How to Manage Cystic Fibrosis on a Vegan Diet
For my non-CF readers, this post is probably the opposite of what you’ve been taught your whole life about healthy eating, so let me explain.
I have cystic fibrosis, which in a nut-shell means that my body produces excessive amounts of extra thick sticky mucous everywhere there is a mucous lining in my body. It’s a disease of the pancreas and it mostly affects the lungs and digestion of people who have it. People with cystic fibrosis have a harder time digesting fats and absorbing nutrients, especially fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
The primary method of combating this struggle and avoiding malnutrition and dangerous weight-loss with CF in the U.S. is for people with CF to consume upwards of 5,000 calories per day, with most of those calories coming from fat and protein.
So naturally, when I told my docs and my family that I wasn’t going to be eating meat anymore at 16 years old, they all freaked!
And while my vegetarian years went perfectly fine with CF, it was an even bigger reaction out of my docs when I later decided to transition to an entirely vegan diet. It’s possible for some people- but please keep in mind I’m just a girl who’s been doing this for a while. I’m not a medical professional. Bring this topic up with your docs if you are a CFer (or parent of a CFer) who is wanting to go vegan. Stand your ground and push for resources and more information if they refuse to hear you out, but keep in mind that your doc may be resistant because they want the best for you. You gotta work together with your team- this is a lifelong condition and you don’t want to go your entire life feeling like someone else is holding the wheel. Take charge.
Now, let’s dive into some tips for managing CF on a vegan diet.
1 | Know thy vegan protein sources!
I take steps to increase the amount of fat and protein I get because, while for most people eating a well-balanced vegan diet, for those of us with CF it actually IS a big deal to get a little more protein in there.
Edamame is fantastic in stir fry and it’s an awesome source of protein!
Tofu is a great source of protein and you can cook it in oils for extra fat.
Use more oils! Coconut oil is my go-to. I’m a huge fan of extra virgin olive oil too.
Beans- of course- but eat them with rice, it’ll help with potential tummy upset and it makes the protein easier to absorb.
Nuts and seeds. I’m always munching on some sort of trail mix!
Protein powder is your best friend- add it to almond milk or coconut milk along with whatever fruit or vegan yogurt you like.
AVOCADO! Put it on everything. Stick it in smoothies. There’s no such thing as too much avocado.
And don’t forget lots of fruits and veggies have protein. Make sure you’re eating enough and eating lots of fruits and veggies, they’re just as important as the protein everyone is so concerned about.
2 | A few quick and easy meals are non-negotiable
With all the calories you’ve gotta pack in, sometimes it’s a pain to have to make a huge meal. Have a few meals on hand that take less than 20 minutes to make, you’ll be glad you did.
- Stir fry (veggies, tofu or fake meat, oil, sunflower seeds on top, and whatever you like as a base. I go for rice, cous cous, or noodles)
- Burritos! (Beans, avocado, tomato, maybe corn or some peppers, rice optional, and a tortilla. Add some spices and you’re done.)
- Pasta (I typically use pesto sauce, tofu or vegan chick’n, tomatoes, olives for extra fat, and sometimes I’ll dice some avocado on top. Also add in a bunch of garlic, it can help with inflammation, ward off all kinds of bugs, and it’s just delicious.)
3 | Just keep eating, just keep eating.
If you’re on a tight budget, keep in mind affordable food options that can be used in multiple dishes and even as snacks.
There’s a cookbook I LOVE that really helped me learn how to put together a pantry full of staples and start building a strong base. It’s called Thug Kitchen: Eat Like You Give A F*ck and it is fantastic! I definitely recommend it.
Learn to make a few sauces and protein bars to save money on snack foods. I learned a few tricks from Sadia over on the Pick Up Limes Youtube channel and she’s always inspiring me to try new recipes. I make my hummus from scratch using her recipes and save a solid $40 per month- I eat a LOT of hummus! It’s great with carrots and crackers and whatever else you feel like dipping in there. Some of the recipes actually mix well with pasta and vegan cream for an alfredo-like dish.
4 | Make it yourself and customize the recipe!
Look up vegan recipes for breakfast bars and protein balls- my favorite one only has 4 ingredients and for less than $6, I can make about $40 worth of breakfast bars. I can customize it with extra nuts and seeds for even more nutrients, which I love.
Being vegan with cystic fibrosis isn’t impossible or even scary, honestly.
It just takes some planning ahead and clear communication with your care team.
I did my research, I made my intentions and my passion for this lifestyle change clear, I was persistent because I believed in the decision I was making and I was willing to do whatever it took to take care of my body while also taking care of the planet and not abusing animals.
Because I was persistent and pushed for what I believed in, I was able to get on the same page with a cystic fibrosis nutritionist at my clinic, and we worked together to make sure I could sustain a healthy vegan lifestyle with cystic fibrosis.
I hope these tips have helped you feel more confident and excited about this new decision!