When managing your IBD symptoms, diet can be a big factor. There is not one specific diet that has proven to reduce symptoms, however, many IBD patients have reported that there are diets that work for them. Finding the right diet for you may have to happen through trial and error. Also, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider before trying any new diets to make sure you are getting the right nutrients.
Changing Your Eating Habits
It is typically recommended that IBD patients eat smaller, more frequent meals using simple cooking techniques such as boiling, grilling, steaming, and poaching. Typically about 4-6 small meals daily. It is extra important to stay hydrated and to drink fluids slowly without a straw. Using straws or having a fast intake of fluid can cause you to ingest air which may cause gas and irritation in your bowels. It is also useful to keep track of your diet using a food log to know what sort of symptoms you experience after eating certain foods. Doctors will commonly place IBD patients on an elimination diet where you eliminate certain foods and monitor how your body reacts.
Even though every IBD case is different, there is a general rule of thumb for foods that commonly irritate symptoms and cause flares.
These are potential trigger foods for IBD:
- Insoluble fiber foods that are hard to digest such as fruits with the skin and raw veggies
- Non-absorbable sugars usually found in sugar free gum, candy, and ice cream
- Sugary foods
- High fat foods
- Fried or greasy foods
- Alcohol and caffeinated drinks
- Spicy foods
Special IBD Diets
The Crohn's & Colitis Foundation (CCF) created a list of diets that they have seen most commonly reported being used by IBD patients.
A Mediterranean diet is rich in fiber and plant-based foods. It includes olive oil, low-fat dairy, herbs, and spices. There is little to no red meat involved and poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt are recommended in moderation. A lot of people refer to the Mediterranean diet as being very "clean".
Carbohydrate Exclusion Diet
In a carbohydrate exclusion diet, you exclude or limit your intake of grains, fiber, and certain sugars. The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) is being studied by the CCF in collaboration with the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) to see if it can be a useful and successful diet for IBD patients. The SCD is very limited, as it eliminates all refined and processed foods, soy, lactose, table sugar, grains, potatoes, okra, and corn. It is important to know that the SCD can also cause your body to run low on vitamin B, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin E, so it is crucial to get those vitamins supplemented in your diet.
FODMAP stands for "fermentable, oglio-, di-, monosaccharides, and polyols". This diet cuts back on a specific group of sugars that can be poorly absorbed by your GI tract. These sugars include fructose, lactose, sugar polyols (sorbitol and mannitol), fructans (found in garlic, leeks, artichokes, and wheat), and galacto-ogliosaccharides (found in lentils, chickpeas, and black beans). This diet can be especially helpful if you struggle with gas and bloating. However, it typically is not recommended if you are experiencing a flare.
Gluten Free Diet
The gluten free diet cuts out gluten which is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye food products. Many IBD patients have reported that being gluten free has helped because it helps them feel less bloated and reduces their symptoms. However, gluten free products tend to have higher fat content which can lead to weight gain. Talk to your doctor before trying to go gluten-free, they may want to test you for celiac disease first.
The low-fiber diet is recommended to help reduce both cramping and bowel movements by decreasing your fiber intake. When on this diet, you must avoid leafy green veggies, nuts, seeds, popcorn, whole grains, and raw fruits with peels. This diet can be especially helpful if you have a stricture or after a surgery when your gut may be a little extra sensitive.
Crohn's & Colitis Foundation. What Should I Eat? (2020).
Crohn's & Colitis Foundation. Special IBD Diets. (2020).