Gastroparesis is a condition in which the stomach takes too long to empty food into the small intestine. If diabetes is the cause of gastroparesis, it is called “diabetic gastroparesis.” If you have this condition, there are certain foods that can provide you with nutrition while minimizing symptoms.
Causes of diabetic gastroparesis
Diabetes is the most common cause of gastroparesis. Diabetes can damage nerves in the wall of the stomach that control the muscles of the stomach and small intestine; if the muscles stop working, the stomach and intestines can’t work properly. This then causes the movement of food through the digestive tract to slow or even stop.
Symptoms of gastroparesis
How might you know if you have gastroparesis? Typical symptoms include:
- Feeling full soon after eating a meal or long after stopping a meal
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Bloating and/or belching
- Stomach spasms
- Unintentional weight loss
- Unstable blood sugars
Feeling full or bloated, or having constant nausea and vomiting can result in not getting enough nutrition, and can even lead to nutrient deficiencies, malnutrition and dehydration. Also, food that stays in the stomach for too long can cause the formation of bezoars, a solid mass of undigested food that can lead to a blockage.
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Gastroparesis is treated in a variety of ways, depending on the severity of symptoms and how well you respond to different treatments. A priority for treatment is to manage your blood sugars and get them as close to target as possible. Hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, can further delay emptying of food from the stomach, so you may need a change in your diabetes medication to make sure your blood sugars don’t go too high or too low. There are also a variety of medications that are used to help manage gastroparesis. Eating habits and food choices are other important factors in treating and managing gastroparesis.
Eating and physical activity habits
If you’ve been diagnosed with gastroparesis, here are some suggestions that you can try:
- Eat small amounts, more often. For example, eat five to six small meals instead of two or three large meals. You may find that you tolerate solids foods better earlier in the day; softer foods or even liquid meals might be better tolerated later in the day.
- Chew your food thoroughly. Stay away from foods that are hard to chew, such as corn, popcorn, nuts, seeds and broccoli.
- Cook your foods well and aim for a soft consistency. Avoid raw vegetables.
- If you have trouble with solid foods, use a blender to purée or liquify your foods.
- Limit or avoid fried or greasy foods as they can slow stomach emptying.
- Reduce your fiber intake, as fiber can also slow stomach emptying. High-fiber foods can also cause bezoar formation.
- Sit up when you eat, and don’t lie down for at least an hour after eating.
- Stay hydrated by sipping on small amounts of water. If you aren’t able to eat much, try liquids that provide nutrition, such as milk, sports drinks, oral rehydration solutions (e.g., Gatorade, Pedialyte), or nutrition supplements (Glucerna, Boost).
- Avoid drinking alcohol.
- Stay active. Walking after meals can improve stomach emptying.
Food choices: what to eat if you have gastroparesis
Foods that people with gastroparesis can tolerate can vary from person to person. Keep track of foods that you do well with, along with foods that aggravate your symptoms. In general, though, these are examples of foods to include in your eating plan:
- Lean protein foods (skinless chicken, turkey, fish, tofu, eggs) that are baked or broiled
- Fat free or low-fat milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, pudding, custard
- Soup made with broth or fat-free/low-fat milk
- White bread, white rice, white pasta, low-fiber cereals, pretzels, low-fiber crackers
- Well-cooked vegetables without skin (squash, beets, carrots, spinach, potato, mashed cauliflower)
- Smooth tomato sauce, puréed tomatoes, tomato juice
- Applesauce, ripe banana, canned or cooked fruit without skins
- Tea, coffee, non-carbonated sugar-free drinks (skip caffeinated beverages if heartburn is an issue)
Small amounts of fat can likely be tolerated, and they provide a source of calories. Examples include oil, butter, margarine, mayonnaise, and avocado.
A registered dietitian can give you more individualized guidance based on your own situation, especially if you have difficulty eating any solid foods. They may suggest a nutrition supplement, such as Glucerna, Boost, or another formula, as well as a multivitamin supplement. In addition, a dietitian can help you with carbohydrate goals for your meals and snacks. Ask your provider for a referral to a dietitian in your community.