Do you know what to eat to keep Crohn’s disease under control? It can be a tricky question because the answer isn’t the same for everyone, says dietitian Anna Taylor, MS, RD, LD. “What works for one person won’t work for another,” she says. “So start with a balanced diet and then cut back on any foods that make your symptoms worse.”
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It’s also important to stay hydrated and keep your doctor in the loop to make sure you’re getting the vitamins and minerals you need, as Crohn’s patients sometimes need additional vitamin D, calcium or folate.
You want to also pay attention to your reaction to the following food types, which frequently trigger GI symptoms:
1. Insoluble fiber
Insoluble fiber can make symptoms worse during flare-ups. If this is a trigger for you, avoid:
- Whole grains
- Skins and seeds of fruits and vegetables
Soluble fiber, however, may help make your diarrhea less frequent or less severe during flare-ups. Try these sources of soluble fiber:
- Psyllium (natural, bulk-forming seed husks found in various fiber supplements)
“Although beans contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, I recommend mostly avoiding beans during flare-ups; the insoluble fiber can make things worse,” says Ms. Taylor.
If you have lactose intolerance, you know to avoid milk, ice cream, and other high-lactose foods, which could make bloating, gas and diarrhea worse. You can try using an over-the-counter lactase enzyme tablet when you eat small amounts of dairy, Ms. Taylor says.
Even if lactose is not usually a problem for you, you may find that flare-ups or intestinal surgeries can sometimes bring on lactose intolerance.
3. Fatty foods
Fried foods, fast food, fatty meats and added fats/oils, can cause diarrhea and gas if you have problems with fat malabsorption.
“These triggers are especially common for people who have inflammation in the small intestine or have had part of the small intestine removed,” says Ms. Taylor.
4. Carbonated drinks, caffeine and alcohol
Soda and carbonated drinks can make bloating worse.
Caffeine and alcohol can affect your GI tract, triggering more diarrhea. Caffeine can loosen stools and increase peristalsis — wave-like movements that propel mass through the digestive tract.
Alcohol in any amount tends to irritate the lining of the digestive tract. If you consume caffeine and/or alcohol in high amounts, it can cause dehydration. This is more of a problem when you have diarrhea.
The sorbitol and mannitol found in sugar-free gum and candies can make GI tract symptoms worse, potentially causing gas, bloating, abdominal cramping and diarrhea.
Keep a food log
Ms. Taylor says to keep in mind that every person is different, and what works for one person with Crohn’s disease may not work for another.
“The only way to identify which foods worsen or trigger your GI symptoms is to put in the time and effort of tracking,” she says.
A food log may suffice. Write down everything you eat, and any GI symptoms you are experiencing. “This can help you identify which foods are triggering worsened symptoms,” she says. “Or you may find the need to try an elimination diet under the supervision of a registered dietitian.”