Even though millions of people suffer from Crohn's, the disease is a very personal one. Eating a special diet can help symptoms stay under control by avoiding aggravating foods. But what kinds of foods and ingredients should be avoided? Unfortunately, this answer may be different for anyone living with Crohn’s. There is no universal, “best” diet for all Crohn's sufferers to adopt for optimal management. The best thing for anyone to do is to start out by eating a balanced diet, then cut back methodically on any foods that worsen symptoms.
There are many different foods that may worsen symptoms
But how can we identify the foods that trigger flares? How can we figure out which ingredients hurt us? This task is overwhelming and is an extremely arduous task, especially in the society that we live in. We are living in a world of processed food and packaged meals, especially those of us who work full-time or have families to attend to. Free time doesn't grow on trees! It can be exhausting trying to remember to eat lunch, let alone what you ate a few hours ago. So how can we best identify these culinary triggers to our disease?
Keeping a food journal can help you figure out what ingredients you should avoid
Dieticians recommend keeping a food journal to track your daily meals. This is the best way to keep track of everything you ate prior to a flare or worsening pain. It's also wise to stick to natural foods that are free of any processing ingredients. That way, you'll have an easier time deciphering what exactly caused your pain. Try to avoid restaurants and eating fast food while you're still figuring out what foods makes your condition worse.
Besides processed foods, there are some natural foods that also tend to trigger inflammation and pain for Crohn's patients.
Fiber has a good side, and a bad one too
Fiber can be really good for you, helping your digestive tract deal with the waste from our daily meals. However, it’s important to consider the differences between soluble and insoluble fiber. For people with Crohn's, soluble fiber can actually help diarrhea by making it occur less frequently. Soluble fiber can also make flare-ups less severe as well. However, insoluble fiber can actually worsen your symptoms. It's important to know the differences so you can avoid the wrong one, and eat the good one! So, where can you find these substances in your foods?
Insoluble fiber is something to avoid, and foods rich in this type of fiber include whole grains, bran, nuts, seeds, and the skin of fruits and veggies. If you love fruit like apples and pears, try to enjoy these after taking the extra time to peel them first.
Soluble fiber is helpful for people with Crohn's, and you can find this in oats and applesauce. Some fiber supplements also contain an ingredient called psyllium, which is also considered a soluble fiber.
Beans are controversial because they contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. Depending on your unique case, it might be best to avoid beans all together to prevent any trigger of inflammation due to the insoluble component involved.
Dairy products like cheese, milk, and ice cream might make symptoms worse
Though lactose intolerance isn't associated directly with Crohn's disease, some people who have had surgery or small bowel inflammation may be more prone to similar symptoms. This is because lactose is broken down by the small intestine, which can sometimes be affected by the disease. Lactose intolerance is associated with gas, bloating, and diarrhea which can worsen any pain that may be caused by your Crohn's. If you want to eat a small amount of dairy, try taking a lactase enzyme supplement first. These can be purchased over-the-counter at your local pharmacy.
Trim the fat
Fatty food is not only unhealthy, but it can also aggravate your Crohn's disease. This is because the inflammation can interfere with your body's ability to digest the fat, leading to symptoms of abdominal bloating, pain, and foul diarrhea. Fat can be found in a lot of popular foods these days, especially fast food, greasy burgers, and fatty meals or oils. Try to avoid these food products as they are very common for people who have inflammation of the small intestine. Especially avoid eating fat if you've had portions of your small intestine removed.
Caffeine and alcohol can make things worse for your gut
There are many reasons why coffee and wine can make matters worse for Crohn's disease. For one, caffeine loosens stools even more and generates more contractions to move things along in your bowel. This can worsen any diarrhea or discomfort that you might be experiencing. It can also cause some pain as well. Alcohol, on the other hand, actually irritates the lining of your gut, worsening the inflammation if it's already there due to Crohn's. That's why coffee and alcohol might best be avoided from your diet if you have Crohn's.
Another reason to avoid these drinks is that they make you urinate more, causing dehydration if you're not careful. Dehydration can happen quickly especially if you're losing a ton of water to diarrhea. If you choose to enjoy a glass of wine or champagne for some occasion, make sure to drink plenty of water!
Fake sugar can sometimes make things worse than real sugar
Sugar alcohols are often found in sugar-free foods like gum or candies. These are sweet alcohols and some common examples include sorbitol and mannitol. These sugar substitutes can actually cause a lot of GI discomfort such as bloating, cramps, gas, and diarrhea, even for people without IBD.
Consider spending the time to keep a symptom diary, too
Besides keeping a food log, try to keep a symptom diary too. This will make it easier for you to identify any correlations between foods and symptoms you're experiencing.
Ask your doctor for advice about foods to avoid
If you're having trouble figuring it out, ask your doctor to help you! He or she will be more than happy to review your food and symptom journal with you so you can figure out a unique diet to help your Crohn's.
Remember to drink water and watch out for vitamin deficiencies
No matter what foods you choose to eat or avoid, make sure you're always drinking plenty of water and eating well-balanced meals. Be careful about vitamin or nutrient deficiencies, because people with Crohn's are already at higher risk for these. Vitamin D, calcium, and folate deficiencies are especially common and some patients may need to take supplements for these. Ask your doctor for recommendations in terms of taking vitamins or extra supplements to make sure you stay healthy.