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.