If you love food, you have probably wished the flavor of a perfect bite could stay on your tongue just a little longer. What you don’t want is for food to stay in your stomach just a little longer, but this is just what happens if you have a condition known as gastroparesis.
What is Gastroparesis?
Gastroparesis is a medical condition in which the stomach fails to empty in a timely manner. This delay in moving food into your small intestine can cause a host of problems. Vomiting, nausea, weight loss, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, reflux and bloating are all possible symptoms of gastroparesis. Some people who suffer from gastroparesis may not be able to eat solid food unless it has been pureed. In extreme cases, even a liquid diet cannot be tolerated, and a feeding tube or an IV may be needed in extreme situations.
Gastroparesis can be caused by viral infections, some narcotic medications and medical conditions including diabetes. It can also occur after bariatric surgery or other procedures that interrupt the normal process of digestion. Delayed stomach emptying can also be triggered by diseases of the nervous system such as Parkinson's or multiple sclerosis. There are occasions when gastroparesis can be a short-term, temporary condition, but it can also be a chronic illness you will need to manage over time.
Delayed stomach emptying can put you at risk for bezoars. A bezoar is a mass of indigestible material that collects in the digestive tract. These masses can be found in the stomach, small intestine, and less frequently in the large intestine. They can be made of cellulose and other indigestible fibers from vegetables and fruits like celery, beets, and raisins. Other kinds of bezoars can contain undissolved medication or hair and clothing fibers.
One of the biggest challenges you will face if you are suffering from delayed stomach emptying is getting enough nutrition. If your stomach empties more slowly, you will reach satiety (the feeling of fullness) more quickly. Without careful planning this could leave you without the vitamins and nutrients you need to stay healthy.
This can be a compounding condition, as the amount of fiber and protein you eat can have a direct effect on the severity of your symptoms. As a result, carefully managing your diet can have a significant impact on your ability to keep your symptoms in check.
Nutritional deficiencies are a concern with delayed stomach emptying, but they can usually be treated with dietary modification, lifestyle changes, and nutritional supplements. In extreme cases, when solid foods are not tolerated or even a liquid diet can become difficult, a feeding tube or an IV may be used for a period of time your blood sugar cannot be regulated normally.
How Does a Gastroparesis Diet Work?
The treatment of severe gastroparesis involves finding the level of food or liquid diet you can tolerate. You may need to be taken off all food temporarily, then reintroduce foods slowly and carefully under the supervision of a doctor or a dietitian. As you are beginning a gastroparesis diet, you may need to start at the very basics by only sipping Gatorade or bouillon just to prevent dehydration. Once that is tolerated, you will slowly progress through soups and pureed foods, applesauce, milkshakes and possibly even baby food. Eventually, the goal is to reach a point where solid food is tolerated.
Like many other upper gastrointestinal issues, the effects of delayed emptying of the stomach can be lessened greatly by changing how and when you eat. By modifying your diet, eating frequent meals and making small lifestyle changes like not laying down right after you eat, you can greatly reduce the severity of your symptoms.
Eating many small meals throughout the day rather than a few large meals is a main component of a gastroparesis diet. Eating soft, nutritionally dense foods, avoiding high-fiber foods and consuming enough liquid are all part of a recipe for success. Rather than fighting an uphill battle and risking the vomiting and nausea that can come from eating large meals, it is better to eat small meals more often.
By sticking to a careful meal plan throughout the day, you will be able to ensure adequate nutritional intake. Your health care provider or dietitian may also recommend you take a multivitamin to help you get the nutrients you need in addition to your meal plan.
What Food Can I Eat if I Have Gastroparesis?
Thankfully, a diet for gastroparesis does not have to be a boring one. Though you should probably shy away from foods like beans, legumes, nuts, and cheeses, there are still plenty of foods available. You will want to eat low-fat, high protein meals that are not too high in fiber. For starters, the foods below are generally recommended for helping with gastroparesis:
- peanut butter
- white bread
- hot cereals and crackers
- vegetable juices (kale, spinach, carrots)
- fruit juice and smoothies
- skim milk
- bagels or English muffins
- tomato sauce
What Food Should I Avoid if I Have Gastroparesis?
There are several types of food you should avoid when you have gastroparesis, and some of them would be easy to guess. Carbonated beverages and alcohol are not recommended as is the case with many other gastrointestinal conditions.
Alcohol is known to irritate the lining of the stomach, and carbonated beverages are likely to increase the amount of gas in the stomach, which will only aggravate the problem of early satiety. If you do decide to drink carbonated beverages or coffee, make sure you drink them at the end of the meal rather than before you have eaten.
There are several classes of food which should be avoided if you have been diagnosed with gastroparesis. These foods, while nutritious, are harder to digest or may cause a buildup of gas in your digestive tract that can aggravate your symptoms. Foods that are high in fiber should be avoided, as high fiber foods take longer to digest and are moved out of the stomach more slowly. Some examples of foods to avoid are as follows:
- whole-grain breads
- beans and legumes
- seeds and nuts
- broccoli and cauliflower
- Brussels sprouts
- heavy cream
- cottage cheese
- whole milk
- excess oil or butter
Chewing Food Properly
What you eat is a crucial part of making a gastroparesis diet work. How you eat is also very important. Many people, and certainly most Americans, eat quickly, and often do not adequately chew their food. When you are in hurry or just grabbing a bite, you may end up swallowing before you fully chew food. This habit, which many of us share, makes it harder for your stomach to begin digesting your food and can result in gastric emptying being delayed more than normal.
To help ensure you chew your food properly, eat meats or mixed dishes like lasagna with a broth or sauce. The extra liquid will assist in moving food through your digestive tract, which can be crucial when your stomach is not emptying on its own.
If chewing your food thoroughly is not helping, pureeing or blending your food may be an option. Some foods can easily be reduced by chewing to a pudding or mashed potato consistency, but meats may need to be ground up or pureed to achieve the consistency you need.
Talk to Your Doctor About Gastroparesis
You should always talk to your doctor when you have any form of gastrointestinal issue that involves ongoing vomiting and intense abdominal pain. Several different conditions share many of the same symptoms, and some of these conditions can be quite serious. It is possible that your symptoms may be masking or related to one of these more dangerous conditions. Gastritis, stomach cancer, diverticulitis and other diseases can present with similar symptoms, which makes getting an accurate diagnosis very important.
We can guide you through the confusing questions of what might be wrong. By properly identifying your condition and getting you a diagnosis, we can start you on the road to managing your symptoms. Make an appointment today to begin the journey back to digestive health.