Gastroparesis is a medical condition that causes a delay in the emptying of the stomach. It occurs because the normal movement of the stomach muscles does not work correctly or slows down.

Gastroparesis can be mild and produce few symptoms, or it can be severe and cause disability and even hospitalization. The complications of gastroparesis include malnutrition, dehydration, and irregular blood sugar levels.

The symptoms of gastroparesis include:

Medical professionals may have difficulty distinguishing and diagnosing gastroparesis, in part because gastroparesis symptoms overlap with those of many other digestive conditions.

The causes of gastroparesis are often linked to underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes or lupus, or certain medical procedures, including bariatric surgery. However, according to a 2019 review, a person is most likely to experience gastroparesis spontaneously and with no clear cause.

Several treatments are available, although a doctor will most often recommend dietary changes as the first option for those with gastroparesis.

It may be helpful for a person with gastroparesis to work with a dietitian to discover which foods meet their nutritional needs while being easy to digest. They may also benefit from eating smaller meals more frequently throughout the day.

In general, the following foods are best for those with gastroparesis:

Fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are essential for overall nutrient intake.

However, a person with gastroparesis should prioritize lower fiber and low residue options, as fiber slows gastric emptying. Blending or thoroughly cooking fruits and vegetables until they are fork-tender may also make them easier to digest.

Straining fruits after blending and only consuming the resulting juice can also help people reduce their fiber intake further.

Fruits and vegetables that may be helpful to consume on a gastroparesis diet include:

  • soft fruits, such as bananas
  • canteloupe or honeydew melon
  • skinless canned fruits, including pears and peaches
  • fruit purees
  • vegetable juices, such as carrot juice
  • well-cooked and peeled potatoes
  • well-cooked green leaves, such as spinach
  • well-cooked broccoli tops without the stems

Carbohydrates

White carbohydrates usually have a lower fiber content than whole grain versions. Due to this, a person experiencing delayed stomach emptying may find them easier to digest.

Below are some high carbohydrate foods that doctors may recommend:

  • white rice
  • white bread
  • white pastas and noodles
  • crackers
  • cream of wheat

Meat, eggs, and dairy

A person with gastroparesis should prioritize meat, egg, and dairy products with a low fat content.

Some low fat options include:

  • skinless, well-cooked poultry
  • lean ground meats, such as ground turkey
  • skim milk
  • low fat cheeses
  • low fat milk alternatives, which include rice milk and almond milk

Learn more about low fat foods here.

Certain foods are more difficult to digest than others and can make the symptoms of gastroparesis worse.

A 2019 review suggests that people with gastroparesis avoid large, high calorie, fatty meals and foods high in dietary fiber. However, the authors note that this was based purely on physical observations, stating that full studies on the individual effects of food groups are necessary to validate these suggestions.

Alcohol consumption can also delay the rate of gastric emptying, according to researchers.

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Dietary changes are the primary treatment for gastroparesis. Doctors may recommend that a person cut down on high fat and high fiber foods while prioritizing nutrient-dense and easily digestible items.

Other changes that can help ease the symptoms of gastroparesis include:

  • eating smaller meals
  • chewing food properly
  • avoiding lying down during and after meals
  • consuming liquid meal replacements
  • taking a daily supplement

Eating smaller meals

Increasing the number of daily meals and decreasing the size of each one can help alleviate bloating and possibly allow the stomach to empty more quickly.

Some medical professionals recommend that people eat three small meals and two snacks throughout the day. However, other reviews suggest that consuming between four and six meals per day is optimal.

Chewing food properly

If a person does not chew food enough in the mouth, the process of breaking it down in the stomach will require more effort. If food does not adequately break down in the stomach, it will not empty easily into the small intestine.

Thorough chewing may aid in the rate of digestion. If necessary, a person should address any dental problems they have that may be preventing the thorough chewing of their food.

Avoiding lying down during and after meals

Gravity aids digestion. When a person lies down while eating or within 2 hours of a meal, this can offset the effect of gravity and delay stomach emptying. Additionally, lying down during or following meals can contribute to acid reflux.

Going for a walk after eating or engaging in another gentle physical activity may help stimulate the stomach muscles.

Consuming liquid meal replacements

Consuming high calorie liquid meal replacements may help a person reach their daily calorie and nutrient goals without added solid mass.

Additionally, maintaining adequate fluid intake may assist a person in avoiding further complications, such as dehydration.

Taking a daily supplement

Malnutrition is a possible complication of gastroparesis. Some people with the condition may wish to take daily multivitamin and multimineral supplements to avoid this outcome. However, supplementation is not always necessary for recovery, according to a review.

Typically, food passes through the stomach within 5 to 6.5 hours of eating. However, the size and composition of meals can affect how long this takes.

With gastroparesis, this digestion will typically take longer, although the exact time will vary among individuals.

As part of a gastroparesis diagnosis, doctors may sometimes assess digestion using a gastric-emptying scan. In this procedure, the individual will eat a small meal, and doctors will use X-rays to assess how long digestion takes.

If more than 10% of the food remains in the stomach after 4 hours, the doctor will diagnose gastroparesis.

While experts consider dietary interventions the first-line treatment for gastroparesis, they do not work for everyone. A person may pursue several other treatment options if dietary changes do not prove effective.

Medications

A doctor may prescribe metoclopramide and erythromycin to assist stomach emptying. These drugs are known as prokinetic medications, and they aid the body in passing solids through the digestive system. A 2017 review states that both can improve symptoms of gastroparesis.

People may also take medication to treat other symptoms of gastroparesis, such as nausea and vomiting. For example, a doctor may prescribe prochlorperazine, diphenhydramine, or ondansetron to alleviate these symptoms.

Medications to avoid

Several medications can delay stomach emptying. People who are experiencing gastroparesis should tell a doctor about all of the medications they are taking prior to diagnosis.

Regular use of over-the-counter antacids may delay stomach emptying. A person may be taking these medications to treat symptoms of heartburn and indigestion.

Some prescription drugs, such as anticholinergic agents, may also cause symptoms of gastroparesis. Anticholinergic agents block certain nerve impulses, and people often use them to treat conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.

Medical procedures

In severe cases, people who cannot take any food or liquids due to gastroparesis may require a feeding tube. Alternatively, a doctor may suggest a gastric venting tube to relieve pressure in the stomach.

Medical professionals may also recommend a procedure called gastric electrical stimulation (GES). However, a scientific article states that several reviews have urged caution in recommending the treatment due to a lack of controlled studies. The authors conclude that further research is necessary to assess the use of GES.

Acupuncture

Limited evidence suggests that acupuncture may improve gastrointestinal symptoms in people with gastroparesis, particularly diabetic gastroparesis.

The outlook for people with gastroparesis varies and depends on the cause and severity of the condition.

Dietary changes and gentle exercise after meals can increase the chances of successfully managing symptoms.

If these changes alone are not effective, medications, medical interventions, and alternative therapies may help relieve symptoms and prevent complications.