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Gastroparesis Diet

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Updated February 18, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Gastroparesis is a condition in which nerve damage increases the time it takes for your stomach to empty partially digested food into your small intestine. A gastroparesis diet can help alleviate some of the symptoms.

Gastroparesis can happen ideopathically (means we don't know what causes it) or it can be caused by type 1 or type 2 diabetes, especially if you go for long periods of time with elevated blood sugar levels.

Dietary Changes for Gastroparesis

If your symptoms are bad enough, you may need to follow a clear liquid diet for a few days. That can be followed with a full liquid diet as long as the liquids aren't high in fat. Your health care provider can help you through these diets, and when your symptoms have improved, you can move on to a gastroparesis diet.

Your specific dietary changes may be slightly different from another person, depending on any other digestive issues you may have, such as lactose intolerance or celiac disease. But there are some general steps that will be necessary:

Eat small meals. Your stomach is having difficulty sending food into your small intestine, so eating small snack-sized meals several times per day might make it easier to handle your condition. Think six (or more) small meals per day instead of three large ones.

Cut back on fat. Dietary fat slows your stomach down so following a low-fat diet may be beneficial for you. Avoid fried foods, high-fat dairy products, fatty meats, high-fat desserts and creamed soups. Choose low- and non-fat dairy products, tender lean meats like chicken, turkey or fish. It's okay to use a little bit of sour cream, butter or margarine, but just enough to add flavor to your meal. A tablespoon or two of smooth peanut butter is okay, but don't eat too much because it's high in fat.

Reduce your fiber intake. Fiber is normally something you'd want to increase, but since it slows stomach emptying, eating too much fiber can make gastroparesis worse. Avoid high-fiber foods like broccoli, whole grains, brown rice, Brussels sprouts, legumes, nuts and seeds. Choose white bread and 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 skins or peels. Vegetables can be steamed, roasted or boiled. Fruits should be fully ripened, cooked, canned or juiced (without the pulp). Avoid fruits and berries that have pulp or lots of seeds. Choose cooked potatoes without the skins, tomato juice, tomato sauce, plain pudding and gelatin, clear beverages and clear soups (noodles are okay, but avoid any high-fiber vegetables).

Leaving food in your stomach for too long is a problem because it can result in bacterial overgrowth or cause the formation of hardened globs of food called bezoars. These bezoars are bad because they can block the passageway that leads from the stomach to the small intestine. Changing your diet may not cure gastroparesis, but it makes it easier to handle the symptoms and prevent further complications. 

Most importantly, if you have diabetes, you need to keep your blood sugar levels within a healthier range, and there are medications available that might help treat gastroparesis. Your health care provider can diagnose and treat your condition and a visit with a diabetic educator, dietitian or nutritionist will be helpful as well.

Sources:

American Diabetes Association. "Gastroparesis." Accessed July 11, 2013. http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/gastroparesis.html.

Maher AK. "Simplified Diet Menu." Eleventh Edition, Hoboken NJ, USA: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, October 2011.

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). "Gastroparesis." Accessed July 11, 2013. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/gastroparesis.

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