The pancreas seems innocent enough. It's small, oddly-shaped and snuggles up behind the stomach deep inside the abdomen. It spends its time quietly producing and releasing fluids to help your body function. But if you don't play nice and provide the pancreas with its favorite foods, the innocent little organ quickly transforms into a vicious villain -- causing excruciating pain and nausea.
Although fatty foods themselves won’t damage the pancreas, they do contribute to high triglyceride levels -- a common risk factor for pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer. While polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are quite healthy, saturated and trans fats are particularly dangerous. You’ll often find these bad boys in fried foods, meats, baked goods and refined or processed foods. Control your cholesterol intake as well by swapping red meat, egg yolks and whole milk for lean meats, egg whites and low-fat milk whenever possible.
Registered nurse, social worker and health counselor Candice Rosen focused her pancreas-protecting efforts on one main goal -- maintaining a healthy blood sugar balance -- in her book, “The Pancreatic Oath.” According to Rosen, balancing blood sugar levels reduces the workload on the pancreas. To achieve this balance, Rosen’s approach eliminates all sugar-containing foods, which often seems like an impossible feat in today’s sugar-sweet society.
In Rosen's plan, natural sugars from fruit are only enjoyed in moderation. And all other sugars lurking in cookies, cakes, candy, ice cream, yogurt, sweetened beverages, pastries, crackers, chips, sauces and a variety of other foods are purposefully prohibited.
While an occasional glass of wine with dinner or martini at the company Christmas party won’t be to blame for a pitiful pancreas, getting a little too crazy at happy hour can certainly cause problems. The University of Maryland Medical Center explains that excessive alcohol consumption is one of the most common causes of pancreas disorders, such as pancreatitis.
If you have a personal or family history of pancreas problems, it might be best to avoid alcohol altogether. If not, simply follow the rules of moderation when pouring yourself a drink. While most men can safely enjoy two alcoholic drinks per day, ladies should limit the guzzling to just one. This equates to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits -- so pick your potion wisely and sip slowly.
Pancreatitis involves massive inflammation of the pancreas, which can cause the pancreas to actually digest itself -- just as it would a T-bone steak. During an exacerbation of acute or chronic pancreatitis, all foods are damaging to the delicate organ. Since the pancreas plays a role in digestion, the organ is stimulated every time food or fluid enters the stomach. To allow an inflamed pancreas to rest, food and fluids are off limits for a few days. Once the inflammation subsides, you'll be allowed to enjoy clear liquids and bland foods -- like soup broth, gelatin and dry toast -- which will probably taste decadent after a few days of fasting.
What to Eat
Playing nice with your pancreas is actually quite simple -- it wants a healthy, balanced diet that’s low in saturated fat, cholesterol and simple sugars. Get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, which help lower triglyceride levels. These healthy fats are found in nuts, seeds, fish and leafy greens. And just as antioxidants protect your body against cancer, cardiovascular disease and other types of illnesses, they’ll also pack a powerful punch in protecting against pancreas problems. Include a variety of fruits and veggies in your daily diet to amp up your antioxidant intake.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Pancreatitis
- John Hopkins Medicine: Risk Factors for Pancreas Cancer
- MayoClinic.com: Pancreatitis -- Causes
- Medical News Today: What Is the Pancreas? What Does the Pancreas Do?
- MayoClinic.com: Alcohol Use: If You Drink, Keep It Moderate
- MayoClinic.com: Triglycerides: Why Do They Matter?
Krista Sheehan is a registered nurse and professional writer. She works in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and her previous nursing experience includes geriatrics, pulmonary disorders and home health care. Her professional writing works focus mainly on the subjects of physical health, fitness, nutrition and positive lifestyle changes.