Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis Diet Tips
This page is a complete resource for anyone looking for Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis diet advice. I wanted to consolidate all of the most useful available materials on diet for IBD sufferers into one central spot for you to refer to and use as you wish, and this it it!
It is my intention for this to be the single best resource available on diet for those with inflammatory bowel disease, so if you have any comments, suggestions, or would like to recommend other great resources/articles that I should link to, then just get in touch through the contact page.
This page will look at, amongst many other things how we digest our food, how and why our diet can have a major effect on the symptoms of Crohn’s and Colitis, how to identify your own food sensitivities, and some of the foods that you should (probably) be eating and which ones to avoid.
Can diet really make a difference?
Whilst not a hugely common belief anymore, there are still certain Crohn’s and Colitis sufferers, and even doctors, who will argue that diet can play no part in your symptoms. That is, of course, far from being true and this article discusses that some more and helps to show that diet plays a very important part in your IBD symptoms.
Following on from that, this is a great article that discusses Ikaria, a small Greek island where the inhabitants live for much longer than the majority of the rest of the world, and almost never suffer with things such as Crohn’s or Colitis. When looking a little deeper into why that is, we can prove out that it isn’t their genetics that are helping with this, but their lifestyle, including their diet!
Now hopefully those 2 articles help to show how important diet is. But there will always be some people who say they have tried the diet and it didn’t work for them. The can be for several reasons, which I cover in this article on why diet didn't seem to work for your Crohn's or Ulcerative Colitis.
Then there might be people who appreciate that diet can help, but feel it is far too restrictive or boring to do and be able to stick to. I address those common arguments in this article that destroys some of the myths around a good Crohn's and Ulcerative Colitis diet.
What happens when we eat?
Before we get into the diet/food specifics, it’s worth understanding a little about what happens when we eat food.
The main purpose of the gastrointestinal tract is to breakdown the food that we eat, so that the nutrients from it can be absorbed and used by the body, with the rest being excreted (in a controlled way). The nutrients from the food allow us to thrive; they give us energy and help our bodies to perform to the best of its ability while protecting us against illness.
When we eat food, it passes from our mouth, down our oesophagus and into the stomach. Here it gets broken down further then moves through the small intestine where it gets broken down further and many of the nutrients from the food are absorbed. Any waste is then moved into the colon / large intestine which absorbs the liquid from this waste, with the rest being formed into stools and passed through the rectum and excreted from the body.
When someone suffers with IBD, some of these functions are compromised because of the inflamed state of some (or all) of the GI tract. The breakdown of the food can be affected, the absorption of the nutrients can be affected, and the formation of stools can also be affected (which ultimately leads to the many symptoms of IBD, in particular fatigue and inconsistent, urgent, poorly formed bowel movements).
Understanding this process helps you to better understand the impact that the food we eat, and the way we eat it, can have on our health. Our food must be nutritious to allow our body to absorb the nutrients we need, and we must help our bodies as much as possible to break down the food so we can get access to those nutrients.
Different foods can also help to calm or cause inflammation.
I have recorded this short video which discusses this process some more and gives 3 great tips on ensuring you are doing all you can to break down and absorb your food as well as possible when suffering with Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis.
Specialist Crohn and Ulcerative Colitis Diets
There are a few well known diets that can work well for people with Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis. These include SCD, Paleo, Autoimmune Paleo, GAPS, and low FODMAP. However, as already mentioned, everything needs to be personalised towards you as well as the fact quite often it is more than just diet that needs to be looked at.
However, one thing I am often asked is for my opinion on, and which I explain in this article, is are well known weight loss diets such as Weight Watchers and Slimming world beneficial for someone with Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis.
Bacteria and our "Second Brain"
Our gut is home to many strains of different bacteria. Some are good, some are bad, some are neither. The health of our overall body is very much dictated by the health of our gut bacteria and who we are is very much dictated by our microbiome. This has led to out gut sometimes being referred to as our "second brain". One major factor that influences our bacteria levels and health is our diet. As just one example, if we don’t get enough fibre in our diets (which many IBD sufferers don’t because they fear it will aggravate their symptoms) then our good bacteria levels will suffer. Therefore, getting the right amounts and types of fibre in your diet is very important. Click here to read more on gut bacteria and how it can impact our health when living with Crohn's and Ulcerative Colitis, and the factors, including diet, that will impact our levels.
