Foods to Avoid With Crohn's Disease

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  • Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that often causes decreased appetite and abdominal pain. These symptoms—which can be triggered by food—can make eating unappealing. Crohn’s also affects the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food. Nutrition is an important part of any Crohn’s management plan. There is no cure for Crohn’s disease, but careful attention to diet can improve symptoms and prevent flare-ups, especially when combined with regular medical care. Here are eight common Crohn’s disease triggers:

  • 1
    Popcorn
    movie-theater-popcorn

    An all-time favorite snack, popcorn is high in fiber and often served drenched in melted butter. Unfortunately, both fiber and fat can trigger Crohn’s symptoms. In general, many people with Crohn’s disease do well on a low-fat, low-residue diet, or a diet that does not include a lot of high fiber or fat foods. Some people, though, can eat popcorn (particularly small amounts with minimal or no butter on top) during remissions, but find that popcorn worsens their symptoms if they eat it during a flare-up.

  • 2
    Nuts and seeds
    Close-up of handful of mixed nuts

    Like popcorn, nuts and seeds are high in fiber. They’re also high in fat—and protein, which is one reason why they’ve been embraced by nutritionists, athletes, and health advocates. But some people with Crohn’s disease can’t tolerate nuts and seeds. In an interview with GQ magazine, Larry Nancy Jr, the Cleveland Cavaliers forward, said “nuts and seeds [are] something I absolutely cannot have under any circumstances.”

  • 3
    Alcohol and caffeine
    pouring cola into a glass

    Alcoholic and caffeinated beverages can trigger cramping, bloating and diarrhea. It’s best to steer clear of wine, beer, liquor, coffee, and caffeinated sodas during a flare-up. Instead, drink water, broth or commercially packaged rehydration drinks, such as Pedialyte®. Stay away from high-sugar sports drinks, such as Gatorade®. Sugar can increase diarrhea. Herbal or decaffeinated tea is another good option. Aim to drink enough liquid throughout the day to keep your urine a pale-yellow color.

  • 4
    Spicy food
    Black bean soup

    Shortly after he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, David Garrard (then a quarterback with the Jacksonville Jaguars) went out for Thai food with his teammates. “Big mistake,” he told Guideposts magazine. “I awoke in the middle of the night vomiting. [My wife] found me curled on the bathroom floor, so wracked by abdominal cramps I couldn’t move.” Garrard’s wife took him to a local emergency room; he spent more than a week in the hospital. Some people with Crohn’s can tolerate spicy foods; others cannot. Pay attention to the signals your body sends you.

  • 5
    Sugary drinks and desserts
    breakfast muffins

    Food and drink sweetened with sugar or corn syrup can worsen diarrhea. During periods of remission, you may be able to eat a small piece of dessert or drink a soda without difficulty. However, if you’re already battling diarrhea, steer clear of commercially available energy drinks, sodas, juices, and coffee confections. Skip cookies, pies, cakes and muffins as well. During periods of remission, most people with Crohn’s can eat sweets in moderation.

  • 6
    Dairy products
    dairy

    Lactose, a type of natural sugar found in milk and milk-products, can trigger gas, bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. If eating and drinking dairy products causes uncomfortable symptoms, switch to lactose-free dairy instead. Try lactose-free milk (or try soy or nut milks) and lactose-free yogurt. Hard cheeses, such as cheddar and parmesan, are low in lactose; most people who are sensitive to lactose can still eat these cheeses in moderate amounts.

  • 7
    High-fiber fruits and veggies
    Man opens refrigerator

    The health benefits of fruits and vegetables are well-known, but for some people with Crohn’s disease, the high-fiber component of produce can create problems. When you’re having a Crohn’s flare-up, steer clear of raw fruits and vegetables, dried fruit, and fruit juices that contain pulp. It’s OK to eat bananas, melon, applesauce, and apples with the skin removed. You can also try canned fruit. Stay away from fruit packed in heavy or light syrup, which is high in sugar; look for fruit packed in natural juices instead.

  • 8
    High-fat foods
    bacon

    High-fat foods, such as butter, margarine, cream, fatty meats, and deep-fried food are hard on the gut. Limit your intake of these foods. Instead, concentrate on lean sources of protein and energy. Good choices include fish, white meat chicken and turkey, lean pork, soy, eggs, and tofu.

     

    Learning which foods to avoid and which to eat to maintain your energy levels can make a big difference in your quality of life. Keeping a food diary may help you figure out which foods work best for your body. Your healthcare provider can also help you determine the best Crohn’s disease diet plan for you.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Apr 18
  1. Eating, Diet & Nutrition for Crohn’s Disease. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/crohns-disease/eating-diet-nutrition
  2. The Real-Life Diet of Larry Nance, Jr., the NBA Player with Crohn’s Disease. GQ. https://www.gq.com/story/real-life-diet-larry-nance-jr
  3. Crohn’s Treatment Options. Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation.https://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/what-are-crohns-and-colitis/what-is-crohns-disease/crohns-treatment-options.html
  4. Crohn’s Disease Nutrition and Exercise. Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. https://www.crohnsandcolitis.com/living-with-crohns-uc/crohns/diet-and-exercise
  5. What Should I Eat? Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation.  https://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/what-are-crohns-and-colitis/diet-and-nutrition/what-should-i-eat.html
  6. An NFL Player’s Battle with Crohn’s. Guideposts. https://www.guideposts.org/better-living/entertainment/sports/an-nfl-players-battle-with-crohns


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