One important question is that, can stress and hypertension be a role for pancreatitis?

Columbia Surgery September 17, 2013 at 5:05 pm

Hi Vipul,

I will forward your follow-up questions along to the Pancreas Center. As soon as I hear response, I will reply.

If you would like further information about the Pancreas Center, please visit: http://pancreasmd.org. You may also call: 212-305-9467 for further information. Best regards.

Columbia Surgery September 18, 2013 at 10:06 am

Hi Vipul,

Thank you again for reaching out to us. Unfortunately, without an examination from our team, we still cannot offer the medical advice you seek. Our patient coordinators, Lynette and Priscilla, would be more than happy to help facilitate an appointment with us if you would like to call them at: 212-305-9467. If you are unable see us, please seek the advice of another specialist in your area who can examine you and upon examination, offer the additional opinion you seek. Best regards.

carol B September 21, 2013 at 9:01 pm

My email is not working right and I have to take in my computer, but I am going to try if this goes through. I just found this now which is sept.20, and was so surprised that I had a answer from you. I will call you this week and talk to you and see if I could get in to see you. Which state are you in? I am still having a lot of pain and a distended stomach and digestive problems. I have tried a lot of different things. I will call and talk to you, it would be such a comfort for me. It feel like I am on a death waiting list. thanks for listening. carol

Columbia Surgery September 23, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Carol,

Thank you for re-reaching out to us. We are happy to hear about your interested in our center.

We are located in New York, NY. Upon reviewing your comment again, the best people to help facilitate an appointment with us would be our Center for Liver Disease and Transplantation. You may contact them at: 877.LIVER.MD and learn more information at: http://livermd.org. Please let us know if you require any further information. Thank you.

Sara September 25, 2013 at 1:14 pm

My husband age 46 just got out of the hospital with pancreatitis. I would like a list of good foods and bad foods. I found something but the information is very contradictory. Thank you.

Columbia Surgery September 25, 2013 at 1:32 pm

Sara,

Thank you for reaching out to us. Have you seen our article, “Help take pain out of pancreatitis with your diet” (http://www.columbiasurgery.net/2013/04/11/help-take-pain-out-of-pancreatitis-with-your-diet/)? This will help provide additional information for you and your husband regarding diet for pancreatitis.

archana October 1, 2013 at 8:02 am

hello sir,

Unfortunately my husband got an attack of pancreatitis was detected as Annular pancreas.within in a year he got 5 times of attack.now he was in full diet control no oil,no animal products,no fatty foods…because of this he lost his weight by 20 kgs. But he is ok with now no pain.,but som discomforts are there for 2 mins like dat..can you suggest me the precautions to be taken and whether surgery will be helpful in this case or not

waiting for your reply,
archana.

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