What Is a Crohn's Disease Diet Plan?
Picture of the details affected by Crohn's disease.
Most of us know that good nutrition is essential to good health. Healthy eating is even more important to people whose health is compromised by a chronic disease. When you have Crohn's disease, maintaining good nutrition can be a real challenge.
Several factors contribute to nutritional problems in people with Crohn's disease. When the small intestine is inflamed, it is not able to perform its main function, which is absorbing nutrients from food. The degree of this impairment, called malabsorption, depends on the extent of inflammation and damage in the intestine.
To make matters worse, the intestinal inflammation and pain of the disease reduces a person's appetite, so they probably do not eat enough to supply nutritional needs. Diarrhea further depletes important nutrients. Compounding the problem is the fact that people with a chronic illness such as Crohn's disease require more calories and certain other nutrients than healthy people. The most common nutritional problem in people with Crohn's disease is insufficient calorie intake.
Why Are Nutritional Deficiencies Dangerous in Crohn's disease?
The human body needs proteins, fats, calories, vitamins, and minerals to grow, build new cells and tissues, and carry out its many functions. Most of these nutrients are contained in the foods we eat. To ensure that we get all of the nutrients we need, we are advised to eat a balanced diet from the four food groups: meat and other proteins, dairy products, fruits and vegetables, and cereals and grains.
When we eat, foods are broken down in the stomach and intestines. Nutrients are absorbed through the wall of the small intestine, and the waste is eliminated as stool or feces when we have a bowel movement. This process is impaired in people with Crohn's disease, and nutritional deficiencies can result.
Nutritional deficiencies are a problem for almost everyone with Crohn's disease, but they are most serious in children and teens who are still growing. Growth can be stunted permanently and sexual development (puberty) delayed in children and teens with Crohn's disease. Girls and women can develop hormone imbalances and stop menstruating. Nutritional deficiencies also can prevent medications from working as well as they should in healthy people. In general, nutritional deficiencies can lead to overall poor health. They can make you feel weak, tired, depressed, or just "blah." If you have enough nutritional deficiencies, it can leave you vulnerable to infections and other diseases. They can stop anyone from looking, feeling, or performing at his or her best.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) Causes, Symptoms, Treatment
What Common Foods Should You Avoid in Crohn's Disease?
Currently, there is no evidence that diet has anything to do with causing inflammation or Crohn's disease. Unfortunately, though, now that you have Crohn's disease, you may find that you can no longer comfortably eat certain foods you once enjoyed.
There is no evidence linking food allergies with Crohn's disease. Experts now believe that many people thought to have food allergies may actually be experiencing early symptoms of Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, or similar digestive diseases.
Foods that often cause problems on a Crohn's disease diet include:
- Milk and other dairy products like:
- Ice cream or milk shakes made with ice cream
- Soft cheeses
- Alcohol in moderation
- Mannitol, sorbital, and other sugar in sugar-fee gum
- Pear, peach, prune juice, and other fruits that are high in sugar
- Spicy foods
- Fatty or fried foods
- High-fiber foods.
- Foods that may such
- As raw or dried fruits and vegetables
What Foods Can You Eat on a Crohn's Diet Plan?
If you have strictures of the small intestine, you may need to be on a low residue diet.
There are many tasty foods that provide good nutrition and may not irritate your digestive tract if you can tolerate:
- White meat from chickens
- Pork with reduced fat
- Tofu that is firm
These foods are high in calories, satisfying, and taste good. However, a steady diet of high-fat, salty foods such as cheeseburgers can cause other problems such as heart disease or high blood pressure. You certainly don't need those problems on top of Crohn's disease. High-fat "junk" foods should not be eaten daily. Consider them a treat once in a while if they do not exacerbate symptoms.
Can You Drink Alcohol with Crohn's Disease?
Drinking alcohol is not recommended for most people with Crohn's disease. Alcohol may irritate the lining of the intestinal wall, causing or worsening symptoms such as
It also may contribute to malabsorption, further complicating nutritional deficiencies. Alcohol interacts with many medications, causing side effects that may be serious. Finally, alcohol disrupts sleep cycles and can leave you feeling tired and irritable the next day.
If alcohol is well tolerated and not causing any complications, it can be consumed in moderation.
What Treatments Help Manage Chronic Diarrhea In Crohn's Disease?
Chronic diarrhea can lead to dehydration very easily. Dehydration makes you feel weak, tired, light-headed, or just "blah."
It can cause
Chronic diarrhea in Crohn's disease also can place dangerous strain on your kidneys.
Dehydration can be avoided by making a special effort to take in plenty of nonalcoholic fluids. You should take at least 8 full glasses of fluid every day. Try to stick to
- diluted fruit juice,
- sports drinks,
- decaffeinated beverages, and
- fruit and vegetable drinks.
Avoid caffeinated beverages and sodas.
What Other Diet and Lifestyle Changes Help Manage Triggers and Flare-Ups of Crohn's Disease?
These tips may help you feel better during and after eating:
- Keep a food diary. Record everything you eat and whether it causes you any problems.
- Design your own diet around what works for you.
- Stock your home with foods that you enjoy and do not cause you problems.
- Eat several small meals a day rather than a few large meals. This helps many people reduce or avoid symptoms.
- Eat when you are hungry.
- Take small bites of food and chew each bite completely.
What Vitamins and Mineral Supplements Should You Take for Crohn's Disease?
Your need for vitamin and mineral supplements depends on several factors, your diet, which parts of your digestive tract are affected, and whether you have had surgery on your small intestine.
Most Common Vitamins for Crohn's Disease
Most Common Mineral Deficiencies in Crohn's Disease
- potassium, and
You will need to take folic acid if you are taking an immunosuppressant such as azathioprine (Azasan, Imuran) as it reduces the absorption of folic acid.
Talk to your health-care professional about taking supplements.
What Drugs Interact with Crohn's Medications, Vitamins, and Supplements?
Some medications used to treat Crohn's disease, such as sulfasalazine (Azulfidine, Azulfidine EN-tabs, Sulfazine), can interfere with absorption of nutrients from food. Certain medications taken for other medical conditions also can affect levels of vitamins and minerals in the body. Ask your health-care professional to review all of your medications.
Reviewed on 3/30/2020
Ghazi, LJ, MD, et al. "Crohn Disease Treatment and Management." Medscape. Updated: Jul 26, 2019..