How Fiber Affects Crohn’s Disease

Fiber isn’t always something you should avoid if you have Crohn’s disease. It’s just a matter of timing.

In the past, your doctor might have told you to stay away from high-fiber foods. That’s because fiber can bulk up your stool and make you poop more often. The thought was that too much could lead to bowel blockage.

Now, we know that when you don’t have active Crohn’s symptoms, fiber in your diet can be healthy. It may even lower your odds of a flare.

Include a healthy amount of fiber in your diet each day when you don’t have active symptoms. Eat fruits and veggies in different colors: red, green, orange, or yellow. Fiber in your diet can also help you keep your cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight at healthy levels.

How Much Fiber Should You Eat?

Guidelines say adult women need 25 grams a day and adult men need 38 grams a day. The average American gets about 17 grams of fiber each day.

When you don’t have active symptoms, aim for about 23 grams of fiber a day. This amount can cut your risk of a Crohn’s flare by as much as 40%.

How to Eat During a Flare

Opt for low-residue, low-fiber foods. Eat soft, well-cooked foods. Peel and remove the seeds from veggies or fruits. Include white bread, rice, or pasta. Too much fiber can bring on these flare symptoms:

You don’t have to skip the whole-grain bread or vegetable sides. Just eat these foods when you aren’t in a flare.

Best Fiber Choices for Crohn’s

Not all types of fiber are alike. Soluble fiber soaks up water. It sops up the extra fluid in your gut. Foods rich in soluble fiber can help you slow down your digestion and ease diarrhea.

Insoluble fiber doesn’t soak up water. It can boost the amount of water in your gut. You’ll digest foods quickly. That can lead to watery diarrhea, stomach cramps, or gas. At worst, too much insoluble fiber can cause a blockage.

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Foods that come from plants are the best source of fiber. This includes fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, and nuts. Most plant-based foods contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. Remove peels, skin, and seeds of fruits or veggies to cut down on insoluble fiber that could upset your stomach during a flare.

Eat small amounts of foods with fiber so you can see how well you tolerate them. Add them slowly into your regular diet.

If you don’t have flare symptoms, don’t have an ostomy, and your doctor says you don’t need to follow a low-fiber, low-residue diet right now, include fiber in your daily foods. These foods are good sources of fiber:

  • Whole-grain breads or cereals
  • Oat bran
  • Beans
  • Barley
  • Nuts
  • A variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, peeled and seeded
  • Steamed, tender vegetables like asparagus or peeled potato
  • Applesauce
  • Ripe fruits like banana or melon
  • Canned fruits

Any vegetables with a tough skin could be hard to digest. Some veggies that are high in insoluble fiber are also tough and chewy. These veggies also tend to cause gas. Avoid them when you have a flare:

  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Any raw veggies

Which Is Better, Cooked or Raw?

Raw vegetables can be tough and hard to digest if you have Crohn’s. Steam veggies until they’re tender. This method preserves most of the nutrients in the raw version.

During a flare, you can cook fruits to soften them. You can also puree fruits like apples to make applesauce.

Hidden Fiber Sources

While whole-dairy foods like milk or plain yogurt don’t have fiber, some products have fiber added. Check the labels of any packaged dairy food like yogurt or ice cream to see the grams of fiber per serving.

While meat, chicken, and fish are low in fiber, go for lean meats, eggs, tender cooked meats or poultry, tofu, soy products, or fish for good sources of protein.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on March 24, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

American Gastroenterological Association: “Is Dietary Fiber OK for Patients With Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis?”

Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology: “Avoidance of Fiber Is Associated With Greater Risk of Crohn’s Disease Flare in a 6-Month Period.”

Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America: “Diet, Nutrition, and Inflammatory Bowel Disease,” “What Should I Eat?”

Permanente Journal: “High Amount of Dietary Fiber Not Harmful But Favorable For Crohn’s Disease.”

American Dietetic Association: “Crohn’s Disease and Diet.”

Mayo Clinic: “Low-fiber diet do’s and don’ts.”

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