CDED is an eating plan that may help reduce certain symptoms of Crohn’s disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease that affects your gastrointestinal tract.

The Crohn’s Disease Exclusion Diet (CDED) involves eating liquid formula as well as whole foods and avoiding foods that are thought to damage the gut.

In this diet, potentially inflammatory foods might be avoided and then reintroduced, allowing you to identify whether they trigger your symptoms.

For example, if you notice that your symptoms flare up after you reintroduce coffee, you’ll know it’s a trigger food.

CDED is broken up into three 6-week phases. Each phase has a slightly different eating plan. Partial enteral nutrition (PEN), a liquid formula, is allowed in every phase.

During phase 1 (weeks 1 to 6), you can have a small variety of foods, including lean meats, certain vegetables, and rice.

During phase 2 (weeks 7 to 12), you can reintroduce certain vegetables, fruits, and legumes, and have limited amounts of whole-grain bread.

During phase 3 (weeks 12 and beyond), the “maintenance phase” of the diet, you can slowly reintroduce potentially irritating foods like dairy and alcohol. You may be required to keep a food diary to help you identify trigger foods.

If your symptoms flare up during the maintenance phase, your clinician or dietician might suggest returning to phase 1.

The diet gives your gut a chance to heal from potentially damaging foods. It also gives you the opportunity to identify trigger foods (which you might need to avoid altogether).

CDED is:

  • proven to be effective at treating the symptoms of Crohn’s disease
  • easier to stick to than other diets prescribed for Crohn’s disease
  • useful for identifying trigger foods
  • appropriate for both adults and children
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Overall efficacy

A 2021 study examined the effectiveness of CDED on 32 people with Crohn’s disease.

After 6 weeks, 76.7% of participants achieved clinical remission, which means that their symptoms significantly reduced. This number increased to 82.1% after 12 weeks of therapy.

A 24-week study compared two groups with one another. One group followed the diet along with a nutritional drink while the second group followed the diet only.

With or without the nutrition drink, the diet effectively reduced symptoms.

Easier to comply with

Compared with other options, CDED may be easier to stick to.

Crohn’s disease is often treated with a liquid-only diet called exclusive enteral nutrition (EEN). Although EEN can be effective, it can be difficult to adhere to because it involves avoiding all solid foods.

CDED is less restrictive than EEN because it includes liquid nutrition as well as certain solid foods.

This means people might find it easier to comply with CDED, reducing their risk of going off-plan and eating items that might trigger their symptoms.

Identifying trigger foods

Not everybody with Crohn’s disease has the same trigger foods. One person might digest dairy easily, while another might find it to be a major trigger.

This exclusion diet can be helpful as it can assist you in identifying your own personal trigger foods.

Appropriate for children and adults

Certain medications for Crohn’s disease, such as steroid-based anti-inflammatories, aren’t always appropriate for children.

This diet can be useful for children as well as adults with Crohn’s disease.

For some, CDED may:

  • lead to disordered eating habits
  • not be as effective as you’d like
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Any diet or eating plan, whether prescribed by a clinician, can carry the risk of triggering or aggravating disordered eating patterns (and, potentially, eating disorders).

If you have a history of disordered eating, or if you’re concerned that following an exclusion diet might affect your relationship with food, talk with your healthcare practitioners about it.

It might be a good idea to speak with a therapist or find an eating disorder support group.

It’s possible that the CDED won’t work for you. Although research has shown it to be effective for most participants, it doesn’t work in every case.

It can be discouraging if it doesn’t improve your symptoms, but there are a variety of other diets that you could try.

It’s best not to follow the diet on your own, but rather to rely on the guidance of a registered dietician or another qualified healthcare practitioner.

The food you eat depends on the phase you’re in. Throughout the diet, you can have liquid food or PEN like Ensure or Pedialyte.

You eat certain whole foods and gradually introduce foods that may be triggering. However, you avoid foods like processed meats and seeds.

Phase 1

In addition to PEN, you can eat:

You can also have small quantities of:

Phase 2

During phase 2, you can eat the foods from phase 1 as well as PEN.

Your clinician might also suggest adding portions of foods like:

Phase 3

Phase 3 is considered the “maintenance phase” of the diet.

In addition to liquid nutrition and foods from the other phases, you might reintroduce the following foods at allotted portions:

What foods do you avoid with the Crohn’s disease exclusion diet?

In all phases, you’ll probably be advised to avoid:

Your clinician may be able to suggest specific recipes.

Other resources to check out:

You may be able to use or adapt recipes from other eating plans, such as Whole30 or the Paleo diet. While not all Whole30 or Paleo recipes will suit everyone on CDED, both eating plans focus on whole foods.

When looking at recipes, it’s important to cross-check the ingredients with the foods you’re allowed to eat during that specific phase of the diet.

CDED is a three-phase eating plan that involves eating whole foods as well as liquid foods.

Throughout the diet, you’ll cut out foods that may irritate your gut and gradually reintroduce some of those foods. This allows you to identify potential trigger foods.

If you try the diet, it’s strongly advised that you do so under the guidance of a clinician, such as a registered dietician.

Sian Ferguson is a freelance health and cannabis writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. She’s passionate about empowering readers to take care of their mental and physical health through science-based, empathetically delivered information.