What Foods Are Allowed on a Gastroparesis Diet?

Apple Sauce in a white bowl

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Gastroparesis is a condition in which your stomach cannot empty food in a normal manner. It can be caused by damage to the vagus nerve which regulates the digestive system. Following a gastroparesis diet can help alleviate many of the sign and symptoms of this distressing and often confounding condition.

What Is Gastroparesis?

Gastroparesis is a condition that affects the spontaneous movement of the muscles of your stomach. The prefix "gastro-" refers to the stomach, while the suffix "-paresis" describes a muscular weakness caused by nerve damage or disease.

Ordinarily, strong muscle contractions propel food through the digestive tract. But if you have gastroparesis, your stomach's motility is slowed to a point where it simply unable to empty fully. When this happens, you can experience a cascade of symptoms, including:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting (sometimes hours after eating)
  • Acid reflux
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Lack of appetite
  • Feeling full after only a few bites
  • Weight loss
  • Malnutrition

Gastroparesis is often idiopathic (meaning of unknown origin). While it is typically related to the dysfunction of the vagus nerve, it is often unclear which mechanisms are causing the dysfunction.

Some of the common risk factors for gastroparesis include diabetes, abdominal or esophageal surgery, low thyroid function (hypothyroidism), and nervous system disorders such as Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis.

In addition, certain drugs are known to slow gastric emptying, including opioid pain relievers as well as certain high blood pressure, antidepressant, and allergy medications. While these drugs are rarely the sole cause of gastroparesis, they can exacerbate the condition or increase its severity.

Dietary Guidelines

Diet is always the first step to treating gastroparesis. The aim of the diet is to provide your body with foods that are easily digested and to maintain optimal nutrition. To this end, there are several rules that you would need to follow:

Eat Smaller Meals

With gastroparesis, your stomach is less able to transport food into your small intestine. Eating smaller, snack-sized meals several times a day can help reduce the burden on your stomach. Instead of eating three large meals per day, try eating six or more smaller meals every two to three hours.

You should also make an effort to chew your food thoroughly and avoid lying down for two hours after a meal. Instead, take a short walk after eating or do gentle exercise.

Cut Back on the Fat

Dietary fat slows digestion, so following a low-fat diet is usually beneficial. Avoid fried foods, high-fat dairy, fatty meats, rich desserts, and creamed soups. Instead, choose low-fat and non-fat dairy as well as leaner, softer meats like chicken, turkey, or fish.

You don't have to completely cut out fat; just limit your intake. It's okay, for example, to add a bit of sour cream, butter, or margarine to a meal, but only enough to add flavor.

Reduce Your Fiber Intake

Fiber is usually something you'd want to increase, but eating too much fiber can further slow gastric motility and make your condition worse. Avoid high-fiber foods like broccoli, whole grains, brown rice, dried beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Instead, choose foods that promote motility, such as white bread, pasta, soda crackers, bananas, and ripe melons.

Eat Soft Foods

You don't have to give up fruits and vegetables, but you may need to avoid raw vegetables and harder fruits like raw apples. Vegetables should be thoroughly steamed, roasted, or boiled until soft. Fruits should be fully ripened, cooked, canned, or juiced (without the pulp). Avoid fruits and berries that have pulp or a lot of seeds.

Here are some of the softer foods to eat on a gastroparesis diet:

  • Chicken or turkey (skinless)
  • Canned tuna (packed in water)
  • Lean fish like tilapia, cod, and haddock
  • Eggs
  • Tofu
  • White bread and rolls
  • Plain bagels
  • English muffins
  • Flour or corn tortillas
  • Oatmeal or cream of wheat
  • Puffed rice or wheat cereal
  • Saltines or soda crackers
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Cottage cheese
  • Yogurt (without fruit)
  • Custard or pudding
  • Frozen yogurt
  • Gelatin desserts
  • Broth and low-fat pureed soups
  • Well-cooked root vegetables
  • Tomato sauces
  • Applesauce
  • Baked or mashed potato (no skin)
  • Sweet potato (no skin)
  • Fruit and vegetable juices (no pulp)
  • Canned peaches, pears, and apricot (skins removed)
  • Bananas

A Word From Verywell

If your symptoms are severe, your doctor may prescribe a clear liquid diet for a few days. That would be followed by a full liquid diet for anywhere from five days to two weeks. When your symptoms have improved, your doctor will move you on to a maintenance diet to better control your gastroparesis.

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