Having Crohn’s disease presents unique challenges when it comes to eating. Some foods can make symptoms worse at times, and people may want to avoid them.

People living with Crohn’s disease are subject to flare-ups. These are periods of inflammation. During these times, a person experiences diarrhea, nausea, and stomach cramping when they eat.

As a result, healthcare professionals may often recommend that a person take a different dietary approach during a flare-up than in times when they are not experiencing a flare.

Some of the major food categories that should not make a Crohn’s flare-up worse include:

  • decaffeinated drinks
  • low fiber bread
  • ripe bananas and peeled fruit
  • lean proteins
  • certain vegetables

The following article describes in more detail some dietary approaches for those experiencing a Crohn’s disease flare-up, as well as suggestions for a typical daily diet.

During a Crohn’s disease flare-up, most doctors and dietitians will recommend that people avoid high fiber foods and foods that are known to stimulate the gut, such as spicy foods.

Beverages

Beverages to avoid during a Crohn’s flare-up include drinks that are:

  • alcoholic
  • caffeinated
  • carbonated
  • highly sweetened, such as with sugar or corn syrup

Very sugary drinks can worsen the diarrhea that a person commonly experiences during a flare-up.

Caffeine stimulates the bowels and worsens diarrhea as well. If a person typically consumes caffeine in a day, they may wish to try switching some of their usual caffeinated products to decaffeinated ones. This may help them to reduce their caffeine consumption with a lower risk of experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

Bread and starches

While many diet plans recommend whole grains, a flare-up diet usually involves a low fiber approach. This means a person should avoid the following foods:

  • brown rice
  • cereals containing nuts, dried fruit, or seeds
  • quinoa
  • whole grain bread, crackers, bran cereal, pasta, or popcorn
  • wild rice

Dairy products

A person should avoid dairy products that may contain added sources of fiber. Examples can include:

  • cheeses that contain nuts or seeds
  • yogurts that contain fruit skins, such as whole blueberries, cherries, or strawberries

Eating other dairy foods in moderation can be helpful during a flare-up by providing calcium and live active cultures.

However, regardless of how much fiber it contains, dairy may worsen symptoms during a flare-up, especially if a person is also lactose intolerant. A person who chooses to eat dairy may want to select lower fat options because they may find higher fat dairy more difficult to digest.

Fats

Some fat sources may contain fiber or are naturally high in fiber. Examples of fats to avoid include:

  • coconut
  • nuts
  • salad dressings with poppy seeds
  • high fat foods such as butter, margarine, or any deep-fried food items

Fruit

Raw fruit and fruit juices with pulp are foods to avoid during a Crohn’s flare-up. Other examples include:

  • dried fruit, such as raisins
  • prune juice

While people should avoid raw fruits when they have a flare-up, they can eat ripe bananas, melons, and apples with the skin removed.

Proteins

High fat and high fiber protein sources can cause gas and irritate the intestinal lining. As a result, some of the foods to avoid during a flare include:

  • beans
  • fried eggs
  • fried meat
  • high fat lunch meats, such as salami
  • chunky nut butter with seeds (eating smooth butter on white toast is actually recommended during a flare)
  • peas
  • tough or chewy cuts of meat

Sweets and desserts

Examples of sweets to avoid while on a flare-up diet include:

  • foods containing bran, such as muffins
  • coconut
  • any sweets, such as cookies, candy, cakes, pastries
  • fruit juice with added sugar
  • dried fruit
  • jams
  • raisins

A person should also avoid foods that are made with sugar alcohols, as these can cause gas in some people. Examples include mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol.

Vegetables

Vegetables that a person should avoid on a flare-up diet include:

  • beets
  • broccoli
  • Brussel sprouts
  • cabbage
  • cauliflower
  • corn
  • greens
  • lima beans
  • onions
  • parsnips
  • peppers
  • potato skins
  • spinach
  • winter squash

Some of these foods are not necessarily high in fiber, such as onions, but are known to irritate the stomach of a person with Crohn’s disease.

Too much inflammation in the gut leads to symptoms of a Crohn’s flare-up.

Many doctors will recommend eating a diet called a low residue diet. This is similar to a low fiber diet but also limits other foods that reduce the amount of solid waste in a person’s stool.

Following a low residue diet helps the bowel rest and recover because the intestinal tract does not have to work as hard to digest foods.

This diet is best during periods of inflammation. People living with Crohn’s disease should otherwise aim to eat a balanced diet with adequate amounts of fiber.

Researchers in 2016 actually associated a low fiber approach during periods of Crohn’s remission with a greater risk of a flare-up.

