Foods To Avoid if You Have Crohn’s Disease

There’s no one recommended diet for all people with Crohn’s disease, but you might feel better if you cut out certain foods.

Close up of a person making a healthy breakfast with fruit and yogurt

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Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that impacts more than a half million Americans. In people with Crohn’s disease, an abnormal immune response causes inflammation in the digestive tract that leads to symptoms like:

  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Weight loss
  • Anemia
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea

While there’s no one recommended diet for all people with Crohn’s disease, some people feel better and have fewer symptoms when they cut out specific ingredients like gluten and added sugar or when they follow specific diets like the Mediterranean diet or a paleo-style diet. And, for some people, certain foods can trigger flares and make Crohn’s symptoms worse.

Here’s what you should know about foods to avoid if you have Crohn’s disease. 

Fruits To Avoid With Crohn’s

When you’re in remission—a medical term for when your Crohn’s disease activity is low—most people are able to tolerate a variety of fruits. In fact, regularly including fruit in your diet can help ensure you’re getting optimal amounts of important nutrients like vitamins and minerals, plus anti-inflammatory substances like flavonoids.

However, most people with Crohn’s disease report that certain fruits worsen their symptoms. Fruits high in carbohydrates called fermentable oligo-, di- and monosaccharides, and polyols—commonly known as FODMAPs—can exacerbate Crohn’s symptoms like diarrhea and bloating. 

For this reason, many people with Crohn’s feel better avoiding high-FODMAP fruits like:

  • Watermelon
  • Mango
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Figs
  • Bananas
  • Avocado
  • Cucumber

Even though FODMAPs don’t affect everyone with Crohn’s, you might want to try experimenting with lower FODMAP fruits like tomatoes.

When you’re experiencing a Crohn’s flare—a worsening of symptoms—you’ll need to significantly change your diet to take stress off of your digestive system and help minimize symptoms. Choosing fruits that are easier to digest—like cooked fruits and low-FODMAP soft fruits like cantaloupe—is best. 

Vegetables To Avoid With Crohn’s

Like fruits, certain vegetables are higher in FODMAPs than others. If you find that you’re sensitive to high-FODMAP foods, consider avoiding the following vegetables:

  • Artichokes
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Cauliflower
  • Mushrooms
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Zucchini

Instead, opt for low-FODMAP choices like spinach and potatoes.

Cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts contain fibers that can worsen Crohn’s symptoms like bloating and diarrhea, so they may have to be avoided, too.

When you’re in a flare, you’ll also want to steer clear of raw vegetables and vegetables with skin and seeds, as these are more difficult for your body to break down.

Carbs To Avoid With Crohn’s

If you’re in remission, you can eat a variety of carbohydrates, including grains and starchy vegetables.

But certain carbs are best avoided when you’re in a flare. Grains and other carb sources that are high in fiber are harder to digest and can worsen symptoms like diarrhea, stomach pain, and bloating.

Carbs that are high in fiber include:

  • Whole grains like brown rice, barley, popcorn, and wheat berries 
  • Beans like black beans, lentils, and chickpeas
  • High-fiber breakfast cereals and fiber bars

Some carbs can also be high in FODMAPs, which may cause issues if you have Crohn’s disease. For example, wheat-based products and couscous.

Some studies show that a gluten-free diet could help reduce symptoms of Crohn’s disease. Gluten is a collective name for a group of proteins found in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale—a cross between wheat and rye.

For this reason, you may want to try cutting food that contains gluten out of your diet for a couple of months to see if it makes a difference in your symptoms. There are plenty of gluten-free carb sources to choose from, including quinoa, fruit, potatoes, brown rice, and gluten-free bread.

Proteins To Avoid With Crohn’s

Protein is essential for overall health and is especially important when you’re experiencing a flare, since inflammation in your intestinal tract results in the loss of proteins. Most people with Crohn’s disease require 0.55–0.7 grams per pound (1.2–1.5 grams per kilogram) of protein when they’re in a flare. In remission, protein needs typically lie around 0.5 grams per pound (1.0 grams per kilogram). 

