Crohn’s disease (CD) is a lifelong condition that causes inflammation and irritation along parts of the digestive tract. Like ulcerative colitis (UC), CD is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
A CD flare-up can trigger or worsen symptoms, such as:
- abdominal cramping and pain
- loss of appetite
Ongoing loss of appetite and diarrhea can lead to dehydration and malnutrition.
During a flare-up, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation recommend avoiding potential triggers. A person should eat foods that are soft and bland, but sufficiently nutritious.
In this article, we describe 12 of the best foods to eat during a CD flare-up. We also look at which foods to avoid.
1. Refined grains
Pasta and other refined grains are easy to digest.
Refined grains have less fermentable fiber than whole grains, so they pass more quickly through the digestive tract. They tend to be easier on the gut and less likely to cause inflammation.
Examples of refined grains include:
- white breads
- white rice
- plain crackers
- rice snacks
Ready-to-eat cereals that are low in fiber are also a good option.
Also, fortified refined grains contain added essential nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, so a person should look for fortified products.
Many breads, for example, are fortified with iodine and folate. Manufacturers also tend to fortify ready-to-eat cereals with:
- vitamins A, C, and D
Oatmeal made from quick or rolled oats is a type of refined grain, with slightly less fiber than steel-cut oats. Manufacturers produce oats by removing the hulls.
When experiencing a CD flare-up, it is best to avoid foods containing insoluble fiber, which can worsen symptoms of diarrhea.
Oatmeal contains a soluble fiber called beta-glucan. It can help ease diarrhea by absorbing water in the intestines, forming a gel, slowing digestion, and adding bulk to stool.
Try adding oats to smoothies that contain peeled, low-fiber fruits. Breaking down food in a blender makes digestion easier.
3. Low-fiber fruits
Low-fiber fruits are easy on the digestive system, and they can help control diarrhea.
- honeydew melon
The amount of fiber in a piece of fruit changes as it ripens. Ripe fruits generally have less fiber than unripe fruits.
However, during a CD flare-up, it is always best to eat fruit in small servings.
4. Peeled or poached fruit
Removing the skin or peel from a piece of fruit can reduce the amount of insoluble fibers, such as lignin and cellulose.
Poaching and preserving fruit can also decrease the amount of fiber. Generally, the more processing fruit goes through, the easier it is for the body to digest.
Canned and cooked fruits are often low in fiber, but they can contain high amounts of sugar, so eat them in moderation.
5. Cooked and peeled vegetables
Peeling vegetables removes some of the insoluble fiber.
Many vegetables are high in fiber, but as with fruit, peeling them removes a layer of insoluble fiber.
Some vegetables do not need peeling, such as asparagus tips and mushrooms, but it can help to remove the skins of potatoes, carrots, and squash.
Cooking vegetables also makes them easier to digest, and it can reduce the fiber contents.
However, avoid roasting or frying vegetables in oil or butter, because fats can irritate the digestive system and worsen symptoms of Crohn’s. Try boiling or steaming them instead.
6. Vegetable and fruit juices
Vegetable and fruit juices are low in fiber and high in some vitamins and minerals. Manufacturers also fortify some juices.
It is best to avoid sugar during a CD flare-up, but a daily glass of diluted fruit juice that contains no added sugar can help boost a person’s nutrient intake.
Vitamin C from fruit juice can also help the gut absorb iron.
7. Lean meat
Foods that are high in fat can worsen or prolong symptoms during a CD flare-up.
However, protein and other nutrients from animal products can help prevent malnutrition.
Skinless chicken and turkey are good examples of lean meats. If a person is purchasing red meat, such as pork, they should select the leanest cut available and trim any excess visible fat.
8. Oily fish
Oily fish contain healthful fats, including omega-3 fatty acids. These combat inflammation and may help reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers.
Health experts often recommend eating at least 2 servings of oily fish per week. These can include trout, salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, and sardines.
To keep fat levels as low as possible, grill the fish or bake them with small amounts of vegetable oil.
It is best to cook the fish, for easy digestion.
9. Soy, eggs, and firm tofu
Soy, eggs, and tofu are great sources of lean protein.
Also, egg yolks contain high amounts of vitamin D, and people with CD are often deficient in vitamin D and A.
In addition to lean protein, soy and tofu contain bioactive peptides, and some research suggests that these have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which may help manage IBD.
10. Yogurt and other dairy products
Many yogurts contain probiotics, which are healthful bacteria that may help reduce inflammation in the gut.
However, some studies suggest that highly concentrated probiotics can produce mixed results.
Also, dairy products are rich in calcium, and manufacturers may fortify them with vitamins D and C.
Many, however, contain lactose, a type of sugar, and some doctors recommend eliminating lactose from the diet. Supermarkets often stock lactose-free dairy products, including yogurts.
11. Green Tea
Because it contains caffeine, green tea is an alternative to coffee.
Drinking green tea may benefit people with CD.
Results of a 2018 study indicate that a chemical in green tea, epigallocatechin-3-gallate, helps combat inflammation in laboratory-cultured human intestinal cells. However, researchers have yet to test the chemical in people.
Green tea is also a healthful alternative to coffee and sugary drinks, both of which may aggravate symptoms of CD.
Curcumin is a primary compound in turmeric. Studies in mice and in human cells suggest that curcumin has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Research, which involved using a purified form of curcumin, indicates that the compound may help maintain remission in people with UC. Remission is a period during which symptoms are light or disappear.
Turmeric can help spice up meals without aggravating the gut.
Curcumin supplements exist, but they can cause mild side effects, such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Speak to a doctor before trying a dietary supplement.
Foods to avoid
Some foods can trigger or worsen CD symptoms. Examples include:
- popcorn, nuts, and whole grains
- other high-fiber foods, especially those rich in insoluble fiber
- vegetables with their peels
- raw green vegetables
- cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower
- red meat
- unhealthful fats, such as those in butter, coconut oil, and margarine
- salty foods, including processed foods and ready meals
- fruits with skins and seeds
- spicy foods
- fizzy drinks
- foods containing sugar alcohols, including many low-sugar or sugar-free products
Flare-ups of CD can cause diarrhea, abdominal pain, and loss of appetite. If symptoms persist, they can lead to malnutrition and dehydration.
During a flare-up, it is essential to drink plenty of fluids and avoid foods that aggravate symptoms.
Eating foods that are easy to digest and rich in nutrients can help ease symptoms and promote healing.
During periods of remission, it is important to eat a balanced, healthful diet. Speak to a doctor or dietitian before making any significant dietary changes.