Researchers have identified certain foods you can eat to protect and even help heal your pancreas. Changing how often you eat can also be beneficial.

Your pancreas helps you regulate the way that your body processes sugar. It also serves an important function in releasing enzymes and helping you digest food.

When your pancreas becomes inflamed, this condition is called pancreatitis.

Because the pancreas is so closely tied to your digestive process, it’s affected by what you eat. In cases of acute pancreatitis, pancreas inflammation is often triggered by gallstones.

With chronic pancreatitis, the inflammation is long-term and does not fully heal. This can affect your ability to absorb nutrients from food.

Researchers are finding out more about foods you can eat to protect your pancreas and help it function at its best.

During an episode of acute pancreatitis, the first step of treatment often involves avoiding all food and drink. Your health care team may need to administer a special liquid diet, IV fluids, or enteral feeding (a feeding tube). People with chronic pancreatitis may also need to use these methods if they have trouble absorbing nutrients from food.

After a pancreatitis flare-up, your doctor will tell you when you can begin to consume food and drinks again.

To reduce symptoms during recovery, your doctor may recommend starting with starchy foods like rice, pasta, and bread.

Pair these starchy foods with foods that are rich in protein and low in fat. Some examples are lean meats, skinless poultry, beans and lentils, and low fat dairy. Your pancreas won’t have to work as hard to process these.

Vegetables and fruits are also important parts of a healthy eating plan for acute pancreatitis.

Cooking more of your meals at home is one way to help reduce fat intake. When you’re eating prepared foods or dining out, choose low fat options whenever possible.

Sometimes, pancreatitis can cause undesired weight loss or nutrient deficiencies. In these cases, your doctor or dietician will offer strategies to increase calories, vitamins, and minerals, as needed. You may be advised to add certain high-calorie foods or supplements to your diet.

Be sure to follow your doctor or dietitian’s advice for your specific needs.

After acute pancreatitis, your doctor will usually recommend reducing your fat intake until your symptoms improve. This can involve limiting high-fat foods such as:

  • red meat
  • organ meats
  • fried foods
  • fries and potato chips
  • oily sauces and spreads, such as mayonnaise
  • vegetable oils, margarine, and butter
  • full-fat dairy
  • pastries, cakes, and cookies
  • ice cream

In a 2016 study, eating red meat was associated with an increased risk for chronic pancreatitis. In addition, people who ate more saturated fat and cholesterol — and foods high in these nutrients, such as red meat and eggs — had a higher risk for gallstone-related acute pancreatitis.

If you consume alcohol, your doctor will recommend that you stop drinking after being diagnosed with pancreatitis. Consuming alcohol can make pancreatitis worse, so to protect your health, you’ll likely be advised to avoid alcohol completely.

Smoking is also associated with serious complications of pancreatitis, including pancreatic cancer. If you smoke, it’s strongly recommended that you quit.

If you have pancreatitis, you will be advised to stop drinking alcohol completely. If you smoke, you’ll also be strongly advised to quit. This is because alcohol and tobacco are associated with serious complications of pancreatitis.

While recovering from acute pancreatitis, you’ll likely focus on eating a low-fat diet that won’t tax or inflame your pancreas.

You should also stay hydrated. Keeping a bottle of water with you at all times can help you increase water intake throughout the day.

If you need to make long-term dietary changes because of pancreatitis, your doctor may refer you to a dietitian. They can help you learn how to change your eating habits to better manage your symptoms and nutritional needs.

Diet tips

When recovering from acute pancreatitis, your doctor will usually ask you to follow a special diet to help reduce pain and prevent the condition from returning.

People with chronic pancreatitis may not have the same dietary needs as those with acute pancreatitis.

If you have chronic pancreatitis, you may be at higher risk for becoming malnourished. This is because chronic pancreatitis can make it harder for your body to absorb nutrients from food. With chronic pancreatitis, advice may be focused on helping you get enough nutrition from your diet.

Vitamins A, D, E, and K are most commonly found to be lacking as a result of chronic pancreatitis.

Always check with your doctor or dietitian before changing your eating habits when you have pancreatitis. Here are some tips they might suggest:

  • Eat five to six small meals throughout the day to help recover from pancreatitis. This may be easier on your digestive system than eating several large meals.
  • With acute pancreatitis, you may want to avoid eating too much fiber at once. To allow your digestive system time to heal, you may want to start with soft, starchy carbs like bread, potatoes, and pasta before reintroducing high-fiber whole grains.
  • Some people with chronic pancreatitis may need to avoid a high-fiber diet. With this condition, large amounts of dietary fiber may make your digestive enzymes less effective.
  • If you’ve been diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis, talk with your doctor or dietitian about monitoring your vitamin levels. Some people may need to take supplements if they are unable to absorb enough nutrients from their diet.

Pancreatitis has many causes. These include:

  • gallstones
  • certain genetic conditions
  • certain medications
  • infection or injury

Long-term heavy alcohol use is a risk factor for developing pancreatitis, especially chronic pancreatitis.

In many cases, the cause of pancreatitis is unknown.

If your pancreas has been damaged by pancreatitis, a change in your diet can help you feel better. But it might not be enough to restore the function of the pancreas completely.

An endoscopic procedure, surgery, medications, or other treatments might be recommended. This will depend on your specific medical history and symptoms.

With chronic pancreatitis, your pancreas may not be able to produce all of the enzymes you need to digest your food. If this happens, your doctor may prescribe pancreatic enzymes for you to take with every meal.