Which Foods are Best for a CF Diet?

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a life-threatening disease that causes a build-up of thick, sticky mucus to form in your lungs and digestive tract. People with cystic fibrosis require up to 2 times the amount of calories as others of similar weight and size. What foods are best for a CF diet? Let’s forge ahead and find out.[1]

Nutritional Needs of People with Cystic Fibrosis

To meet the increased caloric needs of people with CF, a high fat, high protein diet is recommended, with 40% of the total calories coming from fat. Keeping track of your nutritional status is of utmost importance because “a higher weight is associated with higher lung function.”1

How to Get Extra Calories

cf diet, cystic fibrosis dietIf your goal is to gain weight, you’ll need to consume an extra 500 calories a day in order to achieve that goal. You can get those extra calories by consuming foods like the following:[2]

  • A grilled tuna salad and cheese sandwich with regular mayonnaise and avocado.
  • A peanut butter and jelly sandwich with an 8 ounce glass of whole milk.
  • A bowl of spaghetti with sauce topped with extra parmesan cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.
  • 2 large handfuls of nuts or trail mix.
  • A nutritional supplement drink like Ensure or Boost with a protein bar.
  • A medium-sized bean, cheese and salsa burrito.
  • Two slices of cinnamon toast with butter and 8 ounces of an instant breakfast drink.
  • A grilled chicken Caesar wrap.

Or, if you prefer adding calories a little at a time, try adding 100 calories to each meal and snack so that it totals 500 additional calories per day. You can see how easy this is in the sample below:2

  • Add 4 tablespoons of avocado to eggs, a salad or a sandwich.
  • Add 2 slices of bacon to any omelet or sandwich.
  • Add¼ cup shredded cheese to soups, salads or casseroles.
  • Add 2 tablespoons of chopped nuts to smoothies or salads.
  • Add 1 tablespoon of peanut butter or other nut butter to toast, cheese, or crackers.

Remember: extra calories for a cystic fibrosis diet are part of a healthy diet, but try to avoid getting in the habit of consuming too many saturated fats; this can eventually lead to heart disease. Rather, incorporate unsaturated fats into your diet by eating more avocado, nuts and healthy oils such as walnut and flaxseed oils.

Pancreatic Enzymes

Most people with CF have poor pancreatic function because the pathways that carry digestive enzymes from the pancreas to the stomach get clogged with mucus. This means your digestive system is unable to break down food and turn it into energy without the help of pancreatic enzyme capsules with all meals and snacks. The amount of capsules needed varies from person to person, depending upon the type of food eaten, but some people take as many as 60 per day.2

Vitamins and Minerals

Absorption of fats is difficult for people with CF, which means absorbing fat soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E and K is also difficult.  Besides consuming a healthy diet, most people with CF take vitamin and mineral supplements to ensure they get the vitamins and minerals they need. Because over-the-counter vitamin and mineral supplements from your local drug store tend to be inadequate, a prescription vitamin and mineral supplement can be obtained from your doctor that will help you meet all your nutritional needs.

Nutritional Supplements

High calorie nutritional supplements should only be used with a meal or as a way to boost calories in-between meals; they should never replace a meal. Whether you choose flavored powders that you mix with milk, ready-made milk shakes, or high calorie, high protein juices, nutritional supplements are an important part of a healthy CF diet.

Last but not Least: Water

The amount of water someone with cystic fibrosis needs on a daily basis depends upon age, weight, activity level, overall health and climate that they live in. Not only can you get water from the beverages you drink, you can also get water from the foods that you eat. The following foods have a high water content:

  • Soup
  • Watermelon
  • Cantaloupe
  • Yogurt
  • Orange
  • Cooked cereal
  • Potato
  • Pudding
  • Egg
  • Cooked pasta
  • Ice cream

For more information on a CF diet, contact your primary health care provider.

[1] Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Nutritional Basics. Accessed February 23, 2018.

[2]Cystic Fibrosis Trust. Cystic fibrosis diet. Accessed February 23, 2018.

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