What Is the Best Diet for Crohn's Disease?
Learn how to manage Crohn’s disease symptoms by making simple changes to what you eat and drink when your symptoms are at their worst.
If you suffer from Crohn’s disease, you know how difficult it can be to decide what to eat. As a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s symptoms may worsen when you eat certain foods, leading to what’s often called a flare-up of inflammation. Avoiding these flare-ups is a key aspect of managing Crohn’s disease.
In this post, we’ll outline the foods to watch out for with Crohn’s disease, as well as foods you can count on during and after an IBD flare-up.
What Is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s disease, along with a similar condition called ulcerative colitis, are types of inflammatory bowel disease. Crohn’s is characterized by flare-ups, which typically come on gradually and are followed by periods with no symptoms. The asymptomatic periods that people with Crohn’s go through are often referred to as remission.
The primary causes of Crohn’s disease are still a mystery, but the two factors that seem to play a role are your immune system and your genes. Heredity appears to make you more susceptible to developing Crohn’s disease or other forms of IBD. This means that if the disease runs in your family, you are more likely to suffer from it as well.
In addition, doctors tend to agree that an overactive immune system can make Crohn’s symptoms worse.
How Crohn’s Disease Affects Your Body
During a flare-up period, people with Crohn’s may experience symptoms that range from mildly uncomfortable to debilitating. These symptoms mainly affect your digestive system and intestines, but they can also impact other parts of your body as well.
Common Crohn’s flare-up symptoms include:
- Gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea and abdominal pain
- Bloody stool
- Loss of appetite and weight changes
- Iron deficiency due to changes in your diet
In addition to these symptoms, Crohn’s can also sometimes lead to kidney stones, as well as pain in the anal area. Some people with Crohn's may also develop a fever during flare-ups.
Learning to manage Crohn’s symptoms is easier when you have a healthcare Provider’s help. All forms of inflammatory bowel disease can drastically affect your life, so it’s important to follow professional medical advice when handling the condition.
If you suspect that you have Crohn’s but don’t have a diagnosis yet, schedule a visit with your Primary Care Provider and let them know your concerns.
How Is Crohn’s Disease Treated?
Diagnosing Crohn’s disease usually starts with stool or blood tests, which are sometimes followed by an endoscopy or colonoscopy. A doctor uses these procedures to check your stool, blood, and your digestive tract for signs that point to Crohn’s, and to eliminate other potential causes for your symptoms.
Once you have a diagnosis, your doctor may recommend that you manage the disease with changes to your diet and lifestyle, as well as with prescription medication. In some more severe cases, doctors may recommend surgery for people who can’t get relief from medication or diet changes.
Another treatment option that doctors may prescribe for Crohn’s patients is nutritional therapy. During a period of nutritional therapy, Crohn's patients get their nutrients from liquid diets via a feeding tube or an IV line, which give their bowels a rest from handling solid food.
What Foods Can Trigger Crohn’s Flare-Ups?
Flare-up symptoms often worsen due to certain “trigger foods.” These foods can vary between people with Crohn’s disease as people respond differently to specific foods.
However, there are some common triggers that may exacerbate your flare-up symptoms if you have Crohn’s disease.
Below are some of the most common trigger foods. These are foods to be careful with during a flare-up – some people eliminate these from their diet completely with good results, so it may be worth talking to your Provider about whether or not elimination in place of just avoidance may be able to help you.
Foods that contain lots of sugar, including desserts like ice cream, candy, and pastries, are all potential triggers for flare-up symptoms. Even fruit juice may increase the intensity of a flare-up because of its high sugar content.
Some people with Crohn's find that these sugary foods lead to symptoms like cramps, bloating, and even diarrhea.
In addition to the more obvious sources of sugar, lactose is also a common trigger food for sufferers of Crohn's disease, which is the sugar naturally found in milk.
Foods High in Insoluble Fiber
Insoluble fiber is the type of fiber that adds bulk to your stool and makes it easier to stay regular. For someone without Crohn’s disease, this type of fiber is unlikely to cause digestive issues. However, it can be particularly difficult for people with Crohn's to digest foods that are high in insoluble fiber.
