The Best Foods For People With Crohn's Disease

A close up of a cobb salad

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Crohn's disease is a chronic, inflammatory condition that impacts the gastrointestinal system. It’s considered an autoimmune disease because the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells lining the digestive tract.

Crohn’s disease causes symptoms like abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, and malnutrition. 

Dietary changes can help reduce the frequency and severity of Crohn’s flares and can make it easier for you to meet your nutritional needs. However, figuring out how to eat when you have Crohn’s disease isn’t exactly straightforward.   

Certain foods should be avoided when you’re experiencing a Crohn’s flare but are A-okay to eat when you’re in remission — the medical term for when your Crohn’s symptoms go away or get significantly better.

While there’s no single diet that works for every person with Crohn's disease, experts have narrowed down which foods are best tolerated by people with Crohn’s disease and which foods can trigger flares and make symptoms worse.

Best Fruit for Crohn's Disease

When in remission, most people with Crohn’s can tolerate a variety of fruits, including fresh, canned, and frozen. 

Some people with Crohn’s find that eating fruits low in fermentable, oligo-, di-, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAPs) — carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed by the digestive tract — helps them manage their symptoms.

Low FODMAP options include:

  • Cantaloupe
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Oranges
  • Pineapple 
  • Small servings of fruits like strawberries and blueberries

Removing peels and seeds from fruits can make them easier to tolerate.

If you’re experiencing a flare, it’s important to stay away from high-fiber fruits like fruits with skin and seeds. If you’ve recently had surgery or have a stricture — a narrowing of the intestines that makes it difficult for food to pass through — low-fiber fruits like bananas and cooked fruits without seeds or skin are recommended.  

Best Vegetables for Crohn's Disease

When you’re feeling well and you’re in remission, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation recommends eating a variety of colorful vegetables daily. Still, many people with Crohn’s disease find that some vegetables are easier to tolerate than others.

Like fruits, some vegetables are low in FODMAPs. Here are a few examples of low-FODMAP vegetables:

  • Eggplant
  • Green beans 
  • Carrots
  • Cucumbers
  • Potatoes
  • Lettuce
  • Zucchini

If you’re not sensitive to FODMAPs, you can enjoy any vegetable you like, but it might take some trial and error to figure out which vegetables work best for you. Removing parts of vegetables high in fiber like peels and seeds will make them easier to tolerate. 

When you’re experiencing a flare, it’s recommended that you choose fully cooked, seedless, skinless vegetables and avoid cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower, which could worsen symptoms like gas and bloating. 

Best Grains and Starches for Crohn's Disease

When you’re in remission, experts recommend eating a variety of grains and starches, including:

  • Beans
  • Whole grains like oats, quinoa, and brown rice
  • Starchy vegetables like potatoes and butternut squash 

Studies show that about one-third of people who have Inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s disease have non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) — when people who don’t have celiac disease or a wheat allergy experience symptoms after eating gluten.

If you find that you experience symptoms like headaches, bloating, diarrhea, or anxiety after eating gluten-containing foods, you may want to try removing gluten from your diet to see if it makes you feel better.

Many foods, including grains and grain products like crackers and bread, contain gluten. Fortunately, many stores carry a variety of gluten-free options. Plus, a number of grains — like quinoa, brown rice, and buckwheat—are naturally gluten-free. 

When you’re in a flare, it’s best to avoid high-fiber whole grains and instead choose refined grains like white rice, sourdough bread, and white pasta, which are easier to digest.  

Best Proteins for Crohn's Disease

Most protein sources are safe to eat when you’re in remission. Adding a source of plant or animal-based protein to your meals and snacks can help keep you full and ensure your body’s getting optimal protein to maintain muscle mass.

You may find leaner sources of protein are easier on your digestive system. Certain high-fat foods can cause symptoms in some people with Crohn’s disease, but you may be able to tolerate higher-fat protein sources like nut butters and whole eggs without issue. 

Nevertheless, most people with Crohn’s disease opt for low-fat protein sources like:

  • Lean poultry like chicken and turkey
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Egg whites
  • Tofu
  • Low-fat Greek yogurt

Keep in mind that when you’re in a flare, you need more protein because of the increased energy demands associated with inflammation. When you’re in a flare, your protein needs lie between .55-.7 grams per pound (1.2–1.5 grams per kilogram), which is much higher than the 0.36-.5 grams per pound (0.8–1.0 grams per kilogram)  recommendations for the general population or people with Crohn’s in remission.

This means that you’ll need to make sure you’re adding plenty of lean, protein-rich foods to your diet when you’re experiencing a flare.

Best Fats for Crohn's Disease

When you’re feeling well, foods that contain healthy fats should be a regular part of your diet. Healthy fats that are especially beneficial are omega-3 fats, which are found in foods like fatty fish and shellfish, and antioxidant-rich fat sources like olive oil. These fat sources may help reduce Crohn's-related inflammation and help protect against cellular damage. 

On the other hand, diets high in omega-6 fats—which tend to be inflammatory—could worsen inflammation and Crohn’s symptoms. Foods high in omega-6 fats include soybean oil, canola oil, margarine, and ultra-processed foods like fast food.

Here are some examples of healthy fats:

  • Olive oil, flaxseed oil, and avocado oil
  • Nuts, seeds, and nut butters
  • Fatty fish like sardines, trout, and salmon
  • Egg yolks
  • Dairy products like yogurt
  • Avocados

If you’re in a flare, you should avoid high-fat foods that may contribute to symptoms like butter, cream, cheese, and fried foods. 

Foods to Avoid If You Have Crohn's Disease

When you have Crohn’s disease, your diet will change significantly based on whether you’re in remission or are experiencing a flare. 

When you’re in a flare, you’ll need to follow a more restrictive diet to control your symptoms and take pressure off of your digestive system.

The Crohns and Colitis Foundation recommends avoiding the following foods when you’re in a flare: 

  • Fruits with skin and seeds
  • Raw green vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, or vegetables with a peel
  • Whole nuts
  • Whole grains 
  • Dairy products like cow's milk and cream cheese 
  • Sugar alcohols like sorbitol, mannitol, and other sugar alcohols found in sugar-free gum, candy, ice cream, and some fruits and juices like pear and prune.
  • Sugary foods like cakes, cookies, candy, and juices
  • Foods high in saturated fat like butter, lard, coconut, margarine, cream and fried and greasy foods
  • Alcohol including beer, wine, and liquor
  • Caffeinated beverages including soda, coffee, and energy drinks
  • Spicy foods

When you’re in remission, you’re able to follow a less restricted diet. However, research shows that certain foods may cause problems in many people with Crohn’s disease, regardless of whether they’re experiencing a flare or are in remission.

People with inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s disease are more likely to be intolerant to lactose — a type of sugar found in dairy — and gluten — a group of proteins found in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale.

Plus, many people with Crohn’s feel better avoiding foods high in FODMAPs. 

Foods that contribute to inflammation like those high in added sugar and ultra-processed foods like fast food should be limited as well.

Every person with Crohn’s disease has different dietary needs, so it’s important to work with a healthcare professional like a registered dietitian to develop a plan that works best for you. 

A Quick Review

If you have Crohn’s disease, you’re probably aware that certain foods should be avoided, especially when you’re in a flare. But when you’re in remission and you’re feeling well, following a nutritious, well-rounded diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, starches, proteins, and fat sources is best for overall health. 

Finding the right diet for Crohn’s disease can be tricky because every person has different needs and dietary requirements. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or aren’t sure what you should be eating to manage your Crohn’s disease, consider making an appointment with a registered dietitian who specializes in inflammatory bowel disease. 

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Sources
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