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Eating a balanced diet is essential for people with cystic fibrosis. Maintaining a good nutritional status can help a person improve their well-being, keep their symptoms under control, and fight infections.
People with cystic fibrosis (CF) have specific dietary needs. They require up to twice as many calories as people without CF because living with a chronic chest infection means that the body uses more energy.
Some people with CF develop pancreatic problems that lead to difficulties digesting foods and absorbing nutrients, including fat. These issues can result in nutritional deficiencies and poor weight gain.
Also, many people with CF experience a loss of appetite at some point, which increases the risk of malnutrition.
Children and adults with CF must consume a healthful, nutritious diet that contains foods from each of the main groups: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. People with CF may find the following 10 types of food especially beneficial to include as part of a balanced diet.
Fruits are particularly rich in antioxidants and fiber.
Fruits and other high fiber foods can reduce intestinal blockages in people with CF, while antioxidants can help fight off infections. Research suggests that taking antioxidant supplements can reduce inflammation and respiratory symptoms in people with CF.
Although the study involved people taking supplements, antioxidants from foods may also be helpful. Some fruits contain vitamin C, which is an essential antioxidant.
Children and adults with CF can enjoy a variety of fruits, including:
Fruit makes a great snack when on the go. It is also a delicious way to add sweetness and nutrients to breakfast cereals, oatmeal, yogurt, and many other dishes and snacks.
Like fruits, vegetables offer many health benefits. They are rich in antioxidants and fiber and contain essential vitamins and minerals, including calcium. However, dark leafy green vegetables are probably the best option because they are also a good source of the following nutrients:
- Iron, which carries oxygen around the body and helps fight infections.
- Vitamin A, which boosts immunity and supports healthy eyes and intestines.
- Vitamin K, which plays a role in blood clotting.
People can get vitamin K from the following dark leafy greens:
- bok choy
- Brussels sprouts
- collard greens
- mustard greens
A person should also include a variety of other vegetables in their diet. Orange vegetables, such as carrots and sweet potatoes, are good sources of vitamin A, while garlic has antibiotic properties that may protect against bacterial and viral infections.
Some people with CF may need to take supplements. All multivitamin supplements that manufacturers have created specifically for people with CF contain vitamin K. The inclusion of this vitamin is important because many people with CF take antibiotics regularly to prevent infection, and, as a result, they may produce less vitamin K in their intestines.
A person with CF should eat protein-rich foods to aid muscle maintenance and physical ability. Research suggests that protein can prevent muscle loss and improve the outcome for people with CF.
Eggs are a good source of protein, with one large, boiled egg containing more than 6 grams (g) of protein. Like other animal products, eggs contain vitamin B-12, a nutrient that is essential for red blood cell formation and proper nerve function.
Eggs are often a favorite food of children, especially scrambled or fried eggs. People can also use them to make omelets.
Fish and seafood are excellent sources of protein, iron, and vitamin D. Consuming fatty fish, such as salmon, herring, and trout, is a good way to increase the intake of calories and healthful fats.
People need vitamin D for strong bones and to aid calcium absorption. Individuals with CF must keep their bones healthy because they have an increased risk of developing bone diseases, such as osteoporosis or osteopenia.
Shellfish contain high levels of zinc, which is an essential mineral that supports normal growth and development in children and adolescents. Throughout a person’s lifespan, zinc facilitates healing and good immunity.
A zinc deficiency can affect taste and smell, which could further reduce the appetite of a person with CF. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), oysters are among the richest sources of zinc, with 3 ounces (oz) containing 493% of a person’s daily needs, along with 44% of their daily iron requirement.
Nuts are an excellent snack for both children and adults with CF because they are high in calories and healthful fats and contain good amounts of protein and fiber.
Nuts also contain several vitamins and minerals. Almonds are a great source of the antioxidant vitamin E, with 1 oz providing 37% of the recommended daily intake.
Older children and adults can enjoy whole nuts as a snack, either alone or in a trail mix. People can also add nuts to salads, yogurts, breakfast cereals, smoothies, and baked goods.
It is important to avoid giving whole nuts to children under the age of 4 years, as they are a choking hazard. Instead, young children can have nut butter, which parents and caregivers can spread on crackers, bread, or fruit and vegetable slices to make a delicious snack. Nut flours can increase the calorie content and nutritional value of many dishes, and they are safe for young children.
Dairy is a good source of calcium. Calcium is an essential mineral for everyone, but it may be especially important for people with CF who are at increased risk of bone disease.
The body does not produce calcium naturally, but people can add it to their diet by taking supplements or consuming products that contain it.
Full fat dairy products also provide significant amounts of healthful fat and calories. People can increase their dairy intake by:
- choosing Greek yogurt instead of regular yogurt
- dipping fruit or vegetable slices into cream cheese
- adding cheese to sandwiches
- mixing powdered milk into potatoes, soups, and scrambled eggs
- blending yogurt or full fat milk into smoothies
- grating Parmesan cheese onto pasta dishes, vegetables, and salads
- choosing a latte instead of an Americano when drinking coffee
The energy needs of people with CF are much greater than those of people without the condition. Some experts recommend that people with CF get 40% of their total calories from fat.
However, it is vital to increase fat and calories in a balanced way. Research suggests that many children with CF consume too much saturated fat and insufficient polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). This high intake of unhealthful fats can increase the risk of heart disease.
An easy way to increase the number of PUFAs in the diet is to introduce olive oil, which is an essential component of an anti-inflammatory and Mediterranean diet. Adding this oil can also help people take in extra calories and fat when their appetite is lacking.
Try adding olive oil to bread, salads, vegetable dishes, pasta sauces, soups, and casseroles.
Other good sources of unsaturated fats include:
- flaxseed oil
Dark chocolate is a delicious snack food, and it is a good source of calories and fats. According to an article in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine, cocoa is also a significant source of antioxidants and may have anti-inflammatory properties.
Magnesium plays a role in more than 300 chemical reactions in the body, and it is necessary for healthy bones and muscles. Most adults should aim to get 310-420 mg per day.
To reap the benefits of dark chocolate, it is best to opt for a product that contains at least 70% cocoa solids.
When people with CF lose their appetite, protein shakes and nutritional supplements can play an important role in maintaining a good nutrient status and preventing weight loss.
These shakes are available in different flavors and a variety of forms, including:
- flavored powders
- ready-made dairy shakes
- high calorie drinks
- high protein juices
However, people should not regularly replace meals with nutritional supplements. Individuals who struggle with persistent appetite loss should speak to a dietitian to find a plan that works for them.
While many people would benefit from reducing their salt intake, people with CF often need to increase theirs to replace the salt that they lose through sweat. Some people with this condition may need to consume extra salt during hot weather and when exercising.
Simple ways to increase salt intake include:
- eating salty snacks, such as salted nuts, pickles, or salted crackers
- adding salt to foods when cooking
- using soy sauce
- cooking vegetables in broth instead of water
- drinking sports beverages to replace sodium and other electrolytes
Most foods are suitable for people with CF. However, because these individuals have increased calorie and fat needs, they should try to avoid foods that manufacturers label as diet, low fat, fat free, or reduced calorie.
People with cystic fibrosis should try to consume a balanced diet containing extra calories and fats. Eating healthfully may help alleviate symptoms of the condition and prevent complications.
It is also essential to drink plenty of fluids to thin the mucus in the lungs. Most people also require dietary supplements and digestive enzymes.
It can be helpful to work with a dietitian to ensure a healthful, balanced diet.
SHOP FOR FOODS AND SUPPLEMENTS
The foods and supplements that we mention in this article are available to purchase in stores and online: