Crohn's Disease: Diet and Nutrition

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on November 16, 2014
3 min read

Diet does not cause Crohn's disease. But pay attention to what you eat, because it can help you control your symptoms. Cutting out some foods may help, especially during a flare. Still, you want to make sure you eat a variety of healthy foods.

"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. He's an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Crohn's and Colitis Center at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Keep a food diary to figure out which foods, if any, cause you distress. Some foods may only be a problem during flares. Common problem foods for people with Crohn's include:

High-fat, greasy, and fried foods. About one-third of people with Crohn's find these hard to digest. These include:

  • Cream sauces
  • Butter
  • Margarine
  • Anything deep-fried

High-fiber foods. For example:

  • Corn
  • Popcorn
  • Seeds
  • Nuts

Dairy foods. These are important for your health, but if they cause diarrhea, pain, or gas, you may not be able to digest them. It’s often hard to tell if your symptoms are from the Crohn's or from lactose intolerance. To find out, get tested. If you are lactose intolerant, Lactaid pills may help you digest milk and milk products.

Try these tips to calm your symptoms and stay healthy during a flare:

  • Eat soft, bland foods. Avoid foods that are spicy or high in fiber.
  • Eat smaller meals and more often. Instead of three large meals, eat five small ones.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Chronic diarrhea can make you lose body fluid, which makes you feel weak and tired. It can also affect your kidneys and even lead to kidney stones. Talk to your doctor about how much and what fluids to drink. Avoid soda and drinks with caffeine. They can bother your stomach.

If your symptoms make it hard for you to eat healthy, ask your doctor about working with a dietitian. He or she can help you track what you eat, adjust your diet so you have fewer symptoms during flares, and make sure you get enough calories and are well nourished.

You may need to boost your diet with vitamins, minerals, and nutritional supplements. Talk to your doctor first. Most likely, your doctor will suggest a daily multivitamin and other supplements to help replace:

  • B Vitamins. Crohn's can make you low in B12. And some Crohn's drugs make it hard for your body to absorb folate, a type of B vitamin.
  • Vitamin D. You may not get enough vitamin D, which helps you absorb calcium and keep strong bones. One source is sunlight, so if you don't get outside often or live in the far north part of the U.S., you're more likely to be missing it.
  • Iron. Inflamed tissue in your body can cause bleeding, which can deplete iron.
  • Potassium. Diarrhea and some corticosteroid drugs can lower your stores of this mineral.
  • Magnesium: Chronic diarrhea, having Crohn's in your small intestine, or having much of your intestine removed can make it hard to get enough magnesium.
  • Calcium. You may be short on this if you can't eat dairy foods or your body doesn't absorb them well. Long-term use of corticosteroids can also cause bone loss.

In some serious cases, your doctor may suggest you get a nutrient-rich supplement via a feeding tube that leads from your nose to your stomach. This is usually done in the hospital.

When the balance between helpful and harmful bacteria in your gut is thrown off -- say, when you take an antibiotic -- it can cause diarrhea and other problems. Probiotics are "friendly" bacteria that help keep harmful bacteria in check. Researchers are looking at whether they can help ease Crohn's symptoms and help people stay free of flares.