The inability of the stomach to empty completely is a defining feature of gastroparesis, a condition that can persist over time. It can be challenging to eat a full meal because of symptoms like nausea, stomach pain, bloating, gas, acid reflux, and a persistent feeling of fullness. Unwanted weight loss, nutritional deficiencies, dehydration, and the growth of masses in the small intestines called bezoars are all potential long-term consequences of gastroparesis.
Damage to the vagus nerve, the longest nerve in the human body, which controls digestion from the mouth to the intestines, is the most common cause of gastroparesis. Both diabetes and cancer, as well as viral infection, narcotic use, and gastric surgeries like bypass, can cause this complication. While there are medications that may help reduce symptoms, diet is typically the first line of defense for this condition. Eating smaller, more frequent meals, less fiber, less fat, no alcohol, lots of water, and foods that are puréed are all suggestions. The Cleveland Clinic has put together a comprehensive list of foods that should and should not be eaten by those with gastroparesis.
As someone who has spent their career in the kitchen, I thought it would be helpful to examine some of the more concrete aspects of living with gastroparesis, particularly as they relate to food. Although there is currently no cure for gastroparesis, symptoms can be controlled by making dietary and lifestyle changes. Primarily, I want to be of assistance by providing some pointers and offering some suggestions for tasty recipes. With the right information and preparation, I believe even the most restrictive diet can become a sustainable, healthy, and pleasurable lifestyle habit.
Instructions for Cooking with Gastroparesis
The first step in learning to cook with gastroparesis is to acquire the appropriate tools.
Having the right equipment can make even the most difficult job a breeze. There are two appliances I consider indispensable for my liquidizing needs: a high-quality blender/food processor and an immersion blender. I know it’s out of reach for some people financially, but the best way to make sure you can purée pretty much anything you want to eat is to invest in a high-quality multi-purpose gadget like a Vitamix or a Nutri Ninja. Each type is represented by a single item in my collection, but for the typical home cook, a single item will do.
If you want to puree a hot soup or sauce without having to wait for it to cool, you’ll need a high-quality immersion blender. While there are plenty of options that would work, I would recommend getting one with a metal blade rather than a plastic one, as I have had a plastic blade melt into my soup before.
If you want your food to be easily digested, try cooking it without any fat or with very little fat using the methods described here.
Cooking vegetables in the oven brings out their full flavor and makes them soft enough to purée. Bake at 375 degrees with them on a baking sheet. Caramelizing the sugars in vegetables with as little as 1/2 teaspoon of oil and just a pinch of salt tossing them can coax deep nutty flavors out of them. Vegetables take anywhere from 20 minutes to 45 minutes to soften and cook through completely, depending on the vegetable. Keep an eye on the vegetables and give them a toss every so often to prevent burning.
Also, if you’re looking for a healthy alternative to steaming or boiling your vegetables, try braising them in a saucepan. Put the vegetables in a pan, cover with vegetable stock by about a quarter, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Fork-tender vegetables can be achieved by stirring them at regular intervals during cooking. The liquid will evaporate and form a thick glaze over the vegetables. The vegetables can be seasoned with whatever spices and dried herbs you like.
And finally, spices and herbs with protokinetic properties.
A wide variety of culinary and medicinal herbs and spices are protokinetic, meaning they stimulate gut motility and help with digestion. Popular examples include ginger, turmeric, and mint. However, if you consider the medicinal uses of herbs and spices in various cultures, you’ll find that many types of ethnic cuisine incorporate them. For my master’s thesis in cultural anthropology, I examined Moroccan tea rituals, and I spent a lot of time in spice shops learning about the locals’ custom of using spices to aid digestion and calm stomach upsets. In addition to ginger, turmeric (curcumin), and mint, cumin, caraway seeds, and cinnamon were frequently used. Although I suffer from a number of digestive disorders, including IBS, I was pleasantly surprised by how well I was able to tolerate the food in those countries, even that purchased from street vendors.
Make your food appealing, even if you have to eat a special diet because of gastroparesis and can only eat certain things.
The concept of satiety, or the feeling of fullness, is often discussed from the opposite angle, with the assumption being that people are always trying to get to that point. It’s not that people with gastroparesis have trouble feeling full, but from a culinary standpoint, the act of eating itself may not be something that creates a sense of satiety in the satisfaction sense of the word.
Several factors besides the amount of food eaten can add to the feeling of fullness. As a cook, I find that appealing to all five senses simultaneously is the most effective way to ensure that my diners leave my restaurant feeling satisfied. Is the food appetizing to look at, in that it has a lot of color and seems to be appealing to the eye? Can you describe the aroma? Does it feel good to the touch? Does it make a tasty noise when you scoop it up or bite into it? Most importantly, do the flavors make you want more? All of these are essential for getting the most out of the food you eat. All of these can be attained even on a diet of few foods and puréed foods by using herbs and spices and topping dishes with a crunchy topping, such as crackers.
5. Be present in the moment and savor every mouthful.
Last but not least, try eating your puréed food straight from the bowl with a spoon. Using utensils is not only a more mindful way of eating that allows you to fully take in the sights, smells, and tastes that are hitting your palate, but it also helps with digestion.
Easy Recipes for People with Gastroparesis
Both of these dishes can be doubled or tripled with ease. To account for variations in appetite, I have not specified a total number of servings for each recipe.
Incredibly Smooth Drink
There is 1 ripe banana.
Apple sauce with no added sugar, 3.9 ounces
1 tbsp of smooth almond or peanut butter
Exactly one teaspoon of vanilla extract
a pinch of pumpkin pie spice, or 1/2 tsp
Half a cup of sliced peaches from a can with no added sugar.
The equivalent of 2 tablespoons of fat-free milk
1/2 teaspoon of natural sugar (maple syrup or honey)
Put everything in a blender and whirl it around until it’s nice and creamy. Keep leftovers in the fridge.
Squash and Carrot Stew
One Tablespoon of Olive Oil
3 Two cups of carrots, also peeled and chopped Half a cup of chopped sweet potato
2 and a half cups of cubed extra-firm tofu
One Tablespoon of Kosher Salt
Pepper, freshly ground, 1/2 teaspoon
Approximately 2 teaspoons of curry powder
4.25 cups of vegetable stock
The sweet taste of maple syrup, just 2 tablespoons’ worth
Oil should be heated in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Include tofu, carrots, and sweet potatoes. Add some spices like curry powder and salt to taste. Heat the oil for two to three minutes. Bring stock to a boil and add it. To keep the food from boiling over, cover it and turn the heat down to a simmer. Allow the vegetables to cool for 45 minutes. The immersion blender should be used to combine the maple syrup and the remaining ingredients until a smooth and creamy consistency is achieved. Alternatively, you can let the soup cool completely before puréeing it in a blender or food processor. A week’s worth of leftovers can be stored in the fridge, or they can be portioned out and frozen.
Keep in mind that just because you have gastroparesis does not mean you have to live a life of bland food. After receiving a diagnosis, you may need to be extra careful about what you eat for a while in order to lower inflammation. Once your digestive tract has healed, however, you can eat more foods from a wider variety of food groups, such as white rice, pasta, and bread. Also, talk to your doctor about taking a multivitamin to help your body fight off illness and improve your overall health in the face of potential dietary deficiencies.
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