If you have Crohn’s disease, you know that having a flare-up can be awful. Symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, and cramping can not only make you feel miserable but keep you from doing the things you love. While completely avoiding flare-ups may not always be possible, knowing what to eat, as well as what to avoid, when they happen can help you quickly bounce back. Below, we’ll cover everything you need to know about planning a Crohn’s disease diet, including what to eat, what to avoid, and how you can better understand flare-ups.
Understanding Crohn’s Disease
Crohn’s disease is one of the two main types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) along with ulcerative colitis. Both of these conditions cause your body to experience an immune response against the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Crohn’s disease, unlike ulcerative colitis, can affect any part of the GI tract, from the mouth to the anus. That said, it most commonly affects the end of the small intestine (ileum) where it links to the beginning of the colon.
Crohn’s disease can lead to many debilitating symptoms such as diarrhea and stomach pain. You may also experience a decreased appetite, fever, diarrhea, and blood in your stool. The inflammation in the small intestine caused by Crohn’s disease also makes it harder for your body to absorb nutrients from the food you do eat. This, combined with the limited diet many people with Crohn’s disease require, can make it difficult to get enough nutrition and maintain a healthy body weight.
Planning a Crohn’s disease diet is about much more than keeping symptoms at bay. A proper Crohn’s disease diet can help you get the right amount of nutrients, stop unintended weight loss, and quickly bounce back from a flare-up.
What Foods to Avoid When Planning a Crohn’s Disease Diet
Let’s first start by understanding what not to include when planning a Crohn’s disease diet. It’s important to remember that what foods trigger your specific symptoms may not be the same for someone else with Crohn’s disease. To know which foods to leave out of your Crohn’s disease diet, you’ll first need to determine which foods, if any, trigger yours.
While eating the right foods is important, the foods that trigger your flare-ups are the most important thing to include when planning your Crohn’s disease diet. For most people with Crohn’s disease, foods that trigger or aggravate symptoms typically include things alcohol and dairy products.
While not true for everyone, the following foods can be common triggers for people with Crohn’s disease:
- Insoluble fibers such as whole grains or raw vegetables
- Sugary foods such as candies, pastries, or other ultra-processed foods
- Lactose-based products like milk, cheese, and yogurt (lactose intolerance typically coincides with Crohn’s disease)
- High-fat foods such as butter, coconut, margarine, and cream
- Alcohol and caffeinated beverages like beer, wine, and coffee
- Spicy foods or hot spices
Once you’ve identified foods that cause your symptoms to flare, you can choose either to avoid them or to learn new ways of preparing them that will make them tolerable.
Four Foods to Include When Planning a Crohn’s Disease Diet
Planning a Crohn’s disease diet can be difficult. Certain foods that may cause flare-ups for you, like milk, for example, may be beneficial for someone else when they are in remission. This is why it’s important to structure your diet around the foods you know cause your symptoms to become worse.
With that said, another important part of your Crohn’s disease diet is knowing what to eat during a flare-up. Since flare-ups are near impossible to prevent completely, there are certain foods you may want to avoid when your symptoms start to worsen. These foods can help you get the right amount of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals without making your symptoms worse.
Below, we’ll take a look at four broad categories of foods you can include when planning your Crohn’s disease diet, all of which can also help ease your symptoms during a flare-up.
One of the major triggers for many people with Crohn’s disease is grains or foods that are high in fiber. Insoluble fibers, found in many things from the skins of fruits and vegetables to whole-wheat products, pass through the digestive tract intact. If you have Crohn’s disease, this may increase symptoms like diarrhea or abdominal pain.
Another reason these types of foods may irritate your Crohn’s disease symptoms is that many grains include the protein gluten. Gluten is a protein naturally found in some grains including wheat, barley, and rye. Many people with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis have gluten sensitivity.
Refined grains, on the other hand, has less fermentable fiber than whole grains. This allows them to pass more quickly through the digestive system, which makes them easier on your gut, and less likely to cause inflammation.
Examples of some refined grains you can include in your CD diet include:
- Potato bread
- White rice
- Rice snacks
Your gut is packed with anywhere between 300 and 500 different types of bacteria, which contain nearly 2 million genes. These bacteria, combined with other tiny organisms like viruses and fungi, are what make up your microbiota, or microbiome. This microbiome is incredibly important to your digestive health.
Probiotics are packed with millions of these “good” bacteria which can help reduce inflammation in the gut. Studies have shown that there are differences in the intestinal microbiomes of people with Crohn’s disease and those without IBD. Those with Crohn’s disease have less microbial diversity and a loss of beneficial and anti-inflammatory bacteria.
Including probiotics in your Crohn’s disease diet can not only help with inflammation but can also aid in providing you with nutrients you may be missing. For example, one probiotic-packed food, yogurt, is high in calcium, which may be difficult to get enough of for people who find it difficult to eat dairy products.
Some probiotic-rich foods to reach for when planning your Crohn’s disease diet include:
Foods that are high in fat can make your Crohn’s disease symptoms worse. When it comes to planning a Crohn’s disease diet that is mindful of flare-ups, your protein selections should be based solely on fat content. Opting for proteins that are lean and low in fat is always a better choice.
For example, instead of fatty red meats such as steak or pork, try reaching for chicken or turkey instead. Other examples of lean meats that are great choices for a Crohn’s disease diet include:
- White meat poultry
- Tofu and other soy-based products
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are one of those foods that many people with Crohn’s disease have a hard time adding to their diet. Raw vegetables, for example, are high in insoluble fibers that can cause stomach and digestive pains. However, fruits and vegetables have numerous health benefits that make them an essential part of any balanced diet.
The trick to adding fruits and vegetables to your Crohn’s disease diet is processing them differently. For example, instead of grilling or frying vegetables, baking or steaming them can make them easier for your body to digest, while still allowing you to reap some of the benefits they provide.
Another great way to incorporate vegetables and fruit into your diet is by opting for juices. Vegetable and fruit juices are low in fiber and high in some vitamins and minerals. Manufacturers also fortify some juices. The important thing to remember when choosing a vegetable or fruit juice is to pay attention to sugar content. It’s best to avoid sugary foods when planning a Crohn’s disease diet, but a daily glass of diluted fruit juice that contains no added sugar can help boost a person’s nutrient intake.
Other fruits and vegetables you can add to your diet include:
- Bell peppers
- Peeled cucumbers
It’s important to remember that the above-mentioned foods are only recommendations and that adding or removing them from your diet may not always help with your symptoms. Planning a Crohn’s disease diet can be difficult, and is something you should always talk with your doctor about. You should work with your doctor or a dietitian who specializes in Crohn’s disease or IBD to help you develop a personalized meal plan that is right for you.
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