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Creating a Crohn's Disease Diet Plan

If you have Crohn's disease, you probably have found that certain foods trigger your intestinal symptoms, especially when the disease flares. Learning to avoid these food triggers may allow you to self-manage your Crohn's disease, reduce gastrointestinal symptoms, and promote intestinal healing.

What is Crohn's disease?

Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are two types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Both involve an immune reaction against the intestinal tract.

In ulcerative colitis, the colon is inflamed and the small intestine works normally. With Crohn's disease, often the small intestine is inflamed, making it hard to digest and absorb key nutrients from food. The lack of sufficient nutrients, along with a poor appetite, can lead to malnutrition for people with Crohn's disease. That malnutrition may result from alterations in taste, reduced food or nutrient intake, lack of sufficient nutrients, poor absorption, or the inflammatory bowel disease process itself.

When Crohn's disease affects just the small intestine, it results in diarrhea and undernourishment. When the large intestine is also inflamed, the diarrhea can be severe. Severe diarrhea combined with malnutrition often leads to problems. For example, a person with Crohn's disease may suffer from anemia and have low levels of vitamin B12, folic acid, or iron.

Nutritional deficiencies and an inability to maintain a normal weight are serious problems for many people, even children, with Crohn's disease.

What is a Crohn's disease diet plan?

You've probably read about different types of diets for Crohn's disease on the Internet. But the fact is, there is no scientifically proven diet for inflammatory bowel disease. Most experts believe, though, that some patients can identify specific foods that trigger their gastrointestinal symptoms, particularly during disease flares. By avoiding your "trigger foods," you may find that your GI symptoms of gas, bloating, abdominal pain, cramping, and diarrhea are more manageable. At the same time, you will give your inflamed intestines time to heal.

If you have had problems absorbing nutrients due to Crohn's disease, it's important to follow a high-calorie, high-protein diet, even when you don't feel like eating. In this setting, an effective Crohn's disease diet plan, based on recommendations from experts, would emphasize eating regular meals -- plus an additional two or three snacks -- each day. That will help ensure you get ample protein, calories, and nutrients. In addition, you will need to take your doctor-recommended vitamin and mineral supplements. By doing so, you will be able to replenish the necessary nutrients in your body.

Which foods should I avoid with a Crohn's disease diet plan?

The foods that trigger symptoms differ for each person with Crohn's disease. To know which foods to leave out of your diet plan, you'll need to determine which foods, if any, trigger yours. Many people with Crohn's disease find that one or more of the foods on the following list aggravate symptoms during disease flares. It's possible that at least some of these listed foods will trigger your symptoms:

  • alcohol (mixed drinks, beer, wine)
  • butter, mayonnaise, margarine, oils
  • carbonated beverages
  • coffee, tea, chocolate
  • corn husks
  • dairy products (if lactose intolerant)
  • fatty foods (fried foods)
  • foods high in fiber
  • gas-producing foods (lentils, beans, legumes, cabbage, broccoli, onions)
  • nuts and seeds (peanut butter, other nut butters)
  • raw fruits
  • raw vegetables
  • red meat and pork
  • spicy foods
  • whole grains and bran

Once you've identified foods that cause your symptoms to flare, you can choose either to avoid them or to learn new ways of preparing them that will make them tolerable. To do that, you'll need to experiment with various foods and methods of preparation to see what works best for you. For instance, if certain raw vegetables trigger a flare, you don't necessarily need to give them up. You may find that steaming them, boiling them, or stewing will allow you to eat them without increased GI symptoms. If red meat increases fat in the stools, you could try eating ground sirloin or ground round to see if you can tolerate a leaner cut of beef. Or you might decide to rely on low-fat poultry without skin and fish as your main sources of protein.

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