5 Things to Include in a Cystic Fibrosis Diet

healthy diet, cf diet, cystic fibrosis diet, cfA cystic fibrosis (CF) diet should contain optimal amounts of calories, vitamins and minerals to keep the body as healthy as possible. Cystic fibrosis is characterized by thick, sticky mucus that builds-up in the lungs, pancreas, and other organs. The mucus clogs the tubes that carry air to and from the lungs leading to frequent respiratory infections, considerable lung damage and sometimes, respiratory failure. In the pancreas, the mucus blocks the release of pancreatic enzymes that break down the food you eat. This interferes with the absorption of fat and vital nutrients resulting in malnutrition and poor growth.

To compensate for decreased absorption of nutrients, people with cystic fibrosis need to consume a diet that is high in both calories and fat, with 40% of total calories coming from fat. If you, or someone you love, has CF and is struggling with nutritional imbalances, making sure you include the following 5 things in your cystic fibrosis diet will help keep your body as healthy as possible:

  1. Fat – Contains 9 calories per gram, whereas protein and carbohydrates only contain 4 calories per gram making fat the best source of calories, or energy, for people with CF. Adding healthy fats to each meal is easy. Try topping an omelet with avocado. Add a handful of nuts to every salad. Fill sticks of celery with peanut butter. Drizzle olive oil over a pizza. Be creative; you can even add avocado to fresh fruit smoothies!
  2. Salt – Because the disease also affects the cells that produce sweat, people with cystic fibrosis need extra salt in their diets on a daily basis to replace the salt lost through sweating. Top any meal with added salt. Choose salty snacks such as pickles, pretzels, chips and salted nuts. Enjoy appetizers such as canned soups that are packed with sodium. When dining out, go for Chinese food or pizza.
  3. Calcium – To maintain healthy bones, people with cystic fibrosis need 3 or 4 servings of dairy products every day. Select whole milk and whole milk products, such as yogurt and cottage cheese. Serve ice cream for dessert. Snack on your favorite cheese in between meals. Say yes to chocolate pudding or fried ice cream when dining out at your favorite Mexican restaurant.
  4. Fruits and vegetables – Rich in vitamins and minerals making them an important addition to any diet, especially one suited for cystic fibrosis. Top ice cream, yogurt, or pudding with slices of fresh fruit. Add a carnival of fresh vegetables to pizza. Fill pocket sandwiches with alfalfa sprouts, lettuce and tomato. Snack on crunchy celery sticks and baby carrots. Make a meal out of in-season vegetables with a quick stir-fry.
  5. Food rich in fat soluble vitamins D, A and K – Help the body absorb calcium and increase bone density. Add egg yolks to protein shakes. Pick fatty fishes such as salmon, mackerel and tuna to serve for lunch or dinner.

In addition to eating the right foods, people with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) due to CF need to supplement their diets with pancreatic enzymes every time they eat something that contains fat or protein. Protein sources include beef and beef products, milk and milk products, fish and seafood, chicken, pork, beans, eggs and nuts and soy products such as tofu, edamame and soymilk.

For more information about a cystic fibrosis diet, talk to your primary health care provider.


CF Nutrition Guide. Developed by CF Nutrition Specialist Suzanne Michel, MPH, RD, LDN. Last updated March, 2017.


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