Beverages

Beverages that a person can enjoy when experiencing a Crohn’s flare-up include:

  • decaffeinated drinks, such as decaffeinated tea or coffee
  • low sugar rehydration drinks
  • water

Bread and starches

Low fiber bread and cereal options will stimulate the bowels the least. Examples of these foods include:

  • bread made with white, refined, or all-purpose flour
  • refined cereals (cooked or dry), such as grits or puffed rice
  • white rice

As a general rule, if a food has more than 2 grams of fiber per serving, it is not a good option for a flare-up diet.

Dairy products

The number of dairy servings per day may depend upon the individual dietary needs of a person with Crohn’s.

Some people with the condition find that dairy products worsen their symptoms. If this is not the case, a person can eat 2 servings or fewer of the following options:

  • cheese
  • cottage cheese
  • milk
  • yogurt with live active cultures

Fats

A person experiencing a flare should avoid most fats, such as butter, margarine, gravy, or oil. If they do choose to eat fats, a person should limit the quantity to a few teaspoons daily.

Fruit

Peeling fruit can help remove some of the added fiber that stimulates the bowels during a Crohn’s flare-up.

Other fruit that people can eat during a flare-up include:

  • canned fruit, except for cherries or berries
  • peeled apples or applesauce
  • pulp-free fruit juices
  • ripe bananas
  • ripe melons

Proteins

Many protein sources are OK to eat during a flare-up, as long as a person cooks them so that they are tender and easy to cut with a fork.

Examples of these foods include:

  • eggs, cooked where the yolk is solid
  • fish
  • smooth nut butter that does not contain seeds
  • poultry
  • soy products

The best sources of protein during a flare-up may be protein shakes or oral protein supplements. A person should speak with their doctor to determine the best source of protein for them, as well as how to meet their protein needs.

Vegetables

Examples of vegetables to eat on a low residue diet include:

  • asparagus
  • canned vegetables that do not have seeds
  • well-cooked vegetables, such as seed-free squash and green beans
  • eggplant
  • potatoes without the skin
  • pumpkin
  • pulp-free vegetable juice

A person can also remove skins from vegetables to cut down their fiber content.

Some of the foods a person eats on a flare-up diet may not have the same nutrition profile as their typical diet does. As a result, a doctor may recommend taking vitamins, such as folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12.

Some people with Crohn’s may also take the medication methotrexate, which can result in folic acid deficiencies. People should talk with their doctor about a folic acid supplementation regimen if a healthcare professional prescribes methotrexate.

When a person is not going through a flare-up, switching to a high fiber diet can help with their Crohn’s disease. This diet promotes digestive regularity and good health.

There is no single food or food group that doctors link with every instance of Crohn’s disease. Different foods might irritate the gut and contribute to inflammation in different people.

Doctors will often recommend that people with Crohn’s disease keep a food journal of everything they eat and in what amounts. A person can list the symptoms — if any — they experience after eating certain foods.

Common foods that may worsen symptoms include spicy foods, dairy products, alcohol, and high fiber grains. However, these are not triggers for all people with Crohn’s disease.

Additional considerations and diet tips for a person with Crohn’s include:

  • eating several small meals each day instead of large ones to reduce reflux and gas
  • drinking plenty of water throughout the day to help digestion
  • adding fiber sources slowly and drinking plenty of water to help the body adjust

A person should also ask their doctor if there are any specific recommendations they should follow regarding their diet.

Crohn’s flare-ups can make a person need to change their diet to include low fiber options. But this is only a temporary approach to take until the flare has passed.

A person can identify individual dietary triggers that may worsen Crohn’s symptoms and work with their doctor or nutritionist, if one is available to them, to develop a healthful eating plan.

Is there a Crohn’s disease diet plan?

The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation recommends certain foods that a person should eat and avoid if they are living with an inflammatory bowel disorder (IBD). During a flare-up, a low residue or low fiber diet plan may be more beneficial.

Where can a person find Chron’s disease diet recipes?

Many cookbooks focus on recipes for people living with Crohn’s disease and IBDs. For example, the Ulcerative Colitis & Crohn’s Disease Cookbook features more than 170 recipes. A person can also find 70 low residue diet recipes in the Low Residue Diet Cookbook.

Should a person with Crohn’s disease eat gluten-free?

There is not enough research to suggest that eating gluten-free could improve Crohn’s disease symptoms, according to a 2020 review of studies. A person can consider a gluten-free diet if they are living with Crohn’s, but they should do so in consultation with their doctor, the Croh’s & Colitis Foundation suggests.

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