What is Crohn’s Disease
Before you can begin self help for Crohn’s disease you need to understand what it is. Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory disease of the bowels that causes inflammation in the digestive tract, specifically in the lining.
This inflammation creates ulcerations or tiny breaks in the lining of the intestines. Different parts of the digestive tract can be affected in each person.
Symptoms can include abdominal pain, diarrhea (which can be severe and bloody), fatigue, malnutrition and weight loss.
Crohn’s can be very painful and debilitating and can even be life-threatening.
There are things you can do for self help for crohn’s disease. The first, and probably easiest change to make, is your diet, which is what I will talk about first.
Crohn’s patients should particularly avoid all beverages with caffeine in them as they cause an increase in diarrhea. Soft drinks can cause gas and bloating. You do need to have a high intake of fluids and water seems to be the best one.
You will want to avoid insoluble fiber foods such as wheat bran and whole grains and even some vegetables. Insoluble fiber is harder for the body to digest.
Soluble fiber, however, is easier to digest and might help reduce diarrhea because it absorbs water in the gut and slows the digestive process.
A good example of soluble fiber is oatmeal.
Another good source is chickpeas and lentils. I know you would normally think beans would be a bad idea but, if you puree them, they actually are easily digestible and are a great source of protein. You can make them into a hummus or bean dip.
Some vegetables can be cooked and then pureed into a nice veggie soup which gives you all the nutrients while making it easier on your gut. Try cooking up some pumpkin, carrots and parsnips or butternut squash and puree them and add back into the cooking liquid for a comforting bowl of nutrient rich soup.
Omega-3 fatty acids help to reduce inflammation. Salmon and other oily fish are a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids. There is the added benefit of being a great source of potassium, which helps you maintain the balance of fluids in your body, especially when your Crohn’s is active.
Be careful of sauces and other ingredients you use with salmon or any food really. Some spices are harder on the digestive system, and sugar should be avoided – many sauces contain sugar.
Actually, almost all sauces you buy such as salad dressings, ketchup, barbeque sauce, etc. are full of sugar.
Tilapia and flounder and shrimp are also easily digested and very nutritious. Of course, they really should be boiled, broiled or steamed; not fried. You can grill them though.
When eating protein in the form of meat, reduce your portion to about 6 ounces. Your body can only digest that amount at one time.
Potatoes are another great food source for potassium. You can bake or boil them, but do not eat the skins – they are insoluble fiber.
Avocados are filled with healthy fats and vitamins B and E and potassium. They do contain some insoluble fiber, but are still pretty easily digested.
If you’re not having an active flare up, you can try having a salad made with Bibb lettuce (sometimes called butter lettuce or Boston Bibb). It is more tender and easier to digest than most lettuces and well tolerated by many Crohn’s patients.
During an active flare up, you can eat white rice. It’s very easy on the gut and will help keep your weight from dropping so much. Just be sure you are also eating enough protein and other healthy foods.
You can also have p-nut and other nut butters. If you make sure they are extra creamy they will be more easily digested.
Although many raw vegetable are full of insoluble fiber, you can get most of the benefits from them by juicing them. Try juicing carrots, beets, apples, green leafy vegetables, etc.
Talking about juicing, pineapple juice is great to add to smoothies. It contains bromelain, which is a wonderful anti-inflammatory. It is great for those with Crohn’s disease. Bromelain also helps the body to digest proteins.
Bananas are another good one to use in smoothies. They also contain a good deal of potassium. Bananas are also great for maintaining body weight which is often an issue with Crohn’s patients because food moves so quickly through the digestive tract. Sauteed bananas are a great dessert-like treat.
Fruits like strawberries that have tiny seeds should be avoided, but any smooth, fleshy fruit would be great to add. Papaya, cantelope and mango are great fruits for people with Crohn’s because they are easy to digest and full of nutrients (without the peels, of course). Papaya contains papain, which is another enzyme like bromelain in pineapple that helps the body digest proteins.
Yogurt, if you can tolerate dairy, is great for smoothies as a base. It will add calcium to the diet which is important. Calcium deficiency is common among Crohn’s patients due to the fact that many cannot tolerate dairy.
If you use yogurt with active live cultures, you get the added benefit of probiotics, which encourages the growth of the “good bacteria” in your gut.
If you cannot tolerate dairy, you can use an alternative such as canned coconut milk as it has the thick coconut cream in it to help with consistency for a better tasting smoothy.
If you enjoy drinking milk, almond milk is a good substitute. Some almond milk is fortified with calcium and vitamin D just like cow’s milk. Be sure to read the label because some almond milk also has sugar added and you want to avoid that.
When you are craving something sweet you can bake an apple or pear without the peeling. Or, you can make unsweetened applesauce for a sweet snack. Cooking fruit breaks them down so they are easier to digest than raw.
Eggs are a great way to add protein to your diet. They are easily digested, unlike many other forms of protein.
Red meats, in particular, are most difficult to digest. You should absolutely avoid red meat when you are having a flare up but it wouldn’t hurt to avoid red meat altogether except for a rare treat.
Skinless chicken and turkey(preferably white meat as it is less fatty) are a good choice when you are not having a flare up. Some patients can actually tolerate white meat chicken even during a flare up. Again, be careful about using sauces or spices that are difficult to digest and portion size should only be about 6 ounces.
Of course, every Crohn’s patient is different and can tolerate different foods at different times. Even with this guide, it will have to be somewhat of a trial and error process. This should give you a place to start though.
My next post will address other alternatives/additions that could be helpful to those suffering with Crohn’s. Please be sure to check back in for that one in a few days.
In the meantime, please leave me your comments below. I would be interested to hear about you or someone dear to you who may suffer with this debilitating illness, especially any questions or concerns you may have, whether any of this diet advice has helped you (if you’ve tried it) and any other things you may have found helpful.
I want to hear from you what you have tried for self help for Crohn’s disease!