Some high-fiber foods that you may want to avoid during a flare-up are cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, beans, lentils, whole grains like bran or oatmeal, and large servings of nuts.
In addition, some Crohn’s patients find that any raw vegetables are too hard to digest during a flare-up.
Overall, a low-fiber diet can be one of your best assets during flare-ups for managing symptoms.
Too Much Fat
In addition to high-sugar foods, fatty foods often make symptoms worse for people with Crohn’s. These fatty foods include full-fat dairy products like butter and margarine, peanut butter, red meat, and cooking oils like coconut and olive oil. In addition, deep-fried foods and greasy fast food meals often make flare-up symptoms worse.
What Should You Eat During a Crohn’s Flare-Up?
Now that you know the types of foods to avoid during a flare-up, let’s talk about foods that are recommended when your symptoms are at their worst. These foods are usually easier for patients to handle, as they are usually easier to digest.
Lean Sources of Protein
While high-fat foods like red meat may make IBD symptoms worse, you don’t need to avoid meat entirely. Chicken, turkey, low-fat pork, lean fish, eggs, and tofu are all generally considered good options during an IBD flare-up. These foods provide your body with protein and valuable vitamins and minerals without too much fat.
When you are going through a flare-up, it’s best to eat all of your vegetables fully cooked and to avoid the veggies with the most insoluble fiber.
Instead, try eating starchy vegetables like potatoes and squash without adding too many fatty toppings like butter or sour cream. Easy-to-digest vegetables like asparagus, peas, and cooked carrots are also options worth considering.
Fruits that are lower in fiber are normally tolerable during a flare-up. These fruits include bananas, honeydew, cantaloupe, peaches, and any fruits that are cooked before eating.
Refined grains contain less insoluble fiber than whole grains, which may make them easier to digest during a Crohn’s flare-up. Ideal sources of refined grains during a flare-up include white rice and white pasta, as well as white or sourdough bread.
What Should You Eat After a Crohn’s Flare-Up?
The period after a flare-up when symptoms subside is known as remission. While you might not experience the same level of discomfort during remission that you go through in a flare-up, it’s still essential to be intentional about what you eat.
Below are some tips for more suitable eating during a Crohn’s remission period.
Lean sources of protein fit perfectly into a Crohn’s diet, even during a flare-up. Lean meat, fish, eggs, and small servings of nuts may be beneficial during a remission period as well.
Flare-up periods often come with weight loss, which frequently means some muscle loss as well. Making sure to get enough protein during your remission periods helps your body build and maintain muscle mass.
Your body needs plenty of fluids all the time, but proper hydration during a flare-up as well as remission is especially important.
One way to stay hydrated is by making sure you’re drinking a minimum of six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day. Coconut water can also be hydrating – just ensure it’s not packed with added sugars.
Another option for quick and efficient hydration is an IV therapy session. During treatment, an IV line sends a hydrating solution directly into your bloodstream, helping to restore your body’s fluid levels.
In addition to providing your body with much-needed fluids, an IV therapy treatment can also offer vital nutrients in their most bioavailable forms to help renourish you after a flare-up.
Crohn’s flare-ups affect your digestive tract, so adding probiotics to your diet may provide extra gut support that can help reduce the severity of symptoms.
Probiotics support gut health by adding beneficial bacteria to your gut microbiome, promoting a balance between the “good” bacteria and the “bad” bacteria.
Fermented foods are some of the best sources of probiotics. These foods include yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, and drinks like kefir and kombucha.
If you don’t like the taste of these fermented foods and drinks, probiotic supplements are an excellent second option.
Living with Crohn’s disease can be difficult, especially when you are in the midst of a flare-up. However, one of the best ways to make the condition more manageable is being intentional with what you eat and drink. Simple changes like prioritizing hydration and lean protein may have a great impact on the manageability of your symptoms.
Always follow guidelines laid out by your Healthcare Provider about managing your disease, and if you notice flare-ups getting worse or have any other questions about the condition, book an appointment with your Provider.