Liquid Diet

For most people, a diet high in fiber that encourages regular bowel movements is the goal. If you have Crohn’s disease, however, you may be interested in a diet that reduces the number of daily bowel movements you have. Thanks to special diets customized to your needs, relief is possible.

If you have Crohn’s disease that affects the small bowel, you’ll eventually experience a narrowing of part of the small intestines called the ileum. This may cause pain and cramping during bowel movements due to the residue certain foods add to stool.

Often doctors prescribe corticosteroids, which are steroids that help reduce inflammation in the body, to help ease Crohn’s disease flare-ups. Modifying your diet can also help minimize the more severe symptoms of Crohn’s. The key is to achieve a low-fiber and low-residue diet, which is generally done by limiting intake of foods that are hard to digest, such as:

  • nuts
  • seeds
  • raw fruits
  • vegetables

Once the symptoms begin to decrease, you may gradually add these foods back into your diet.

How the Liquid Diet Works

When Crohn’s flare-ups are at their worst, temporarily adhering to a low-fiber, low-residue liquid diet can help your digestive system recover. The two primary types of liquid nutrition used for people with Crohn’s disease are whey-protein formulas, which are made from dairy, and elemental formula, which is hypoallergenic and does not contain soy or dairy. These formulas are high in calories and nutrients so you can stay healthy without eating any food.

Which formula and how much of it your doctor recommends depend on the severity of your Crohn’s disease symptoms and overall health. Your doctor may recommend either a full or partial liquid diet. The amount of formula you’ll need to drink each day depends on your:

  • age
  • gender
  • weight
  • activity level

Enteral Nutrition

Some people find it difficult to consume enough formula to maintain their health. In many cases, children, in particular, may struggle with consuming enough formula to stay healthy because they don’t like the way the formula tastes. If this is the case, their doctor may recommend enteral feeding, or a feeding tube inserted through either the nose to the stomach or directly into the stomach, to deliver the formula into the body.

People with Crohn’s have reported decreased symptoms when taking enteral nutrition. Researchers believe that bypassing part of the normal nutrition process helps ease the strain on the digestive system. One recent study suggests that people with Crohn’s disease who receive at least half of their daily calories through enteral feeding “had a significantly lower relapse rate” than people on an average diet of solid food.

While it’s helpful for treating a Crohn’s disease flare-up, many people, both adults and children, find enteral feeding uncomfortable and sometimes impractical. Research suggests that most children find whey-protein formulas more palatable than elemental formulas. If children don’t have any dairy allergies and don’t tolerate enteral nutrition, giving them whey-protein formula can help treat their Crohn’s disease. For dairy intolerance sufferers, pure pea protein, rather than whey derived from milk, may also be worth exploring.

Drawbacks of the Liquid Diet

One drawback to a liquid diet of any type is the disruption to your daily routine. By cutting solid food out of your diet, you might unintentionally cut down on your participation in social gatherings with family and friends.

Liquid nutrition can be especially disconcerting for children who simply want to fit in at school and with friends. For liquid nutrition to help induce remission, children have to stay on the diet for six to eight weeks, and continued supplemental liquid nutrition is required for years afterward. While a child can veer from the diet occasionally, it’s important for you to make sure the majority of your child’s diet is liquid during the treatment period for it to be most effective.    

Other issues with enteral nutrition are price and taste. Liquid formulas and enteral-feeding supplies can cost as much as $200 per week. Some people complain about the taste of liquid formulas. It’s important to communicate with your doctor about any difficulties you may have with your liquid diet so that they can tweak it to best fit your needs.