Crohn's Disease Diet
Crohn’s Disease is a confusing condition, impacting each person differently, and one which is commonly confused with Ulceritive Colitis and Inflammatory Bowel Disease, however differences do exist.
Crohn’s Disease is believed to be caused by the combined reaction between your immune system, genetics, and the surrounding environment; resulting in chronic inflammation of your digestive tract (the pathway connecting your mouth to your stomach to your intestines and all of the way out of your body).
Each person may experience a unique presentation of the inflammation as it can occur anywhere along the entire digestive tract (Ulcerative Colitis is limited to the colon). Some individuals may also experience ulcers.All of this inflammation is basically the result of your immune system attacking your digestive tract, mistaking it for an enemy (eg. Disease) in attempts to keep your body safe.
While this is occurring you may experience some of the more common symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. Others may experience diarrhea, strictures (constricted areas within your intestines), or fistulas (abnormal tunnels between tissues).
Chrohn's Disease Diet
Just as the disease presents itself uniquely to each patient, the dietary recommendations are often unique.
In example, many people experience relief by increasing the fiber in their diets, yet there are others who do not. It is also important to know that diet alone is not enough to stop the inflammation, though dietary changes can still help you to manage your disease and improve your health through nutrition. The small intestine is where a great deal of the nutrients we eat are absorbed during digestion, yet when it is inflamed it is not able to do its job effectively and many of the nutrients move right on through - leaving our body malnourished. This is why it is even more important for those with Crohn’s Disease to follow a well-balanced diet.
While there is not yet evidence of particular foods ending inflammation, there are dietary changes you can make to reduce the symptoms of cramping, bloating, and the discomfort that comes with it.
In general it helps to avoid foods that trigger upset stomachs for everyone, including spicy, fatty, or greasy foods, and caffeinated or alcoholic beverages.
The FODMAP Diet for Chrohn's Disease
One of the most evidence-based diets recommended for Crohn’s Disease is the FODMAP™ diet. This diet helps you to eliminate foods containing short-chain sugars as these sugars are used by the bacteria in your small intestines to create gas.
The acronym FODMAP stands for:
- Di-, and
(Those very sugars I am referring to!)
Examples of FODMAP containing foods include:
- fruit juice,
- many fruits (most berries are okay!),
- high fructose corn syrup,
- BBQ sauce,
- onions, and garlic.
For a more complete list of FODMAP containing foods, take a closer look at the image posted in this blog. This pear-shaped resource was created by a colleague of mine, Kate Scarlata, a dietitian and author of the The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Eating Well with IBS.
While FODMAPs are found in a wide variety of foods, there are still plenty of safe and delicious options left for you to enjoy in your diet! As it is best to avoid foods containing wheat, looking for the gluten-free claim on food labels or menus will help, though you will still need to use your detective skills to determine what other ingredients may contain FODMAPs in the meal.
Also, because dairy foods are not typically well-tolerated be sure to incorporate alternative sources of calcium in your diet such as fortified soy or almond milk, tofu, leafy greens, almonds, or a calcium supplement. A multivitamin is a great idea to include as a safety net in your diet as well.
While the FODMAP diet will not cure your disease, research has found it will help to reduce the symptoms of cramping and bloating. Anyone interesting in the FODMAP approach will benefit from strictly following the recommendations for at least two-weeks, providing enough time to find out if elminitating FODMAP foods makes a difference in your symptoms. For more information on Crohn’s Disease in general, I encourage you to look through the patient information and tracking guide available from the University of Michigan. This resource is incredibly thorough and will help you to identify the common triggers in your own diet.
Achieving a well-balanced diet can be challenging for everyone. Yet by eating right and identifying your flare-foods, you are taking charge of your disease and improving your overall health.