Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that affects the small intestine, which WebMD says can make it “hard to digest and absorb key nutrients from food,” often leading to issues such as malnutrition, diarrhea and lack of appetite.
Unfortunately, there is no specific dietary plan that has proven beneficial for everyone with Crohn’s disease, as different parts of the intestine are affected in different people, and also because the disease can change over time. There are, however, several common “trigger foods” that can aggravate the gastrointestinal tract and cause symptoms to occur—including these seven, which may be best avoided.
1. Nuts and Seeds
When consumed in their raw form, nuts offer a great deal of healthy fats and protein. Unfortunately for those with Crohn’s disease, however, they’re also quite challenging for the body to digest. As such, it’s best to stick to smooth nut butters, or avoid nuts altogether.
Seeds can also be problematic for those with Crohn’s disease, as they don’t fully digest when passing through the body, which “can sometimes lead to worsened diarrhea if you’re going through a Crohn’s flare,” says licensed dietitian/nutritionist Kelly Kennedy in speaking with EverydayHealth.com. The source advises avoiding foods that contain a lot of seeds, such as raspberries, strawberries, tomatoes, chia, and flax seeds.
2. Raw Fruits and Vegetables
Those who have Crohn’s disease should also avoid eating raw fruits and vegetables, especially those with peels. Why? Because they are loaded with fiber, particularly in the skins, and fiber can worsen symptoms such as diarrhea, gas, and abdominal pain.
But fruits and vegetables shouldn’t necessarily be eliminated from your diet; they just need to be prepared differently. For example, edible peels should be removed before eating. And Healthline.com suggests “baking and steaming fruits and veggies can make them more easily digestible.” Canned fruit or fruit juices are also good alternatives to raw.
Popcorn is often touted as a healthier snack food alternative. And while that may be the case for most people, those with Crohn’s disease should find another food to nosh on, especially during a flare-up.
Health.com says this is because “Popcorn is technically a whole grain, and it’s probably among the hardest of all those grains to digest,” which can cause symptoms to worsen. As an alternative, licensed dietitian/nutritionist Kelly Kennedy suggests eating pretzels, as “They’re low in fiber and fat and the salt is helpful for replacing any sodium lost through diarrhea.”
4. Greasy or Fried Foods
Let’s be honest: fried foods aren’t good for anyone. But for those with Crohn’s disease they can be especially troublesome. Not only can they aggravate the gastrointestinal lining, but ProgressiveHealth.com says the trans fats they contain “provide the right environment for bacterial overgrowth in the gut and for further inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract.”
For similar reasons, the source says to also avoid cured meats, as their high fat and salt content can irritate the lining of the intestines, which “can worsen diarrhea in Crohn’s disease or even cause intestinal bleeding.”
5. Coffee, Alcohol, and Carbonated Beverages
Unfortunately for people with Crohn’s disease, a morning cup of Joe is a no-go. ProgressiveHealth.com says this is because caffeine “promotes water loss in the body,” and also because the mild acidity of it can “easily irritate the mucosal lining of the gut” and cause diarrhea.
Healthline.com says alcohol can have a similar effect on the body, and should be avoided also. As should carbonated beverages, as the source says they can “increase gas in many people.”
6. Dairy Products
Due to the intestinal damage caused by Crohn’s disease, it is not uncommon for those with the condition to also develop lactose intolerance—“ an inability to digest the sugar found in milk and other dairy products,” defines Health.com.
As such, these foods should be removed from the diet altogether, because eating them can worsen symptoms such as gas, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. As substitutes, Healthline.com suggests plant-based products made from soy, coconut, almond, flax, or hemp.
7. Whole Grain Foods
While opting for whole grain foods is a better choice for most, this is not the case for people with Crohn’s disease, especially during a flare-up. Due to their high-fiber content, whole grain foods—such as whole wheat breads, brown rice, and oatmeal—can worsen symptoms of diarrhea and abdominal pain.
EverydayHealth.com suggests opting for refined breads and pastas that are easier to digest. Except, however, if you are part of the large number of people with Crohn’s disease that also have celiac disease. In which case, all products that contain gluten should be avoided.