Diet for a healthy pancreas

Pancreas is one of the most important organs of our body, that affects our overall health and especially digestive health. It is found in the abdominal area, behind the stomach, small intestine, liver, spleen and gall bladder and it produces enzymes and hormones that help us digest food, such as insulin and polypeptides.

Ensuring its health with proper nutrition will keep us safe(r) from the possibility of pancreatitis, which is a painful and dangerous inflammation, but also of pancreatic cancer, which is the 12th most common cancer worldwide that kills about 95% of those diagnosed with it.

The key to a healthy pancreas is definitely a balanced diet and lifestyle, with caution in fat and alcohol. The best way to ensure it is by keeping it mostly plant-based, with a variety of plant foods in your everyday diet.

According to research in overweight non-diabetic adults, a low-fat vegan diet seemed to significantly improve insulin sensitivity and pancreas function, while preliminary research shows that proper diet and physical activity can reduce body fat and affect beta-cell function (the function of insulin-releasing cells), with lifestyle interventions making a difference in insulin sensitivity.

More specifically, those who followed a plant-based diet for 16 weeks had a 46-74% lower rate of diabetes, while this type of diet also improves glycemic control in type 2 diabetes. At the same time, BMI decreased by 1.7kg/m2 more in the intervention group, which lost more than twice the lean mass and fat mass compared to the control group, reaching 2,3kg and 3,9 kg respectively. What’s more, fasting glucose levels and fasting insulin levels decreased in the intervention group –while there was an increase in the control group.

Another trial by Kahleova et al (2011) showed that among people with type 2 diabetes, 43% in the plant-based group were required to reduce their diabetes medication, compared with 5% in the control group – done by a study physician in cases of repeat hypoglycaemia.

As it is obvious, a plant-based diet is –scientifically proven- of great importance for a healthy pancreas. In this context, try adding some foods that are known to help like:

Spinach and other leafy greens that are known to lower the risk for pancreatic cancer. They are filled with B Vitamins, iron and antioxidants that have anti-cancerous properties. Note that more servings of leafy greens, may impair better protection against pancreatic cancer. Note that they are also low in fat, so they ease the organ’s role in digestion.

Garlic can lower the risk for pancreatic cancer by 54% according to National Cancer Institute of the USA. It seems that allicin and its byproducts can reduce inflammation, fight free radicals, bacteria, block carcinogens, slow down rapid cell division and enhance DNA repair. Make sure you chop garlic and let it sit for 10-15 minutes before you heat it, to get all the benefits.

Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower etc are good sources of glucosinolate, a phytochemical that converts to isothiocyanates which is known to have anti-cancer properties when it comes to pancreas, suppressing cancer cells from growing and spreading.

Soy, apart from being a good source of plant-based protein, it also contains genistein, a phytoestrogen from the flavonoid family, that is linked to cancer cell death according to studies, while at the same time it inhibits metastasis. Edamame, tofu and soy milk with no added sugar are good choices.