Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, causes chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, also known as the digestive tract. Symptoms of IBD include diarrhea, bleeding from the rectum, pain in the abdomen, and fatigue. IBD’s effects can be painful and debilitating. When you have chronic inflammation and other IBD symptoms, you may not absorb all the nutrients or digest things as well. That can lead to serious secondary issues like malnutrition and weight loss.
Food doesn’t cause IBD, nor can food cure the condition — but your diet is one of the keys to managing inflammatory bowel disease. Whether you’re in remission or in the midst of a flare, you may need to be extra mindful about what you eat and how you prepare it.
Some foods can be healing and reduce GI inflammation, and crafting an anti-inflammatory diet unique to you and your condition may help reduce flares and alleviate symptoms.
Certain foods can sometimes make IBD symptoms worse, too, so you should strive to maintain a healthy, varied diet that minimizes or eliminates inflammatory foods. Eating the right foods and avoiding certain other foods can help you manage your condition and improve your symptoms such as IBD constipation and pain.
Here are six food types that commonly exacerbate IBD symptoms. While everyone’s bodies and triggers are different, these common culprits should often be avoided when you have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
- Greasy, Fatty, or Fried Foods
High-fat foods that you should avoid if you’re living with IBD include butter, margarine, coconut oil, and full-fat cream. Fatty proteins (such as red meat) and fried foods are also best avoided or consumed rarely and in small amounts. That is because fat is harder for the body to digest. If your digestive system is already stressed and inflamed by IBD, having it work harder isn’t a good idea.
- Spicy Foods
Spicy foods like chili, some curries, and hot sauce exacerbate inflammation of the intestinal walls. These foods also irritate the lining of the colon and GI tract and worsen other IBD symptoms, particularly if you are having an active flare. Until you know how spicy foods impact your IBD symptoms, you should try to avoid spicier foods.
- Sugary Foods and Sweets
Foods that have a high sugar content include candy, chocolate, pastries, and even certain fruit juices, such as pear, peach, and prune. Foods that are high in sugar are harder for your body to digest. The body’s challenges digesting sugars can cause or worsen symptoms such as cramping, bloating, or diarrhea.
- Dairy Products
While dairy may be non-triggering at some times, dairy and dairy products can spell trouble during an active flare. Products such as cheeses, ice cream, milk, sour cream, and others contain an ingredient called lactose, which is a type of sugar that your body may also have trouble digesting.
- Alcoholic Beverages
Alcohol can irritate the colon in anyone, regardless of whether or not they have IBD or are in an active flare. However, drinking beer, wine, or liquor when you have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis and already have a sensitive colon means your experience of this irritation may be worse.
- Caffeinated Drinks
Soda and coffee can be hard on your body if you have IBD. That’s because caffeine increases the undulating or wave-like motion of the digestive system. This motion moves food and waste through the GI tract. Because caffeine intensifies this motion, it quickens the movement of food through your system and may lead to poorer nutrient absorption. If diarrhea is a symptom you commonly experience, caffeine tends to make that worse, as well.
Not everyone with IBD has the same food triggers, nor do they react to foods the same way. There is no reason to avoid any food unless it triggers or worsens your symptoms. If in doubt about what triggers your IBD, play it safe and avoid eating or drinking these six things. Find out what works (and doesn’t) for you. Work closely with your IBD treatment team to tailor your diet to your specific needs and ensure you’re getting enough of the right foods while you avoid your trigger foods.