Colon and intestine inflammation can cause pain and discomfort. In some cases, a person may be able to manage their symptoms and reduce the inflammation by adding specific foods to their diet.

The primary cause of intestinal and colon inflammation is inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

IBD is an umbrella term that covers Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Both conditions cause inflammation in the gut.

According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, the same diet will not work for everyone with IBD. However, some foods may help reduce inflammation more than others.

Ultimately, a person should work with their doctor to determine which foods work best for them and which ones may cause inflammation and symptoms to worsen.

In this article, we provide suggestions for foods that may help a person reduce inflammation in their intestine or colon.

a person wearing a blue shirt is in a garden eating a slice of watermelonShare on Pinterest
Westend61/Getty Images

It is advisable for people with IBD to take the following measures with regard to their diet during a flare-up:

Eat less fiber

A person should choose white breads and rice over whole grain. Foods with less than 2 grams of fiber per serving are most suitable.

Vegetables

A person should cook their vegetables well. They can use fresh or frozen vegetables, including:

Fruits

A person can eat canned or soft fruits, such as:

Peeling fruits and vegetables where possible will help decrease their fiber content.

In a 2018 review of studies, researchers found that following diets rich in fruits and vegetables helps reduce inflammatory biomarkers.

Eat protein

A person should ensure they are eating enough protein during a flare.

Sources of protein include:

  • soft and well-cooked meats, such as:
    • poultry
    • salmon or other fish
    • lean beef and pork with no added fat
  • low sodium and low fat deli meats
  • well-cooked eggs
  • tofu
  • smooth nut and seed butters, including:

Drink fluids

When symptoms worsen, a person with IBD should aim to drink 8 cups of fluids per day. However, they should avoid:

  • caffeinated drinks
  • sugary drinks
  • drinks made with sugar substitutes

Eat less added fats

A person should choose oils over solid fats when cooking. Their intake should be fewer than 8 tablespoons per day.

Using olive oil instead of other oils or fats may help with inflammation.

A 2019 study reports that extra virgin olive oil may help reduce oxidative stress, inflammation, and immune response in people living with IBD.

University Hospitals states that a person should slowly reintroduce foods after an inflammatory flare. To do this, they can add one or two items of new food every few days.

If a food begins to cause symptoms, they should avoid it.

The following foods may be suitable for a person who has just had a flare-up of Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis:

  • diluted juices
  • applesauce
  • canned fruit
  • oatmeal
  • plain chicken, turkey, or fish
  • cooked eggs or egg substitutes
  • mashed potatoes, white rice, or noodles
  • sourdough or white bread

If a person has recovered from a flare of intestinal or colonic inflammation, they could eat the following foods to help keep inflammation lowered:

Fiber

A person can start to eat foods that are higher in fiber when gastrointestinal symptoms have improved and it is less likely to worsen symptoms.

According to a 2017 study, avoiding fiber long term may lead to a greater risk of flares in people with Crohn’s disease.

Therefore, a person should ensure they are consuming fiber between flares. Dietary fiber could be in the form of whole grains, such as brown bread or brown rice.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids, which are present in foods such as salmon, can help reduce inflammation.

A 2016 review of studies states that although using omega-3 fatty acids is not a treatment for IBD, they definitely help ease inflammation.

However, researchers note there is a need for additional research to determine how much of the nutrient is an effective dose.

A 2018 review reports that omega-3 fatty acids may benefit people with ulcerative colitis rather than those with Crohn’s disease.

The study goes on to suggest that omega-6 fatty acids may also help a person with ulcerative colitis who is between flares. That said, it also calls for additional research to confirm this.

According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, common sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:

Natural foods

A person should opt for foods that have undergone minimal processing. The fewer ingredients a product contains, the better.

Dairy and lactose products

A person can start to reintroduce dairy or lactose products provided that they do not worsen symptoms.

If a person has lactose intolerance, they should avoid dairy. Alternatively, they could eat low lactose or lactose-free products.

Added fats

A person should continue to prioritize oils such as olive oil or canola oil over solid fats, such as butter.

However, at this stage, they will likely tolerate added fats better.

Eat protein

Among other sources, a person can consume protein in the form of:

Drink enough fluids

A person should always make sure they are drinking enough fluids throughout the day.

It is advisable to drink water instead of fruit juices, soft drinks, alcohol, and caffeinated beverages, such as coffee or tea.

Dietary recommendations for people with Crohn’s disease differ somewhat from those for people with ulcerative colitis.

The following table contains information derived from a 2020 study. It can help a person determine whether they should increase or decrease their intake of certain foods depending on their diagnosis.

FoodCrohn’s diseaseUlcerative colitis
fruitsincreasenot enough evidence
vegetablesincreasenot enough evidence
red or
processed meat
not enough evidencedecrease
unpasteurized dairy productsavoid where possibleavoid where possible
fatdecrease saturated fats
avoid trans fats
decrease palm oil, coconut oil, and dairy fat
avoid trans fats
increase omega-3 fatty acids
food additivesdecrease maltodextrindecrease maltodextrin

People with either Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis should decrease their intake of the following foods:

  • carrageenan, a type of thickener from seaweed
  • titanium dioxide, a type of food colorant and preservative
  • sulfites, a type of flavor enhancer and preservative
  • carboxymethylcellulose, a type of thickener

The exact cause of the inflammation will help a doctor determine the best treatments and lifestyle changes a person can adopt to reduce inflammation in the gut.

The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation notes that some other changes a person can make include:

  • drinking slowly and avoiding using straws
  • eating 4–6 small meals per day
  • staying hydrated
  • keeping a food journal to track foods that may cause worsening symptoms
  • cooking food using simple methods, such as grilling, steaming, boiling, or poaching

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that treatments for IBD include medications, such as corticosteroids, immunomodulators, biologics, and aminosalicylates, and surgery to remove a portion of the intestine.

If IBD is not the cause of inflammation, a person should speak with a doctor about most suitable treatments.

Learn more about medical treatment for IBD here.

Colon and intestine inflammation is often a result of IBD.

Several foods may help reduce inflammation in the gut during, after, and between flares.

A person should work with a doctor to determine the underlying cause of the inflammation and seek treatment to help prevent potential complications.