What foods should be avoided with pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is a condition where the pancreas becomes inflamed. The pancreas is an organ located behind the stomach that produces enzymes that aid digestion as well as hormones like insulin. There are two main types of pancreatitis: acute pancreatitis which comes on suddenly and lasts for a short period of time, and chronic pancreatitis which is persistent inflammation that can lead to permanent pancreas damage. Both forms of pancreatitis cause abdominal pain and other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, fever and an elevated heart rate. Treatment focuses on resting the pancreas from its digestive functions and managing pain and other symptoms. One important part of treating pancreatitis is following a pancreatitis diet to avoid foods that can further irritate or inflame the pancreas. This article will provide a detailed overview of foods to avoid with pancreatitis to support healing and prevent pancreatitis flares or attacks.

Understanding Pancreatitis

The pancreas produces digestive enzymes like lipases, proteases and amylases which help break down fats, proteins and carbohydrates from the food we eat. Normally these enzymes are inactive until they reach the small intestine where they begin digesting food. However in pancreatitis, these enzymes become activated prematurely inside the pancreas, beginning to digest and damage the pancreatic tissue itself. This causes inflammation, swelling and damage. There are a few potential causes of this early enzyme activation:

– Gallstones becoming stuck in the pancreatic duct and obstructing the outflow of pancreatic juices. This reflux of enzymes back into the pancreas causes injury.

– Heavy alcohol consumption over many years leading to tissue damage and enzyme activation.

– High blood levels of triglycerides which can injure pancreatic cells.

– Certain medications, viral infections, trauma, anatomical abnormalities or other disorders like high calcium levels.

Whatever the underlying cause, the result is inflammation of the pancreas. This prevents the organ from properly producing enzymes and hormones needed to digest food and regulate blood sugar.

Acute vs Chronic Pancreatitis

There are two main classifications of pancreatitis:

Acute pancreatitis involves a sudden onset of pancreas inflammation which is temporary and resolves within a few days with proper treatment. It can range in severity from mild discomfort to a severe, life-threatening attack. Gallstones are the most common cause. An acute attack may lead to chronic pancreatitis if there is repeat damage to the pancreas.

Chronic pancreatitis involves persistent inflammation leading to irreversible damage. It is most often caused by long-term heavy alcohol use. Chronic pancreatitis leads to impaired digestion and diabetes from the inability to produce insulin. This results in symptoms like fatty stool, unintentional weight loss and high blood sugar. Abdominal pain is the primary symptom.

Both forms of pancreatitis require following an appropriate diet to give the pancreas a chance to heal and prevent further attacks. Certain foods are more likely to trigger inflammation or cause pain and should be limited or avoided.

Foods to Avoid with Pancreatitis

The primary aim of a pancreatitis diet is to give the inflamed pancreas a rest. This means limiting high fat and protein dense foods that require a lot of enzymes to digest and allowing the pancreas to heal. Here are the main types of foods to avoid with pancreatitis:

Fatty and fried foods – High fat foods require pancreatic lipase and other enzymes to break down. These include fatty cuts of meat, whole dairy products, eggs, fried foods, fast food, chips, butter, oil, nuts, seeds, avocados and more.

Processed foods – Bacon, sausage, hot dogs, deli meats, canned meats and cheese contain saturated fats and nitrates that can further irritate the pancreas.

Alcohol – Alcohol consumption is one of the leading causes of pancreatitis. All alcohol including beer, wine, liquor and cocktails should be completely avoided in both acute and chronic pancreatitis. Even small amounts can trigger an attack.

Caffeine – Found in coffee, soda, energy drinks and chocolate, caffeine stimulates pancreatic secretions and should be limited or avoided.

Acidic foods and beverages – Tomatoes, citrus fruits and juices, vinegars, carbonated beverages and other acidic foods may irritate the inflamed pancreas.

Refined carbs and sugars – Foods high in sugar and refined flours like cakes, cookies, candy, breads, pastries and chips rapidly spike blood sugar levels which can be difficult to manage if pancreatic insulin production is impaired.

Spicy foods – Heavily spiced foods and hot sauces can further inflame the pancreas.

