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How Do I Get Nutrition If I Have Cystic Fibrosis?

Life with cystic fibrosis can be very challenging, not least because of the difficulty of getting proper nutrition when you have this condition. Because it’s a congenital illness that never goes away, these difficulties must be faced every day, and they can begin to compound upon one another if proper care is not taken. Missing one or two meals may not be a big deal, but the increased energy demands of cystic fibrosis combined with the lack of nutrient absorption means that every calorie counts; failing to maintain a steady intake of calories and nutrients can quickly lead to malnutrition and any number of other complications. Of course, getting the nutrition you need when you have CF is often easier said than done, leading many to wonder how they can get nutrition if they have cystic fibrosis. To find out, keep reading as the medical nutrition support experts at ENU explain.

Effects of Cystic Fibrosis on Nutrition

Though those with cystic fibrosis need all the same nutrients to function as any healthy person, there are a few nutritional considerations that are unique to this condition. Cystic fibrosis is an illness in which the cells of the respiratory and digestive systems have dysfunctional cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator proteins – the result of a genetic mutation passed from parent to child – which prevents the cells from attracting water and leads to thick, sticky mucus. This substance creates blockages in the pancreas and makes breathing much more difficult; it also tends to trap contaminants, such as bacteria, in the airway, causing frequent respiratory infections in patients with cystic fibrosis.

These infections and the increased work CF patients must do simply to breathe generally increase the amount of energy their bodies use. This might not be much of a problem in and of itself, but the effects of cystic fibrosis on the digestive system limit the amount of energy (in the form of calories) that the body can absorb. Normally, the pancreas releases an enzyme into the intestine that completes the digestive process by taking partially digested food from the stomach and breaking it into tiny bits that are then absorbed through the intestinal walls. With cystic fibrosis, however, thick mucus blocks the release of these enzymes, so much of what a CF patient eats cannot be absorbed and therefore is not able to be used by the body.

Meeting Your Nutritional Needs with Cystic Fibrosis

This inability to absorb nutrients – generally referred to as malabsorption – leads to caloric and nutritional deficits that make it tough to maintain a healthy weight or keep your body nourished when you have cystic fibrosis. It especially affects the intake of fats, proteins, and certain vitamins, which make these nutrients a top priority – though calories are a major consideration as well.

To meet their energy needs, a person with CF often has to consume 50-100% more calories than a healthy individual just to stay at their current weight; this translates to roughly 3,000 calories for men and 2,500 calories for women. However, the source of these calories matters almost as much as how many you manage to consume.


Experts recommend that at least 40% of your calories come from fats if you have cystic fibrosis. For a man with CF who eats 3,000 calories a day, that means consuming more than 130 grams of fat per day – about double the recommendation for those without CF. Try to make sure that the fats you consume are from healthy sources, though. Focus on unsaturated fats like those found in avocados, nuts, and cooking oils, such as coconut or olive oils. Cooking with these ingredients can not only provide the fat your body needs, but it can also boost the calorie counts of your meals as well.


Protein is important because it helps keep the respiratory muscles strong and prevents muscle wasting in those with CF. Though there is no set guideline governing how much protein you should get when you have CF, a good rule of thumb is to aim for 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight as part of your daily diet. While protein may not be as difficult to absorb as fats, it can still be helpful to seek out sources of protein that are easier to digest than, say, a hunk of red meat. One example of an easily digestible protein is whey isolate; this form of protein has already been partially broken down, so it takes less work to finish digesting and absorbing it. Try a protein shake for weight gain today.


There are four main vitamins that can be hard to come by if you have cystic fibrosis: vitamins A, D, E, and K. These important nutrients are fat-soluble vitamins, meaning that they can only be absorbed into the body if they have first been dissolved in fats. For a cystic fibrosis patient who struggles to digest fats, this often means that the four fat-soluble vitamins are in short supply; try taking a daily multivitamin or some other nutrient-rich supplement, though these vitamins will only help if you also take in adequate amounts of fats and use your pancreatic enzyme supplements as directed.

Convenient Cystic Fibrosis Nutritional Supplements Available from ENU

Getting enough calories and nutrients requires a lot of planning and effort if you have cystic fibrosis, but meal replacement shakes from ENU can help make it easier. Each shake contains heart-healthy fats derived from coconut and sunflower oils, easily digestible proteins from whey and soy isolates, complex carbs for extended energy, and 24 vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, D, E, and K. To learn more about how nutritional shakes from ENU can help cystic fibrosis patients stay nourished, visit us online or call (855) 266-6733 today.

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