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Healthy Diets for Crohn’s Disease

When you have Crohn’s disease (an inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD), the lining of your digestive tract can become inflamed, leading to diarrhea and abdominal pain. While there is no scientifically proven diet for those who suffer from IBD, there are ways to reduce your symptoms.

“The first step is to identify your ‘trigger foods,’” says Wilson P. Pais, MD, MBA, FACP, FRCP, gastroenterologist at Saint Francis Medical Center. “Those are the foods that cause gas, bloating and abdominal pain, and they can vary from person to person.”

Some examples of trigger foods include:

Wilson P. Pais, MD, MBA, FACP, FRCP
Wilson P. Pais, MD, MBA, FACP, FRCP
  • dairy products (if you are lactose intolerant)
  • fatty foods (fried foods)
  • gas-producing foods (lentils, beans, legumes, cabbage, broccoli, onions)
  • nuts and seeds (peanut butter, other nut butters)
  • raw fruits
  • raw vegetables
  • red meat and pork
  • spicy foods
  • whole grains and bran

If you are experiencing a flare-up, you can try an all-liquid diet for a few days. “A low-residue diet can help lessen abdominal pain, cramping and diarrhea,” says Pais.

However, diet alone will not eliminate your symptoms. In order to manage your disease, you probably will need to use a combination of treatments, including:

Anti-inflammatory drugs – These drugs are commonly used to treat IBD because they reduce the inflammation that characterizes this disease. Some anti-inflammatory drugs could cause unpleasant side effects, so you will need to work with your doctor to find the right drug for you.

Immune system suppressors – These drugs target your immune system to reduce symptoms.

Dietary supplements – “Fish oil and flaxseed oil have been shown to help treat symptoms,” says Pais. “You may also find relief with probiotics – or ‘good’ bacteria – and vitamin supplements.”

Additionally, quitting smoking can vastly improve your digestive health. Smoking puts you at greater risk for developing or worsening existing Crohn’s disease symptoms. 

If all other treatments fail, you may need surgery. Your doctor can remove the damaged part of your digestive tract and connect the healthy parts together. “Surgery is a last resort; we can usually find other ways to help our patients manage symptoms,” says Pais.

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