Not to be confused with IBS, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an umbrella term for a group of complex diseases that are characterized by inflammation in the intestines.
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC) are the two most common types of inflammatory bowel disease, in addition to a couple of rarer types including microscopic colitis, diversion colitis, and Behçet’s disease.
Though certain medications and stress can cause complications in individuals with IBD, diet also plays a role in both exacerbating and managing symptoms.
How diet plays a role in IBD
With IBD, chronic inflammation can cause malabsorption of nutrients and nutritional deficiencies.
One common concern for people with IBD is a calcium and vitamin D deficiency. Low vitamin D levels have been linked to lower IBD outcomes, so a doctor may recommend calcium and vitamin D supplementation or increasing dairy food intake.
Meanwhile, iron deficiency anemia is another common issue for individuals with IBD. Treatment for this can include eating more iron-rich foods, iron supplementation, and, in more serious cases, IV treatments.
People may also start to eat less in an effort to reduce diarrhea and avoid nausea and other GI symptoms. In some cases, they may no longer have an appetite.
Ultimately, remember that getting the proper nutrition is important for not just IBD management, but for your overall health.
Diets that can help manage IBD
There are a number of diets and nutrition therapies aimed at helping ease symptoms for those with IBD.
There are a number of factors to consider when exploring which diet to adopt, from reducing inflammation to ensuring you’re eating enough nutrients and decreasing consumption of triggering foods.
You may find it helpful to consult with a dietitian to determine which diet will work best for you.
Which foods should I avoid?
When looking to help managing your IBD symptoms, there are a number of foods to consider avoiding, either because of high fat and fiber content or because of the FODMAP content.
Here’s a list to get you started when choosing which foods to avoid while at the grocery store:
- Fruits: apricots, canned fruit, cherries, dates, figs, pears, peaches, and watermelon
- Vegetables: artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, beetroot, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, fennel, leeks, mushrooms, okra, peas, and shallots
- Legumes: beans, chickpeas, lentils, red kidney beans, baked beans, and soybeans
- Wheat: bread, pasta, most breakfast cereals, tortillas, waffles, pancakes, crackers, and biscuits
- Animal protein: red meat, sausages, and dark meat poultry
- Dairy products: butter, cream, full-fat dairy, and margarine
Which IBD-friendly foods can I eat?
Though it might feel as though most foods are off-limits after an IBD diagnosis, there are still plenty of options that offer a high nutritional value while keeping your recipe repertoire interesting.
Though fruits and vegetables can pose an issue because of their high insoluble fiber content, there’s still plenty to choose from. These include:
- peeled cucumbers
- bell peppers
You can also look to steaming and baking fruits and veggies so that they’re easier to digest.
There’s ongoing research into whether a low-fiber diet is useful in IBD management, specifically Crohn’s disease. Talk with your doctor about whether or not a low-fiber diet is the best choice for you.
If the idea of doing away with meat altogether is just unthinkable, try not to panic. Having IBD doesn’t mean you need to give up animal protein altogether.
Instead, swap out red meat for the following:
- pork tenderloin
- white meat poultry
Grains are yet another food option that can often be limited. There are, however, a number of these to choose from, including:
- white rice and rice pasta
- cornmeal and polenta
- gluten-free bread
For the dairy lovers out there, you might be lead to believe that you need to give up your favorite brie, cheddar, or goat cheese.
Although limiting your dairy intake is highly recommended, there other diary options to choose from:
- dairy substitutes (products made from soy, coconut, almond, and hemp)
- fermented (low-fat) dairy such as kefir
If you’ve recently been diagnosed with IBD, here are three nutrition-based tips to follow:
- Talk to your doctor. IBD symptoms should be taken seriously, especially if they’ve started to impact your quality of life. If you have the means, consider making an appointment with a certified and licensed registered dietitian (RD) who specializes in digestive health conditions or autoimmune health conditions.
- Start a food diary or journal. A food diary can help you determine which foods to avoid entirely and which foods you can use to substitute. Your doctor or dietitian can help you analyze your food journal and figure out whether you should try specific diets.
- Take care of yourself. Taking care of your health is about more than just eating a nutrient-dense diet that supports your digestion. It also means engaging in exercise and other stress management techniques, getting a good night’s rest, and attending routine check-ins with your healthcare providers.
McKel Hill, MS, RD, is the founder of Nutrition Stripped, a healthy living website dedicated to optimizing the well-being of women all over the globe through recipes, nutrition advice, fitness, and more. Her cookbook, “Nutrition Stripped,” was a national best-seller, and she’s been featured in Fitness Magazine and Women’s Health Magazine.