Certain foods are high in levels of good bacteria, and incorporating some of these into your diet can be extremely beneficial. A few of these foods are details below: Sauerkraut Sauerkraut (which is basically a fermented white cabbage) can be a fantastically tasty (and healthy) addition to your meals. As long as you buy the right one (go for ‘raw and unpasteurised’) eating sauerkraut will fill your gut with beneficial bacteria which is vital to your overall health and wellbeing (just like taking a probiotic). Finding the right kind isn’t as easy as it should be (most supermarkets won’t provide it). You can often get it in a Polish shop if you have one near you, or buy some online. Alternatively you may decide to make your own. Kefir Kefir is a fermented milk product that contains numerous beneficial bacteria. Even if someone has problems consuming dairy they are normally (not always) ok with Kefir because it has been fermented. Kefir is a good source of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and B vitamins. You can also make your own kefir, including water kefir if you do not consume dairy.
Fibre - Clearing up the confusion
Another area of confusion can be around fibre. Many Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis sufferers are told to go on to a low residue (i.e. low fibre) diet, because fibre can aggravate the symptoms.
Whilst it is true that fibre can be aggravating, it is normally only in very specific cases, and with very specific types of fibre (rarely is there a need to cut out ALL fibre).
Additionally, fibre is also very important for the healthy functioning of the gut. It can help to regulate the consistency of the stools and make the passing of them much easier. It also has a large influence on the growth of friendly bacteria in the gut and helps to control blood sugar levels.
Therefore, getting the balance right is very important. This article explains more about the importance of fibre, and how to make sure you get the right amounts and the right types in your diet if you have IBD.
There are many supplements that studies have linked as being potentially beneficial for someone with IBD but unfortunately a lot of the ingredients used or added by supplement manufacturers are very poor quality. In this article I talk about some of the main supplements that can be beneficial.
Because inflammation is the primary cause of symptoms when suffering with Crohn's and Ulcerative Colitis, then bringing down that inflammation is extremely important. One natural item that studies have shown to be an effective anti inflammatory in some people is curcumin, which is found in turmeric. This supplement contains organic turmeric and has been enhanced with Bioperine (a natural, black pepper extract) to help drastically improve absorption and, therefore, effectiveness (turmeric/curcumin on its own is not naturally very well absorbed into the body).
Organic and Local Food
I’m often asked whether buying organic food is worthwhile. In certain situations for certain foods it can be if you can afford it. However, this article talks about why locally bought produce may be even better than buying organic food for your diet.
A great resource related to organic food, is the EWG Dirty Dozen, which lists the 12 foods found containing the highest levels of pesticides (and so if you are going to buy anything organic, those are probably the ones most worth doing it for).
Salt is an often demonised part of anyone’s diet, not just for those people who suffer with Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis.
Does it deserve such a bad rap?
Have a read of this article where I explain that perhaps its reputation isn't deserved and why salt can be a very important part of your Crohn's or Ulcerative Colitis diet.
Sugar cravings can be a major factor in throwing someone off of an otherwise healthy diet. Everyone gets them at some point, but coping with them and minimising them can be critical for the journey. This article discusses cravings more and how you can massively reduce them in your life, thereby helping you to stick to your healthy diet.
There can be a lot of social pressure on you when you start to change your diet and eat differently to the rest of the (unhealthy) Western world. You will find people make comments on what you eat and try to encourage you to eat more like them. This can be a major factor in throwing someone off on their journey to better health and dealing with it appropriately is very important.
Easily the most common problem I see in people who suffer with IBD is just how fatigued they are. There are many possible reasons for this, the 9 most common of which I discuss in this article. Luckily there is always something that can be done, and addressing certain aspects of the diet is very important.
The main charity in the UK, Crohn's and Colitis UK, also have a page that discusses fatigue in people with IBD, which does provide a good overview and some good information, but I feel that the information provided relating to diet is lacking, and quite poor in parts.
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