Good nutrition is crucial for those living with cystic fibrosis (CF). In general, those with CF need 30 to 50 percent more of the daily recommended calories for their age group. This may be challenging if you’re already working harder to breathe. Also, 85 to 90 percent of those with CF have pancreatic insufficiency. This is when the pancreas, an organ that’s necessary for digestion of food, doesn’t work properly due to the build-up of mucus.
Your nutritional plan may include:1
- Protein: Essential for building strong muscles, about 15 to 20 percent of your total calories should come from protein sources. These include meats and fish, eggs, cheese, soy foods and nuts.
- Fats: Fatty foods are the richest source of calories. For every one gram of fat, you receive nine calories. People with CF should receive 35 to 40 percent of their intake from fat. Fat is also a good source of essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A. It’s important to choose “good” unsaturated fats whenever possible. Examples include olive, corn, soy and sunflower oils.
Ways to help increase fat in your diet include:
- Add butter or olive oil to vegetables or over pasta
- For dessert, choose chocolate or add whipped cream to puddings and pies
- Always use full fat dressings
- Carbohydrates: These are another good source of calories and can be found in cereals, breads and pastas. Choose pastas made with whole wheat and contain increased amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Increase the calories by adding dried fruits, whole milk to cereals and nuts.
- Calcium: CF puts you at risk for developing osteoporosis (weak, brittle bones). Increasing your intake of dairy foods, especially those high in fat, will help to decrease this risk. Good choices include cream and fruit juices with added calcium.
- Essential fatty acids: Often referred to as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, essential fatty acids are often found in fish oils. They are proven to help with brain development as well as overall growth. Good sources include salmon and flaxseed oil. You can also find fish and flaxseed oil supplements.
- Fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K): CF prevents the absorption of these crucial vitamins that help to promote good eyesight, healthy bones, blood clotting, red blood cell production and growth. You can add these to your diet with a vitamin supplement specifically formulated for CF.
- Iron: Iron helps to fight infection and carries oxygen to cells throughout the body. You can get iron by eating meats, fortified cereals, dried fruits and dark green leafy vegetables.
- Salt: CF causes you to lose more salt compared to people without the condition. It’s important to replace this lost salt, especially when exercising. Drinking plenty of water and sports drinks during exercise is very important. In addition, you should eat salty snacks such as pretzels and salted nuts.
- Zinc: This is another vitamin that’s important for growth, healing and fighting infection. You can boost the zinc in your diet by eating meats, eggs and seafood. Zinc is also found in many multivitamin supplements.
Many people with CF, especially children, need to add dietary supplements to their daily diet to enhance calories, protein and nutrients. For example, you can increase your calories by drinking nutritional shakes you make at home or purchase at the grocery store or pharmacy (such as Boost® or Ensure®).
Many children are picky eaters, which can be a challenge if your child also has CF. Try eating meals as a family. Making mealtime a social and fun event provides structured time and encourages positive eating behaviors.
In addition to a well-balanced diet, you may need to supplement with pancreatic enzymes to absorb nutrients from your diet. Work with your CF treatment center dietitian to find the diet and supplements that best fit your needs.
Every person with CF has different nutritional needs. Work with a registered dietitian trained in CF to make a nutritional plan that’s right for you. Your CVS Specialty CF CareTeam can help you get started.