Some people with Crohn’s disease have trouble absorbing fats or carbohydrates from food. Certain cuisines or menu items may aggravate symptoms, which may make eating out in public seem like a daunting proposition.
However, you can limit the risks with a little planning. Nutritional support strategies can help you get the nutrients you need and leave you free to enjoy solid food.
Nutrition is an issue of special concern for people with Crohn’s. The disease affects your digestive system and may interfere with your appetite. Even if you’re able to eat a balanced diet, some forms of Crohn’s can interfere with your digestive tract’s ability to absorb nutrients. This puts you at risk of malnourishment.
If you have inflammation of your small intestine, you may experience challenges absorbing fats or carbohydrates from your food. According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, up to 40 percent of people with Crohn’s experience some difficulty absorbing carbohydrates. If you have trouble absorbing fat, carbohydrates, or both, you may require nutritional support.
In order to get enough calories and nutrients each day, you may need overnight feeding with a liquid nutrient formula. This enriched formula may be delivered through a nasogastric tube that’s threaded through your nose directly into your stomach or small intestine. This type of nutritional support is called “enteral nutrition.”
Another variation involves surgically implanting a tube directly into your stomach through your abdominal wall. Known as a gastrostomy, this procedure bypasses the discomfort that you may experience by inserting and removing a nasogastric tube every day.
With proper nutritional support, you can go out to restaurants and eat solid foods without fear of becoming severely malnourished.
What’s on the Menu?
Every person with Crohn’s is different. Generally, any food that you can tolerate is probably OK to eat, whether at home or out in public. Of course, choosing healthful foods is always a good idea.
If you’re prone to cramping and diarrhea, you may want to avoid high-fiber foods, such as fresh fruits and raw vegetables. Likewise, your doctor may suggest you avoid whole grains, seeds, nuts, and popcorn. Safe alternatives may include:
refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, white rice, or pasta
It may also be helpful to avoid spicy foods, and foods that are high in sugar or fat. Based on these general recommendations, some restaurants and menu options are likely to be better choices than others.
Cold-water fish, such as tuna, salmon, or swordfish, may be an excellent selection, especially when broiled, poached, or steamed. These fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Essential nutrients have anti-inflammatory effects in your body and may discourage further digestive tract inflammation.
What Other Steps Can You Take to Stay Safe?
The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America recommends the following tips on how to enjoy dining out.
Avoid Eating Out If You’re Famished
If you show up to a restaurant starving, you may be tempted to overeat. This could trigger symptoms. To avoid overindulging, eat a small snack that you’re likely to tolerate before going out.
Call the Restaurant Before You Go Out
If you have concerns about the menu, call ahead. Many restaurants are happy to accommodate special requests. They can also answers questions about ingredients or cooking methods.
Don’t Be Shy About Asking for Help
Feel free to ask for special considerations. Dining out should be a pleasant experience. At sit-down restaurants, ask your waiter to help you meet your special needs. Call ahead or speak to your waiter to ask if the chef is willing to alter dishes to accommodate you.
Don’t Overdo It
It’s advisable to consume smaller portions than many restaurants serve. Rather than overeating, consider asking to have your leftovers wrapped up for later. Many restaurants also offer appetizers or even child-size portions. Consider ordering these items to reduce your chance of overindulging.
Indulge Your Cravings Sparingly
While attention to good nutrition is crucial, everyone deserves the occasional treat. Some foods are low in nutritional value, yet high in calories, added sugar, or fat. It’s usually best to consume these foods in small amounts, as special treats from time to time.
Crohn’s Disease, Kids, and Fast Food
If your child has Crohn’s disease, you may worry that fast food offers few options. However, that isn’t always true. Ice cream or milk shakes, for example, can provide much-needed calories for energy and ample calcium for growing bones.
Even foods such as pizza can provide some healthful nutrients. For example, the cheese on pizza provides calcium, while tomatoes provide vitamin A and the antioxidant phytonutrient lycopene. Pizza crust can also be a good source of B-vitamins.