(BPT) - Digestive diseases affect between 60 and 70 million Americans each year. Good nutrition becomes critical for people living with gastrointestinal (GI) conditions, like exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). EPI is a condition in which your body doesn’t provide enough pancreatic enzymes to properly break down food. It continues to be under-recognized, leading to many being undiagnosed. EPI causes unpleasant symptoms and may prevent you from getting the necessary nutrition from the foods you eat. Many of these symptoms mimic other GI issues, which are more well-known, such as diarrhea, gas, bloating, stomach pain, unexplained weight loss and oily stools. This may lead to delays in diagnosis and continuation of uncomfortable symptoms.
To better understand EPI, it’s important to take a closer look at the pancreas and its functions, including the endocrine and exocrine functions. The endocrine function makes insulin, which helps the body process the sugar we eat. The exocrine function makes enzymes to help digest food so the body can absorb it. In people with EPI, the exocrine function is affected, which is why they have difficulty digesting their food.
Zachari Breeding, a Food Operations Manager at VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System, Owner of Sage Nutritious Solutions and Founder and President of Mandy Wagner Foundation for people living with cystic fibrosis, recognizes how crucial nutrition is and lends his expertise to people with GI conditions like EPI. Zachari shares that “as a professional chef and clinical dietitian, I know that delicious nutrition is essential to managing GI conditions. I love what I do as a dietitian, and getting to help people with GI issues better control their symptoms through healthy eating can allow them to experience a bounty of foods.”
When connecting with individuals living with GI conditions, Zachari shares tips to empower them to make healthy choices in their daily lives.
1. Ensure your diet is well-balanced. Incorporate some fat to help absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K. Vitamins come from a variety of different foods and resources. Vitamins A and K come from colorful vegetables, vitamin D comes from the sun and vitamin E comes from fatty foods, like olive oil and salmon.
2. Food is like a house. When you start with a good foundation of flavor with wonderful herbs and spices, you don’t need a lot of salt and fat to cover up the flavor that is already there. Every ingredient stands out on its own.
3. A GI-friendly meal is one that doesn’t upset your belly. Zachari says, “My gut isn’t your gut and your diet helps isolate the things that might not be so GI-friendly.” It’s vital to observe how your symptoms correspond with your diet and choose foods that work best with your individual digestion as every diet and body are different.
4. Choose foods that you love, that don’t cause symptoms. Living with a GI condition like EPI doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice diverse ingredients and flavor; you just need to be more selective about what and how much you consume. For delicious GI-friendly meal options, check out Epicured.com.
It’s important to speak with your doctor and dietitian to find out if your symptoms are due to a GI condition like EPI. While GI symptoms may feel like an embarrassing or uncomfortable topic, speaking with your physician is vital to getting to the root of what’s causing your symptoms. This is the key step to managing the issue. IdentifyEPI.com, sponsored by AbbVie, is a great place to learn more about EPI and take the Symptom Checker to help inform the conversation with your doctor.