In some cases, high protein foods like red meat, eggs and dairy may need to be limited if enzyme production is significantly impaired to allow the pancreas to rest. A low fat, plant based diet is recommended. Fiber from fruits, vegetables and whole grains is beneficial.

Sample Diet for Pancreatitis

Here is a sample one day meal plan with pancreatitis friendly foods:

– 1/2 cup oatmeal cooked in water or almond milk. Top with 1 tbsp ground flaxseed and 1/4 cup blueberries.

– Herbal tea

Morning Snack:
– 1 apple sliced with 1 tbsp peanut butter

– Spinach salad with 2 cups baby spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, 1/4 avocado and 2 tbsp low-fat salad dressing

– Side of 1/2 whole wheat pita pocket

– Herbal tea

Afternoon Snack:
– 1/4 cup edamame sprinkled with sea salt

– 1 cup vegetarian chili with brown rice and 1 whole wheat dinner roll

– Side salad with vinaigrette dressing

This sample menu avoids greasy and fried items, heavily spiced dishes, high fat dairy and meat, sweet treats and alcohol that can aggravate pancreatitis. It focuses on anti-inflammatory foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and plant-based proteins. Staying hydrated with water, herbal tea and vegetable juices is also important.

Foods to Choose with Pancreatitis

While certain foods should be limited or avoided, there are many nourishing anti-inflammatory foods that can be enjoyed with pancreatitis including:

– Vegetables – spinach, kale, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, squash, green beans, sweet potatoes, mushrooms. Go easy on tomatoes, onions, garlic, peppers which may be too acidic.

– Fruits – blueberries, strawberries, bananas, melons, apples, pears, mango, pineapple, peaches. Citrus fruits may be irritating.

– Grains – oats, brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, 100% whole wheat bread and rolls.

– Proteins – tofu, tempeh, beans, lentils, white fish, skinless poultry, eggs and dairy in moderation if tolerated.

– Fats and oils – avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, flaxseeds, walnuts, nut butters. Use in small amounts as tolerated.

– Beverages – water, herbal tea, vegetable juice, plant-based milk. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.

Focus on eating smaller, more frequent meals to ease digestion and keep blood sugar steady. Good food choices with pancreatitis do not sit heavily in the stomach, stimulate digestive secretions, or rapidly spike blood sugar levels. A diet rich in fiber and nutrients from plant foods will provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits to aid healing.

Supplements for Pancreatitis

Certain vitamin and mineral supplements may be beneficial for managing pancreatitis:

Antioxidants – Vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene and selenium help reduce oxidative damage and inflammation.

Probiotics – Probiotic bacteria support healthy gut microbiome which influences pancreas health.

Digestive enzymes – Pancreatic enzyme supplements like lipase, amylase, protease may improve digestion and nutrient absorption.

Curcumin – The active compound in turmeric has anti-inflammatory effects that may benefit pancreas health.

Always consult a doctor before taking supplements to ensure they will not interact with any medications being taken. Probiotics and digestive enzymes in particular should only be used at the recommendation of your physician to determine the proper dosing based on the severity of pancreatic insufficiency.

Lifestyle Changes for Pancreatitis

In addition to diet, the following lifestyle modifications can help reduce symptoms and flares:

– Maintaining normal body weight
– Exercising regularly with both aerobic and strength training activities
– Quitting smoking and limiting alcohol consumption
– Managing stress through relaxation techniques, adequate sleep and mindfulness practices
– Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids
– Taking prescribed medications properly to manage pain and underlying conditions

The goal is to reduce sources of inflammation and oxidative stress through diet, exercise, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol intake and managing stress. This comprehensive approach gives the body the best chance at healing.


What you eat and drink can have a significant impact on pancreatitis symptoms and flare ups. The pancreas needs rest to heal, which means limiting foods that overwork it like fatty foods, alcohol and caffeine. Anti-inflammatory plant foods like fruits, veggies, beans, whole grains and lean proteins are gentle and nourishing choices. Staying hydrated, exercising, managing stress and limiting alcohol are also key. Work closely with your healthcare provider to develop a pancreatitis diet and lifestyle tailored to your individual needs and sensitivities. With the proper modifications, most people with pancreatitis are able to enjoy a satisfying diet that promotes healing.

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