The right Diet for Cystic Fibrosis patients
There are many teenage girls, and even adult women, who envy girls with cystic fibrosis (CF) because of their diet. A girl with this disorder needs to subsist on a diet that is high in fat and salt, and yet she always remains skinny thin. This is a kind of eating situation that a weight-watching and figure-conscious teenager would love to have, but simply cannot.
The irony is that while girls and guys who have cystic fibrosis have the license to enjoy the foods that are typically on the list of foods to avoid by other people, they often are not happy eating as much because they often feel too sick to eat. Still, people with cystic fibrosis must stick to this high-fat and high-salt diet because they need it for optimal growth.
The problem of malabsorption in cystic fibrosis
Higher energy expenditure
Impaired breathing and bacterial infections trigger the body to burn more calories than usual. This need for extra calories can only be realized by eating more than normal.
The problem, however, is that cystic fibrosis sufferers cannot absorb nutrients that easily, especially fat, protein and fat-soluble vitamins. The typical sticky mucus prevents the enzymes from the pancreas to reach the intestines and break down the food. Undigested food leaves the body and the patient does not absorb the energy he needs.
Enzyme replacement pills need to be part of the patient’s diet to digest fat and protein. Nevertheless, patients need still to consume 20% to 50% more calories than the recommended dietary allowance (RDA).
Heavy salt loss
Cystic fibrosis patients loose on average 10 times more salt than other people. Salt is important, as it controls the water balance in the body. A lack of the mineral causes the body to dehydrate, which happens frequently with this genetic disorder. It’s therefore normal for patients to eat salty foods or add salt to their dishes.
Fat soluble vitamins
The fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K aren’t easily absorbed by cystic fibrosis patients either because they are normally digested during fat absorption. Improper fat digestion requires vitamins to be taken with pancreatic enzymes as well. Regular over the counter vitamins will not be prescribed, instead a special vitamin preparation will be given to the patients.
.. and calcium
Calcium malabsorption is known to cause bone decalcification. People suffering from CF will need to drink enough milk and eat enough cheese, yogurt… to provide their body with the necessary calcium.
A normal eating plan for cystic fibrosis patients consists of 3 main courses and some in between meals, usually 2 or 3 (the latter being after evening dinner). For people with a good appetite, eating this much is no problem. However, not all patients are able to eat double portions, so they must be creative with food and try to maximize the amount of calories per food portion eaten.
Tips to enrich food with extra calories
Fat has the highest amount of calories per gram of food in comparison to sugar and protein (There are 9 kcal per gram fat and only 4 kcal per gram of protein or sugar). This makes it an excellent ingredient to add more calories to meals:
- Simply adding one or more spoons of oil to meat or fish adds a lot of calories without adding enormous amounts of food. Examples are olive oil, sunflower oil, mayonnaise, béarnaise…
- Butter is also a good source of fat which can be spread on a toast or sandwich. Cooking butter can also be used in large quantities when cooking meat and fish.
- Cheese is also a great source of fat which can be eaten with bread, potatoes, soup and dishes prepared in the oven.
Examples of allowed food
As mentioned, the cystic fibrosis diet is without restriction. Fatty foods, a lot of salt, protein and starch is a must for patients to compensate for the losses due to malabsorption. As an example, the following foods can be eaten at pleasure:
- Breakfast cereals
- Pasta, like lasagna and pizza
- Peanut butter
- Hamburgers and Hot-dogs
- Chocolate nut spread
- Meat like lard, bacon and beef
Disclaimer: This website provides general information about cystic fibrosis and in no means should be taken as a medical or health advice. Please consult your doctor before acting on any of its information.