Advertisement

Crohn’s Nutrition Guide

Overview

Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It can certainly cause issues when it comes to choosing what you eat and drink. Not only does the condition cause digestive tract inflammation and uncomfortable symptoms, but long-term consequences can even include malnutrition.

To make matters more complicated, your dietary habits can worsen symptoms. While there’s no cure-all diet known for Crohn’s, eating and avoiding certain foods may help prevent flare-ups.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Grains

Grains

Grains are common dietary staples. Whole grains are often touted as providing the most dietary benefits because they’re high in fiber and nutrients. Substantial research confirms that a high-fiber diet reduces risk of developing IBD.

But once you receive an IBD diagnosis and the disease is active, the fiber factor may be problematic. Fiber may increase diarrhea and abdominal pain. However, other substances in grains may be more to blame, like gluten or fermentable carbohydrates (FODMAPs).

What grains to avoid or limit:

  • whole wheat bread
  • whole wheat pasta
  • rye and rye products
  • barley

Try these instead:

  • rice and rice pasta
  • potatoes
  • corn and polenta
  • oatmeal
  • gluten-free bread

Depending on your individual symptoms, your doctor may recommend a low-fiber diet. This means you’ll have to limit the amount of whole grains you eat. According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA), two-thirds of people with Crohn’s may benefit from a low-fiber, low-residue eating plan to help treat small intestinal constriction or acute symptoms. This type of diet reduces fiber and “scrap” that can stay and irritate the bowels.

However, new research questions the effectiveness of low-fiber diets in Crohn’s disease management. During periods of remission, a 2015 study recommends a semi-vegetarian, high-fiber diet to limit disease progression. Researchers reported that the higher fiber intake didn’t result in unfavorable symptoms or outcomes.

Fruits and veggies

Fruits and veggies

Due to their numerous benefits, it’s a shame to think that fruits and vegetables ought to be avoided by people with Crohn’s. The truth is that raw produce may cause problems for the same reason as whole grains: high-fiber content.

You don’t necessarily have to eliminate every fruit and vegetable from your diet, but some fruits and vegetables can be exceptionally hard on a Crohn’s digestive tract, whether due to the fiber or FODMAP content.

What fruits and veggies to avoid or limit:

  • apples with skins
  • broccoli
  • cabbage
  • cauliflower
  • artichokes

Try these instead:

  • applesauce
  • steamed or well-cooked vegetables
  • carrots
  • cucumbers
  • bell peppers
  • spinach

Instead of avoiding fruits and vegetables entirely, you can still reap some of their benefits by processing them differently. For example, baking and steaming fruits and veggies can make them more easily digestible.

Still, this process can also remove some of their important nutrients, especially water-soluble vitamins and enzymes. You may want to talk to your doctor and dietitian about ways to prevent any deficiencies.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Protein and meat

Protein and meat

When it comes to Crohn’s flare-ups, your protein selections should be based on fat content. Meats with a higher fat content should be avoided. Opting for proteins with lower fat is a better choice.

What proteins to avoid or limit:

  • red meat
  • dark meat poultry

Try these instead:

  • eggs
  • fish
  • shellfish
  • pork tenderloin
  • peanut butter
  • white meat poultry
  • tofu

Dairy products

Dairy products

While you may be able to have a glass of milk here and there with no problems, other people with Crohn’s may not tolerate dairy very well. In fact, the Mayo Clinic advises people with Crohn’s disease to skip dairy products altogether. This is because lactose intolerance tends to coincide with IBD.

Lactose, a type of milk sugar, can increase your risk for gas or abdominal pain and diarrhea. High-fat dairy, such as butter, is an even greater concern. The fat may aggravate an already swollen small intestine.

What dairy products to avoid or limit:

  • butter
  • full-fat dairy products

Try these instead:

  • dairy substitutes such as milk, yogurt, and cheese made from plants like soy, coconut, almond, flax, or hemp
  • low-fat fermented dairy like yogurt or kefir

If you do decide to indulge in dairy, make sure to opt for low-fat products, limit your intake, and use enzyme products such as lactase (Lactaid) to help control any resulting flare-ups. You can also try these 13 dairy-free dinner recipes.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Beverages

Beverages

Considering the nature of Crohn’s disease, it’s generally a good idea to drink more fluids. The best beverage of choice tends to be plain water. Water also provides the best form of hydration. Dehydration is often a risk in cases of chronic diarrhea.

What beverages to avoid or limit:

Try these instead:

  • plain water
  • sparkling water (if tolerated)
  • noncaffeinated herbal tea

Caffeinated beverages, such as coffee, tea, and soda, increase diarrhea. Alcohol can have the same effect. Soda and carbonated water aren’t good choices, either. They can increase gas in many people.

If you can’t live without your daily caffeine or an occasional glass of wine, remember that moderation is key. Try drinking water alongside these beverages to minimize their potential adverse effects.

Advertisement

Spices

Spices

Spicy foods can act as a stimulant (similar to caffeine) and worsen your symptoms. As a rule of thumb, you should avoid anything overly spicy. On the other hand, turmeric (or curcumin), has been linked to positively affecting Crohn’s disease flare-ups in preliminary studies. It has a slightly spicy flavor.

What spices to avoid or limit:

  • allspice
  • black pepper
  • cayenne pepper
  • chili powder
  • jalapeños
  • garlic
  • white, yellow, or purple onions
  • paprika
  • wasabi

Try these instead:

  • turmeric
  • ginger
  • chives or green onions
  • cumin
  • lemon peel
  • fresh herbs
  • mustard
Advertisement
Advertisement

Vitamins and supplements

Vitamins and supplements

Issues with foods may warrant a look at vitamins and supplements. According to the Mayo Clinic, a multivitamin may be one of the best choices for Crohn’s disease. These supplements can help prevent malnutrition caused by the small intestine’s inability to properly absorb the foods you eat.

Furthermore, if your diet is very limited because of flare-ups, a multivitamin with minerals can help fill in missing nutrients. Calcium is another important supplement to consider, especially if you don’t eat many dairy products.

Depending on the degree of the disease and inflammation, what medications you’re taking, and if any resection surgeries have occurred, folate, vitamin B-12, vitamin D, and fat-soluble vitamins are the most common nutrient deficiencies.

While supplements can help, you should discuss these with your doctor and dietitian first to avoid the potential for overdose and drug interactions.

Outlook

Outlook and other dietary considerations

Diet may help prevent Crohn’s flare-ups. However, foods and drinks tend to affect Crohn’s patients differently. This means that one food might cause flare-ups for some people and not for others. In general, if you know that a certain food aggravates your symptoms, you should take care to avoid it altogether. Smaller, more frequent meals can also reduce stress on the digestive tract.

New areas of research in Crohn’s include:

It’s important to consider that it’s not just what you eat that can aggravate your symptoms. The way you cook and process your food can also make a difference. Fried, fatty foods are common flare-up culprits, so opt for baked and broiled items instead. Crohn’s disease can make the digestion of fats difficult, worsening diarrhea and other symptoms.

Diet can play a crucial role in overall Crohn’s management, but it’s a multi-factorial, complex disease. It often requires many supporting treatment methods, not just diet alone.

In fact, the CCFA notes that few research studies have pointed to diet as the solution. This is because diet can help prevent and alleviate symptoms, but food itself may not be enough to address the underlying inflammation that causes the symptoms in the first place.

Continue to see your doctor for treatment follow-ups. Be sure to discuss any differences in symptoms. Nutrition counseling may also improve the efficacy of your medications and overall quality of life.

Article resources
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement