Diet and Nutrition
It seems hard enough to maintain a healthy diet amid our busy schedules and fast-paced lifestyles. Yet, because of the nature of symptoms, Crohn’s disease may be your reason for seriously re-evaluating your eating habits and developing a diet rich in nutrients. By eating right and avoiding foods that trigger Crohn’s disease symptoms, you can take an active role in managing your condition as well as maintaining your weight and overall health.
Good nutrition is essential to everyone for good health. Crohn's disease can cause reduced appetite, poor absorption of vitamins and minerals, and diarrhea. Therefore, although there is no specific food or diet that prevents or cures Crohn’s disease, restoring and maintaining proper nutrition is a vital part of the medical management of the disease.
First you’ll need an understanding of how Crohn’s disease interferes with your ability to absorb and retain the necessary nutrients that are part of a healthy diet. In other words, why is it so important to eat right when you have Crohn’s disease?
Crohn’s disease and digestion
Most of food digestion occurs in the small intestine, which is situated just beyond the stomach. After digested food is broken down, it is absorbed through the surface of the small intestine and distributed to the rest of the body via the bloodstream. Anything that is not digested passes on to the large intestine, or colon. As the colon reabsorbs water that was added to the food in the small intestine digestion process, the residual food passes through the body in the form of a bowel movement.
However, when the small intestine is inflamed, as is often the case with Crohn’s disease, it is less capable of breaking down food and absorbing necessary nutrients. These nutrients escape to the large intestines and ultimately out of the body. This is one of the reasons why people with Crohn’s disease may feel tired. They may also be malnourished. The reason? Their bodies are not absorbing the necessary nutrients. In addition, the water absorption process that happens in the small intestine may also be impaired by inflammation. This can cause diarrhea and dehydration.
Depending on the severity of their conditions, some people need to restrict their diets all the time, others just some of the time. Still others may eat a normal, unrestricted diet. It's important to have limited restrictions to your diet, otherwise you may become bored with what you eat. This can result in reduced energy levels and weight loss.
You’ll want to maintain a diet rich in protein and vitamins, especially vitamins A, D, C, B-12 and folic acid. Also add foods that contain calcium, iron, and zinc. In order to make sure you’re including the proper nutrients in your diet, it’s best to eat a variety of foods from the four basic food groups:
- Meat and meat substitutes (protein, iron, Vitamin B-12)
- Dairy (calcium, Vitamin D, Vitamin A)
- Cereal and grains (zinc)
- Fruits and vegetables (calcium, Vitamin C, B-12, zinc)
You may also want to lay off the spicy food. Soft, bland foods may cause less discomfort than spicy or high-fiber foods when Crohn's is active. Alcoholic beverages may worsen symptoms as well by irritating the gastrointestinal tract. Think about reducing or eliminating your alcohol consumption, particularly when you are experiencing symptoms. Except for restricting milk in lactose-intolerant patients, most gastroenterologists try to plan flexible diets for their Crohn's patients.
Talk to your gastroenterologist or a dietician about developing a healthy diet that is “Crohn’s friendly.”
Sources of important nutrients
This chart shows you key sources of important vitamins and minerals. Not all of these foods may be right for you. It’s best to talk to your gastroenterologist about customizing a diet that suits your specific nutritional needs.
|Vitamin A||Liver, eggs, dairy products, fish liver oils, dark green leafy vegetables (e.g., green peas, spinach)|
|Vitamin D||Liver, fish liver oil, fortified food products (e.g., milk, butter, and cereals)|
|Vitamin C||Fruits (e.g., citrus fruits, bananas, apples)|
|Folic Acid||Liver, beets, corn, legumes, green leafy vegetables|
|Vitamin B-12||Meat, fish, poultry|
|Calcium||Cheese, ice cream, milk, yogurt, sardines|
|Iron||Red meat, fish, poultry, eggs|
|Zinc||Animal protein (e.g., beef, chicken), plant foods (e.g., legumes, bran, green peas)|
For your quick reference – Crohn’s diet do’s and don’ts
- Do eat regularly. Crohn’s disease can sometimes interfere with your appetite and cause malabsorption of nutrients. You need protein, vitamins, nutrients and calories. So eat!
- Don’t indulge your taste for spicy foods, at least while your Crohn’s is active. It can worsen symptoms.
- Do talk to a doctor or dietician about developing a healthy eating plan that will help you maintain energy and get what your body needs from the food you eat.
- Don’t get bored. If you limit yourself to the same foods all the time, you will simply tire of eating altogether, which isn’t good. You want to maintain a healthy weight and include those essential vitamins and minerals in your diet. That means you have to eat.
- Don’t drink alcohol. At the very least, reduce your alcohol intake and definitely forego the cocktails, wine and beer while you are experiencing symptoms. It will only make you feel worse.
- Do keep in mind that while Crohn’s disease cannot be cured by following a specific diet, your condition can be better managed by eating healthfully and avoiding certain foods that may worsen or trigger symptoms.