Eating a Low-Fiber Diet for a Crohn's Disease Flare

While it may seem the opposite of a healthy diet, low-fiber foods may help people with Crohn's disease during a flare-up.

Roughage is fiber, and fiber stimulates the bowels—which is great for most people but not for those with cramps and diarrhea due to a Crohn's disease flare-up.

A diet low in fiber and residue (residue is an indigestible portion of food including fiber, skins, seeds, and hulls) may ease symptoms of Crohn's, per the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation.

Here are nine tips for eating a low-fiber diet. Please note that your healthcare provider may recommend seeing a registered dietitian who can tailor a nutrition plan to your needs.

Cut Back on Fiber for a Short Time

A low-fiber diet should be done for just a short period.

It can be challenging to get all the nutrients you need on this diet, so people should only use a low-fiber diet when they are in a flare-up, said Sally Suen, RD, a registered dietitian with the Cambridge Health Alliance in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

After you begin to feel better, you should slowly return to normal eating patterns. "When patients are healthy, they should eat fruits and vegetables, and if they are having carbs, they should eat whole grains and wheats," said Suen.

Cook Your Veggies

On this diet, most raw fruits and vegetables are off-limits. One way to fit them in is by eating cooked or canned ones.

"With many of these [vegetables], when they are cooked, there will still be fiber, but not as much residue," said Jeannie Gazzaniga-Moloo, PhD, RD, a registered dietitian, and professor at California State University in Sacramento, CA.

Vegetables like spinach, butternut squash, pumpkin, parsnips, and carrots should be fine if eaten this way. Potatoes can be eaten without skin (the skins contain most of the fiber), and broccoli and kale are okay, too, if cooked very soft.

May Need Vitamin Supplements

If you eat a wide variety of foods on this diet, you should be able to get the vitamins and minerals you need each day. But Gazzaniga-Moloo said it could be difficult to get vitamin B12, calcium, folic acid, and iron, so you may need to take a vitamin supplement.

This diet will also slow down your bowels, so you may want to drink more water and other liquids that you can tolerate to avoid constipation. The Crohn's & Colitis Foundation recommends at least 8-10 glasses of water a day.

Choose Lean Meat or Fish

Fatty foods can be a problem, especially during a Crohn's flare, so Suen recommended chicken and turkey as good protein choices with a low-fiber diet. Remove the skin and select leaner red meats, like ground sirloin—if you can tolerate them. Avoid processed or smoked meats like hot dogs, bacon, deli meat, sausage, and bologna.

Other good protein sources are fish, eggs, and tofu.

The Crohn's & Colitis Foundation recommends boiling, grilling, steaming, and poaching your food to keep things simple and easier to digest.

Avoid Whole Grains

According to the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation, it's a good rule to stick to refined, white grains during a flare-up. The best options are foods like rice crackers, Cheerios, Rice Krispies, oatmeal, and white bread and pastas.

Oatmeal contains fiber, but it's the soluble kind, meaning it absorbs water and passes through the digestive tract more slowly than the insoluble type you're trying to avoid.

Look for grains with less than one-half gram of fiber per serving, and avoid whole grains of all kinds during a flare.

Use Caution With Lettuce

Almost all raw vegetables are a no-no during a flare-up. However, if you are craving a salad, iceberg lettuce should be fine if eaten in small quantities, said Suen.

Try a salad with iceberg lettuce, chicken, avocado, and low-fat dressing without seeds.

Avoid Raw Fruit

In general, raw fruit should be avoided during a Crohn's flare. Berries, oranges, and fruits with seeds and more fiber—like prunes, raisins, and figs—can be a particular problem.

However, many fruits, such as applesauce, can be eaten as long as they are canned, cooked, or pureed. Fruit juice without pulp or flavored water might also be fine (sometimes watering down the juice can help).

Bananas, cantaloupe, and honeydew melon are some types of fruit that can be eaten raw, according to the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation.

Choose Low-fat Dairy or Dairy Substitutes

Due to lactose intolerance, many people with Crohn's can't tolerate dairy even when in remission.

If this is the case, lactose-free milk, soy milk, or almond milk may be your best bets.

Because foods higher in fat can also be more difficult to digest, it's best to stick with low-fat varieties of your favorite ice cream, milk, or yogurt.

Use Trial and Error

A low-fiber diet is very individualized—you may be able to tolerate some foods and not others, said Gazzaniga-Moloo.

You may also need to avoid alcohol and high-fat foods like butter and mayonnaise, added Gazzaniga-Moloo.

"If someone finds a food that bothers them, they can try to cook it, choose a lower fat option, or with dairy, go for a lactose-free version," said Gazzaniga-Moloo.

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