Because Crohn's disease affects the gut and symptoms often occur after meals, you may wonder if certain foods cause or contribute to the disorder. Many experts wonder about this too and research looking into the connection between diet and Crohn’s is ongoing.
“At this point, we don’t have an ideal diet for Crohn’s, but we do know that certain types of foods can make symptoms worse or better,” says Joshua Korzenik, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Korzenik is the director for the Crohn’s and Colitis Center at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. To help ensure that you are eating a balanced diet and getting enough calories while avoiding symptoms, you can take these steps:
- Eat smaller meals and eat more often. Instead of eating three large meals, eat five small meals.
- Avoid high-fat, greasy, and fried foods such as cream sauces, butter, margarine, and anything deep fried. About one-third of people with Crohn’s find these foods harder to digest because they have difficulty digesting fat.
- Avoid high-fiber foods such as corn, popcorn, seeds, and nuts. These types of foods have shells and hulls that aren’t completely digested in the small intestine, which can aggravate symptoms.
- Get tested for lactose intolerance if you think you may have it. Many people avoid dairy because they think they are lactose intolerant when they are not. The only way to know for sure is to be tested. If you have the condition, you may be able to take supplements to help you digest dairy. If it’s possible, it’s important to continue to eat dairy because it is such a good source of nutrition and calories.
- Keep a food diary. This can help you determine which foods, if any, irritate your stomach more than others.
- Try eating a softer, blander diet, rather than anything spicy and high in fiber during flares. This may cause less discomfort. Just be sure to eat a balance of foods from all food groups.
- Chronic diarrhea can lead to dehydration, making you feel weak and tired. It can also affect your kidneys and even lead to kidney stones, so it’s important to monitor how much you drink, especially in warmer weather. Talk with your doctor about how much fluid and what types of fluids you should be taking in every day. It’s best to avoid soda and caffeinated beverages as they can irritate your stomach.
Crohn's Disease: How a Dietitian Can Help
It’s a good idea to talk with your doctor about your nutritional needs and what you can do to ensure you are meeting them. You may want to ask your doctor about working with a registered dietitian (RD). This person can help you track what you eat, work with you to adjust your diet to help reduce symptoms during flares, and make sure you are getting all the nutrients and calories you need. “We always recommend that our patients work with an RD,” says Korzenik.