While it’s important for everyone with Crohn’s disease to take in optimal protein, the type of protein you choose can make a big difference in your symptoms, especially when you're in a flare.

In general, experts recommend staying away from high-fat protein sources like:

  • Fatty cuts of meat
  • Fried proteins like fried chicken 
  • Fatty, processed meat products like sausage and bacon

Many people with Crohn’s disease feel better when they stick to leaner protein sources like poultry, fish, and eggs.

Fats To Avoid With Crohn’s

Foods high in fat, especially greasy and fried foods, can make Crohn’s symptoms worse. For example, fried foods are high in peroxidized lipids (POLs)—harmful compounds that can trigger intestinal inflammation and damage the gut lining.

Foods high in fat can also trigger Crohn’s symptoms like diarrhea. In a 2020 study that included 223 people with Crohn’s disease, 60% of the participants reported that fried foods made their symptoms worse. 

Other foods that may trigger Crohn’s symptoms or aggravate flares include:

  • Fatty cuts of meat
  • Fatty sauces like gravy
  • Full-fat dairy products like ice cream, butter, and cream

However, fat is an important nutrient and there’s no need to avoid all high-fat foods. When in remission, you may be able to tolerate higher-fat options.

Milk and Dairy Foods To Avoid With Crohn’s

Lactose intolerance—when your body can’t properly break down a sugar in milk called lactose—is more common in people with Crohn’s disease compared to the general population.

In people with lactose intolerance, eating products made with milk or dairy products can cause symptoms like bloating, diarrhea, and gas.

If you’re sensitive to lactose, it’s important to avoid dairy products like:

  • Milk
  • Ice cream
  • Cheese
  • Butter

Some people with lactose intolerance can tolerate small amounts of fermented dairy products like yogurt and hard cheeses, so you could try experimenting and see what works best for you. 

Beverages To Avoid With Crohn’s

Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids is important for people with Crohn’s disease, especially if you’re experiencing diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration. However, it’s important to choose beverages that won’t trigger or worsen symptoms. Avoid sweetened and carbonated beverages like:

  • Soda
  • Caffeinated drinks (like coffee and tea)
  • Alcohol

These beverages can all be problematic for people with Crohn’s disease because they may worsen symptoms.

In the 2020 study that included 223 people with Crohn’s disease, 49% of the participants reported that alcohol worsened their symptoms. 

Milk and milk-based drinks like milkshakes should be avoided if you're sensitive to lactose. 

Beneficial Foods To Eat With Crohn’s

Everyone with Crohn’s disease has different nutrient needs and food preferences, so it’s important to develop a diet that’s both nutritious and enjoyable. When you’re in a flare, you’ll need to avoid a number of foods in order to reduce symptoms. But, when you’re feeling well, it’s recommended to include a variety of healthy foods, like:

  • Low-fiber fruits like bananas, cantaloupe, or honeydew
  • Lean proteins like fish, white meat poultry, soy, or eggs
  • Refined grains like potato or gluten-free bread, white pasta, or white rice
  • Fully cooked, seedless, skinless, non-cruciferous vegetables like asparagus, cucumbers, or potatoes

These foods may be tolerated for people with Crohn's disease.

A Quick Review

When you’re living with Crohn's, following a nutritious diet and avoiding certain foods and drinks can help you control your symptoms and reduce your risk of flares. 

Plus, when you’re experiencing a flare, you’ll need to steer clear of certain foods like those high in fiber and fat to make it easier on your digestive system.

If you think your diet or food choices might be making your Crohn’s disease worse or if you’re interested in changing the way you eat to improve your overall health and get a handle on your Crohn’s symptoms, consider speaking with your healthcare provider or making an appointment with a registered dietitian who specializes in gastrointestinal disorders like Crohn’s disease. 

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