Fat malabsorption is a condition that results in a very limited ability of the body to absorb fats in the gastrointestinal tract. It can be caused by a number of underlying conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, chronic liver disease, pancreatic cancer, AIDS and HIV. Fat malabsorption results in weight loss, chronic diarrhea, fatty stools and deficiency symptoms of nutrients, particularly the fat-soluble vitamins. In addition, it is common to feel lethargic when you have fat malabsorption. Following some nutritional guidelines can help to restore good health. Discuss food choices with your doctor.
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When you have fat malabsorption, avoid fatty foods, such as cakes, biscuits, fatty meats, full-fat dairy, fast food, margarine and butter. In addition, avoid adding fats during food preparation and do not fry foods. You should still include meat in your diet, but choose lean cuts. When cooking chicken, remove the skin. Substitute full-fat dairy products with lower fat varieties.
To ensure sufficient energy intake, medium-chain triglycerides -- MCTs -- are sometimes used in patients with fat malabsorption. These are types of fats that the body finds easier to absorb. The November-December 1996 issue of “Nutrition” carried a study investigating the efficacy of MCT supplements in HIV patients suffering from fat malabsorption, chronic diarrhea and a loss of 10 to 20 percent of ideal body weight. MCT use was found to result in fewer stools, decreased stool fat content and decreased stool weight. Talk to your doctor before starting a new supplement.
Fat malabsorption can result in a deficiency of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. These need to be given either in a special water-soluble formulation or intravenously, reports the “Manual of Dietetic Practice.” Vitamin A is important for vision, bone health, immune system function and reproduction. Vitamin D helps to regulate calcium levels and is necessary for healthy bones and teeth. Vitamin E is an antioxidant, protecting the body against free radical-induced damage. Vitamin K is essential for normal blood clotting and for healthy bones.
According to the “Manual of Dietetic Practice,” unabsorbed fatty acids can bind to minerals such as calcium and iron, making them unavailable for the body and possibly causing their deficiency. Calcium is essential for healthy bones and muscle function and iron is necessary for healthy red blood cells. Try to include calcium- and iron-rich foods and talk to your doctor about supplements. The best sources of calcium are dairy products, while iron is found in lean meats, nuts, legumes, beans, raisins and prunes.
- “Nutrition”; A Medium Chain Triglyceride-Based Diet in Patients With HIV and Chronic Diarrhea Reduces Diarrhea and Malabsorption: A Prospective, Controlled Trial; C.A. Wanke, et al.; November-December 1996
- "Manual of Dietetic Practice, 4th Edition"; T. Briony, et al.; 2007