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What To Eat To Help Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

ByDave Stopher

May 22, 2021

By Scarlett Bergam

If you are living with inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, it may be difficult to balance symptoms of intestinal inflammation while ensuring you consume enough nutrients. Sometimes, foods that many consider “healthy,” like fresh fruits and vegetables, can send you into an IBD flare-up. While only trial and error (as well as help from a nutritionist) can determine the best diet to keep your IBD under control, here is a guide to what ingredients can be avoided or included in your pantry to reduce symptoms of Crohn’s and colitis.

Potential Trigger Foods

Foods that are hard for the digestive system to break down are generally thought to increase inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This inflammation causes many of the symptoms of IBD — diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloody stools, weight loss, and fatigue. There are many common culprits of inflammation that should be targeted to get your symptoms under control. First, so-called “insoluble fiber” foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables with skin and seeds, whole nuts, and whole grains, often worsen symptoms of Crohn’s and colitis. Further, foods that are high in lactose — the sugar in milk and cheese — often cause diarrhea. In fact, most sugars should be avoided: added sugars in pastries, candies, and juices, as well as non-absorbable “sugar-free” and “zero-calorie” alternatives. High-fat foods filled with butter, oil, or cream often increase IBD symptoms as well.

Foods that Relieve Inflammation

Many people living with IBD follow an anti-inflammatory diet to combat the most common symptoms of IBD. These foods include vegetables like tomatoes and leafy greens (spinach, kale, and collard greens), fruits, nuts such as almonds and walnuts, olive oil, and fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines. The ways you prepare these foods are essential to keeping inflammation low. Make sure to peel, de-seed, and cook fruits and vegetables as much as possible. Consume nuts in the form of smooth nut butters, and consume mostly unsaturated fats (raw olive oil) rather than saturated fats (fried or greasy foods).

 

Another painful symptom experienced by some people with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis is IBD constipation. While constipation can be caused by complications related to IBD, some people have found that it becomes more severe when there is not enough fiber or fluids in their diets. To help treat constipation at home, the first step is to increase the amount of water, broth, or rehydration solution you are drinking to 1.5 liters a day. Remove beverages that could contribute to dehydration, like soda, coffee, tea, and alcohol. Further, while many people with IBD are told to avoid fiber because it can worsen diarrhea, fiber is typically necessary to relieve constipation. It is recommended to slowly introduce well-tolerated, soluble fiber sources into your diet, which may include cooked vegetables, canned or cooked fruits, cooked cereals, and whole-wheat grains.

You Have the Power to Control Your Food Choices

Overall, no person with IBD has the same food triggers and no single diet works for everyone. It is important to keep a log, with an app or in a journal, of which foods lead to flares and which foods don’t. Finally, make sure to work with your IBD care team to develop a meal plan that gets you the nutrients you need while keeping your IBD under control.

 

References

What Should I Eat — Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation

Foods that Fight Inflammation — Harvard Health Publishing

Constipation with IBD — MyHealthTeams