Life with Crohn’s disease can be difficult, particularly when it comes to watching what you eat. While there’s no specific diet that can cause or cure Crohn’s, research suggests that some foods may be more likely to cause flare-ups than others.
But the good news is that there are also foods that help reduce Crohn’s symptoms, replenish lost nutrients, and promote healing. Even better? You can make use of snack time to help manage your Crohn’s symptoms and treat yourself to some goodies.
While Crohn’s can affect any part of the GI tract, it most commonly affects the small bowel and upper colon, penetrating the entire thickness of the intestinal wall.
This can cause symptoms like:
- abdominal pain
- persistent diarrhea
- rectal bleeding
- gas or bloating
- weight loss or decreased appetite
There’s no perfect diet for those with Crohn’s disease, but some research has shown that a few different approaches might help relieve symptoms.
Eating smaller amounts of food more frequently is recommended. For flare-ups, a “bland” diet may ease symptoms. This means avoiding foods with too much fiber or spice and instead choosing soft, bland, low-fiber foods.
During periods of remission, a low-FODMAP (fermentable oligosaccharide, disaccharide, monosaccharide, and polyols) diet that includes a variety of allowed foods may ease any IBS-like symptoms while providing adequate nutrition.
The low-FODMAP diet eliminates fermentable, poorly absorbed carbohydrates and polyols from your diet for six to eight weeks. Then it allows foods to slowly be reintroduced to help identify triggering foods.
On the contrary, a high-FODMAP diet may make it difficult to manage Crohn’s.
- lactose (dairy milk, butter, cream, cheese)
- fructose (apples, mangoes, honey, agave nectar, and some other sweeteners)
- fructans (onions, garlic, wheat)
- galacto-oligosaccharides, or GOS (legumes, nuts, seeds, and some grains)
- polyols (asparagus, cauliflower, and sugar-free sweeteners)
While there have been no prospective clinical trials, three retrospective studies in the Journal of Crohn’s and Colitis, , and the World Journal of Gastroenterology have suggested that a low-FODMAP diet can help those with Crohn’s disease reduce symptoms and identify individual foods that trigger them.
With so many foods to avoid, following a low-FODMAP diet can feel like there is nothing left to eat. What’s more is that trying new foods can be nerve-racking if you don’t know whether they’ll cause painful symptoms.
But it’s not all bad news! There are still foods you can eat during the trial period of a low-FODMAP diet and beyond with Crohn’s disease. And snacking is a great way to fit more essential nutrients into your day.
Whether you want to take them on-the-go or keep them handy in your fridge at home, these Crohn’s-friendly snack recipes are easy to make and easy to digest.
Lactose-free yogurt parfait
- In a glass, layer one container of lactose-free yogurt, such as coconut yogurt.
- Alternate layers with banana slices and papaya chunks.
- Top with 1 tbsp. smooth nut butter of your choice .
Cucumber cottage-cheese toast
- Toast a slice of your favorite gluten-free bread.
- Spread with 2 tbsp. lactose-free cottage cheese mixed with a squeeze of lemon juice.
- Top with peeled, sliced cucumbers.
- Sprinkle with fresh mint.
Crunchy peanut butter balls
- In a large bowl, combine 1 cup puffed rice with 1/4 cup smooth peanut butter.
- Add 1/2 tsp. vanilla, 1/4 cup local honey, and 1/4 cup powdered peanut butter.
- Roll mixture into balls and store in the refrigerator.
(1 serving equals 1-2 balls)
Nut and seed banana slices
- Slice a banana in half, lengthwise.
- Spread each side with 1/2 tbsp. peanut butter.
- Sprinkle with unsweetened shredded coconut and other preferred toppings.
Tropical green smoothie
- In a blender, blend 1/2 small banana, 1/4 cup frozen pineapple, a handful of spinach, 1/2 cup lactose-free coconut yogurt, and 1/4 cup nut milk or coconut milk.
- Enjoy cold or at room temperature.
Pressed for time or no appliances at-the-ready? Try these even simpler and equally delicious Crohn’s-friendly snack ideas:
Fruit and cheese snack plate
Make yourself a mini cheese plate with:
- 1/3 cup grapes
- 1 oz. brie
Mini antipasti skewers
Thread black or green olives, cherry tomatoes, basil, and prosciutto onto toothpicks. Drizzle with a touch of olive oil and sprinkle with freshly cracked pepper.
Tuna cucumber bites
Mix 1/2 cup canned tuna with 1 tbsp. light olive oil mayo, 1/4 cup finely diced red bell pepper, salt, and freshly cracked pepper. Scoop onto peeled cucumber slices.
Turkey veggie rollups
Slice zucchini, red bell peppers, and carrots into matchsticks. Roll 3 slices of turkey around veggies and eat!
If you want to give the low-FODMAP diet a go for other meals, try adding some of these foods to your meal prep for an endless variety of options.
Remember, the most fun part is mixing it up and getting creative. Crohn’s doesn’t have to make you feel like you have limited options to eat well and deliciously!
Gluten-free foods aren’t as difficult to find as you might think. Avoid store-bought granola bars, as they often have high-fructose sweeteners and added fibers like inulin that may cause uncomfortable symptoms.
- gluten-free bread
- corn tortillas
Keeping your favorite nut milk and lactose-free cottage cheese and yogurt in your fridge will make it easy to have a snack on-hand at all times.
- lactose-free cottage cheese
- lactose-free yogurt
- nut milks
- low-lactose cheese (cheddar, feta, brie, parmesan)
Low-fructose and low-polyol fruits
Luckily, some yummy fruits are low-FODMAP-friendly, and you can usually tolerate them fine. Just make sure you limit it to one serving per meal or snack to reduce the risk of irritation.
The same goes for vegetables — which is good news because having enough fruits and veggies in your diet is key for good digestion and health.
Just try to avoid garlic, onions, mushrooms, asparagus, and artichokes.
- bell peppers
Meat, eggs, and seafood
Protein foods like meat, eggs, and fish contain no carbohydrates and are least likely to cause GI symptoms. You can keep some of these foods in the fridge year-round for easy access.
Keep hardboiled eggs, canned tuna, or deli turkey in your kitchen or pantry for easy, nutritious snacks.
- hardboiled eggs
- canned tuna
- deli turkey
Remember that your Crohn’s nutrition plan is highly individualized. What works for one may cause havoc in another. See a healthcare professional to help guide you with your choices.
It’s true that life with Crohn’s can make eating a chore and even a nuisance. But remember, food is not your enemy!
With the right foods, you can enjoy delicious meals and snacks with minimal preparation and maximum deliciousness any time of day. What are your favorite Crohn’s-friendly snacks?
Kaleigh is a registered dietitian, food blogger at Lively Table, writer, and recipe developer passionate about making healthy living fun and accessible for everyone. She believes in a non-diet approach to healthy eating and strives to help clients develop a positive relationship with food. When she's not in the kitchen, Kaleigh can be found hanging out with her husband and three Brittany spaniels. Find her on Instagram.