What to Eat When You Have Gastroparesis

Dietary Recommendations for Better Management

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Gastroparesis is a condition in which your stomach cannot empty food in a normal manner. What and how you eat, perhaps not surprisingly, play a big role in its management. The foods that are part of a gastroparesis diet are easily digested, which can help you manage related digestive symptoms. The diet is also designed to help you maintain optimal nutrition, which is especially important when it comes to preventing some of the concerns that can stem from flares.

Benefits

Ordinarily, strong, spontaneous muscle contractions propel food through the digestive tract. But if you have gastroparesis, your stomach's motility is slowed to a point where it is simply unable to empty fully.

The gastroparesis diet is always the first step to treating this condition after diagnosis. The easy-to-digest foods it promotes put less stress on your gastrointestinal system, reducing a range of uncomfortable symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, acid reflux, bloating, and abdominal pain.

Furthermore, the focus on nutrient density helps your body weather bouts of appetite loss that often arise during flare-ups. Without a consistent focus on good nutrition, these episodes could lead to malnutrition and weight loss.

Following a gastroparesis diet may also help you avoid medications and other treatments for the condition that may be associated with side effects.

How It Works

Studies investigating specific foods to consume and foods to avoid on a gastroparesis diet were lacking until 2015. In fact, according to a 2016 report published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, patients traditionally received dietary advice based on physiological principles rather than scientific evidence.

However, more recent clinical trials have identified specific foods and food characteristics that help improve the comfort level of those living with gastroparesis.

For example, one study published in Digestive Diseases and Sciences sought out to identify and characterize specific foods that affect gastroparesis. Based on patient experiences, researchers were able to compile a list of foods that changed participants' symptoms.

Foods that provoked symptoms were usually acidic, fatty, spicy, or roughage-based. Tolerable foods were usually bitter, salty, bland, and sweet.

It may take some time to develop a diet that works best for you. The guidelines provided here can serve as a starting point.

Duration

There is no cure for gastroparesis. Dietary changes and other treatments (including medications and other options) can help you manage the symptoms. Therefore, you should plan to adopt the gastroparesis diet for the long-term.

As you develop a list of foods that help you manage the condition, it may be helpful to keep a food journal. You can also work with your healthcare provider to get food recommendations or ask for a referral to a registered dietitian who can help you put together a personalized food plan.

What to Eat

Studies have shown that eating foods with a small particle size might help to ease symptoms of gastroparesis. Researchers have identified these specific foods as having an impact on the condition.

Compliant Foods

  • Soda crackers

  • Gelatin

  • Graham crackers

  • Ginger ale

  • Gluten-free foods

  • Tea

  • Potatoes (sweet and white)

  • Pretzels

  • White fish

  • Clear soup

  • Salmon

  • White rice

  • Popsicles

  • Applesauce

Non-Compliant Foods

  • Oranges and orange juice

  • Fried chicken

  • Cabbage

  • Sausage

  • Pizza

  • Peppers

  • Onions

  • Tomato juice

  • Lettuce

  • Coffee

  • Salsa

  • Broccoli

  • Bacon

  • Roast beef

In addition to these foods, several medical sources have provided guidelines about different types of food that can provoke or reduce symptoms:

Fatty foods: Dietary fat slows digestion, so following a low-fat diet is usually beneficial. Avoid fried foods, high-fat dairy, fatty meats, rich desserts, and cream-based 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 OK, for example, to add a bit of sour cream, butter, or margarine to a meal, but only enough to add flavor.

Fiber-rich foods: 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 melon.

Raw fruits and vegetables: 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.

Soft foods: Meals are more likely to be digested more comfortably if they are soft. Here are some of the softer foods that are commonly recommended on a gastroparesis diet:

  • Chicken or turkey (skinless)
  • Canned tuna (packed in water)
  • Eggs
  • Tofu
  • White bread and rolls
  • Plain bagels
  • English muffins
  • Flour or corn tortillas
  • Oatmeal or cream of wheat
  • Puffed rice or wheat cereal
  • 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

Liquid foods: According to the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive, and Kidney Diseases, your doctor may recommend that you drink your nutrition if solid foods are not tolerated. These drinks may include liquid nutrition meals or solid foods puréed in a blender.

Your doctor may also recommend that you drink plenty of water or liquids that contain glucose and electrolytes, such as:

  • Low-fat broths and clear soups
  • Low-fiber fruit and vegetable juices
  • Sports drinks
  • Oral rehydration solutions

Recommended Timing

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.

Cooking Tips

When managing gastroparesis, you may want to adjust your cooking schedule to accommodate small, frequent meals. You may not have time to cook five or six times each day, so plan to cook meals in bulk and divide them into small containers to be enjoyed later.

You might also want to cut and freeze fruit to use in smoothies or juices. Steam vegetables in advance, then store them in microwavable containers to reheat as needed.

To reduce fat in meals, use cooking methods that don't include oils or butter. Roast meat and seafood, steam vegetables, or grill foods to keep them lean.

Modifications

Nutritional deficiencies are not uncommon while on a gastroparesis diet. Studies have shown that many patients with gastroparesis have diets deficient in calories, vitamins, and minerals.

For instance, a large study published in the journal Gastroenterology tracked over 300 patients with gastroparesis to evaluate their calorie and nutrient intake. They found that, on average, study participants consumed under 1,200 calories per day—equivalent to about 58% of their total caloric needs.

Additionally, many study participants were deficient in important vitamins and minerals, most notably vitamins C, D and K, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium.

Unfortunately, research has also indicated that people with the condition rarely get nutritional consultation. In the study, only a third of the study participants received dietary therapy. But those that did were 1.5 times more likely to have their daily caloric intake reach 85% or more of their daily requirement.

For this reason, medical experts suggest dietary therapy to address nutritional deficiencies. If you are managing another condition, such as diabetes, a registered dietitian can work together with you and the rest of your healthcare team to manage a comprehensive treatment strategy.

Also, be sure to communicate with your healthcare provider about any medications that you are taking. Certain medications slow gastric emptying and may make symptoms worse. Examples include aluminum-containing antacids, narcotic pain medications, anticholinergic agents, and bulk-forming agents.

Considerations

Living with gastroparesis can be easier with support and knowledge. Your healthcare team may be able to direct you to a support community affiliated with a hospital or health center near you. Talking to others, sharing experiences, and gathering tips can help you to feel less alone as you manage the condition.

If a support group is not available near you, there are resources online that may be helpful. The International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders is a nonprofit education and research organization that provides substantial information about living with gastroparesis. Their website offers helpful guidance including travel tips, personal stories, and advice to make day-to-day living more comfortable.

A Word From Verywell

Changing what and how you eat can help you to stay energized and healthy when you have gastroparesis. But it will probably take a bit of trial and error to find what works best for you. Unfortunately, there is no single gastroparesis diet that relieves symptoms for everyone. Stay connected to your healthcare team as you journey through the experience of experimenting with foods and meal timing.

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