Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that impacts three million Americans every year. People with Crohn’s sometimes restrict their eating in an attempt to reduce their symptoms, but this can cause malnutrition which, in turn, may lead to decreased bone strength and growth delays.
That's not to say diet isn't important to controlling the condition, though. By choosing the right foods, people with Crohn’s can enjoy a varied diet, manage their symptoms, and reduce the risk of malnutrition. Of course, this article provides general information, and anyone with Crohn's or another IBD condition should speak to their doctor about the best dietary choices for them.
Fiber is a hot topic in the world of IBD, with many studies discussing the appropriate amount and type for people with these conditions.
People with Crohn's should include fiber in their diet but may find it beneficial to follow a low-fiber diet during a flare-up, as high-fiber foods can make acute symptoms worse. People with a narrowed bowel or an obstruction will often be advised to follow a low-fiber diet. Low-fiber carbohydrates include white rice, bread, and pasta.
In order to maintain a balanced diet, it’s important to eat fruit and vegetables, even as part of a low-fiber diet.
During a flare-up, choose well-cooked vegetables without skin, seeds, or stems. Avoid raw or steamed vegetables, beans, and cruciferous vegetables like cabbage and cauliflower. Low-fiber fruit options include cooked and canned fruits, juices, and small amounts of honeydew melon and ripe banana. Avoid raw and dried fruit, especially prunes.
Protein is necessary for healing and muscle building and people with Crohn’s disease often need to eat more protein because of the inflammation in their bowel.
However, foods that are high in protein are often also high in fat, which can worsen symptoms of Crohn’s. Good sources of lean protein include fish, poultry (white meat without skin), soy, and eggs.
Fatty acids play a role in reducing inflammation in the body, and research suggests that omega-3 in particular may be useful in the prevention and treatment of Crohn’s disease. One study shows that omega-3s can decrease disease activity and improve the quality of life for people with Crohn’s.
Omega-3 fatty acids are primarily found in oily fish and are also widely available as a supplement.
Probiotics are foods or supplements that increase the number of good bacteria in the gut. There isn’t currently a lot of research specifically about probiotics and Crohn's, but there is evidence to support their benefit to other IBD conditions.
One study found that probiotics can help stabilize the intestinal barrier and decrease gastrointestinal symptoms in children. Fermented foods, like live yogurt, kombucha and kimchi are good sources of probiotics and supplements are also widely available.
Prebiotics are foods that can be broken down and used as fuel by the bacteria in the gut. Studies into prebiotics and IBD are also limited, but early research suggests that prebiotics can help reduce symptoms of Crohn’s by supporting the good bacteria in the gut.
Prebiotic foods include fruit like apples, apricots, and peaches, vegetables like green beans and asparagus, and grains such as oats and rice.
Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium in order to maintain healthy bones and may also help the body fight infection and reduce inflammation. Although research is limited, there is evidence to suggest that vitamin D may assist in the management of Crohn’s.
Our bodies produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, but we also get it from the food we eat. Many foods such as plant-based milk drinks are fortified with vitamin D, and natural sources include salmon, tuna, and sardines.
Studies show curcumin, a natural compound in turmeric, may help treat ulcerative colitis, another inflammatory bowel disease. Curcumin has anti-inflammatory properties and may therefore be also useful in the treatment of Crohn’s.
Turmeric is easy to add to many recipes and is also available as a supplement.
The low-FODMAP diet can be helpful in the short term for managing symptoms during a Crohn’s flare-up. FODMAPs are gas-producing carbohydrates than can be hard for the body to digest, like fructose, lactose, and gluten.
Low-FODMAP foods include dairy-free milk, eggs, meat, oats, and rice. A low-FODMAP diet is very restrictive and should only be undertaken following the guidance of a health professional.
People with Crohn’s often become dehydrated during flare-ups due to fluid loss from diarrhea or from not drinking enough due to nausea. Mild dehydration can lead to short-term symptoms like dry mouth, headaches, tiredness, and a lack of energy, while chronic dehydration can lead to kidney problems.
Maintain adequate fluid intake by drinking plenty of water and herbal tea, but avoid sugary drinks, caffeine, and alcohol, as these can make symptoms worse.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.