Is There A Special Diet For IBD?

There Is Not Just One Way To Eat Right For Crohn's or Ulcerative Colitis

Fruits And Vegetables
Raw fruits and vegetables can be problematic for people with IBD. Photo © xedos4

Many people immediately think of diet as being a cause or a cure of digestive problems. In some cases, changing the diet can lead to feeling better from certain problems. However, diet is neither a cause nor or a cure for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). However, during an IBD flare-up, is is true that certain foods may exacerbate symptoms. In some cases, a physician or a dietitian may recommend a change in diet for a certain period of time, until getting back on a regular diet is feasible.


There's No One Diet For IBD

The medical community does not recognize or recommend a specific diet to treat either of the main forms of IBD (Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis). Instead, physicians and patients are encouraged to work together to develop an individualized eating plan.

Unfortunately, this leaves people who have Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis to a period of trial-and-error concerning food. The goal should be a healthy diet that does not add to the gastrointestinal distress. This can be a source of frustration because developing an eating plan is a moving target. The course of IBD is changeable, and a diet and treatment plan that works for a time may unexpectedly begin to fail and require a change.

No one's IBD is the same: what works for one person with Crohn's disease won't necessarily work for another. This is why physicians and dietitians can make recommendations, but it is the patient that will need to tweak things in order to find a workable diet.

This is also a source of frustration for many patients, not only because it takes time to develop an eating plan, but because it is difficult for people outside the IBD community to understand how complicated eating is for people who have IBD.

Some General Diet Guidelines

However, keeping these particulars in mind, there are some general guidelines that may help in developing a personal eating plan.

While not a part of any formal “diet,” the following tips can be helpful for people with Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis who are working towards finding a way to eat that is most beneficial for them.

  • Foods high in fiber, such as popcorn, nuts, and seeds may result in cramping or diarrhea during a flare-up. People who have a stricture in their intestine will also want to avoid these types of foods.
  • Greasy or fried foods, or any food that is high in fat, may not be completely absorbed by the digestive tract and could result in intestinal gas and diarrhea. Cutting back on fatty or fried foods during a flare-up may help in avoiding symptoms.
  • Many people are lactose intolerant, and the lactose in milk, cheese, or dairy products may cause abdominal discomfort, bloating, gas and diarrhea. There are many high-quality dairy substitutes available that can be used instead.
  • Raw fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet, but may lead to bloating, gas or diarrhea in some people. This is especially true for fibrous fruits and vegetables, and those with seeds. Choosing well-cooked vegetables or canned fruits can help with some of the problems, while still offering the benefits of the vitamins and minerals found in these foods.
  • Drinking alcoholic beverages may not worsen IBD, but for some people it may have a detrimental effect on symptoms. Additionally, drinking is a personal choice, and the effect of alcohol on the body should be weighed against the importance to quality of life. Beer and other carbonated beverages, in particular, may contribute to bloating.

The Bottom Line

Everything changes during a flare-up: medications, diet, and lifestyle. Once the IBD has gone back into remission, however, getting back to a healthful diet rich in fruits and vegetables should be a priority. Restricted eating plans are not meant to be used long-term: they often don't provide enough vitamins and minerals to support a healthy body.

In addition, when IBD is causing inflammation, patients need more calories to fight off the disease, not less. The most important point to remember is to utilize your healthcare team in order to create the best diet that works for you, both in a flare-up and in remission.

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