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IBD: Foods that can worsen symptoms

Published Dec 16, 2022 • By Rahul Roy

IBD is an inflammatory condition affecting the intestinal tract, causing chronic pain and discomfort which may seriously affect people’s daily lives. When living with IBD, food choices can be tricky since some foods may exacerbate IBD symptoms. 

What is IBD? How does it occur? What are its symptoms? What foods should be avoided with IBD? 

We explain it all and more in this article!! 

IBD: Foods that can worsen symptoms

Inflammatory Bowel Disease or IBD is a term used to describe two inflammatory conditions in the intestine Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. IBD is an autoimmune disorder where inflammation for prolonged periods of time damages the gastrointestinal (GI) tract

Crohn’s Disease can causes inflammation to the different layers of the walls of the at any part of the GI tract, which stretches from the mouth to the anus. Damage generally appears in small patches close to healthy tissues. 

Ulcerative Colitis on the other hand causes inflammation to the inner lining of the colon and generally occurs in the large intestine and rectum. In this case, the damage is more often continuous, usually starting off from the rectum and extending towards the colon and leading to ulcered areas

In some rare cases, people can display symptoms of both Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis. 

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of IBD, but it is clear that it is related to dysfunctions of the immunity system. Probable causes of this disease include an incorrect response of the immunity system to environmental triggers such as an invading bacteria or virus, or genetic predisposition due to family history with IBD. In addition, smokers are estimated to be twice as likely as non-smokers to develop Crohn’s Disease. 

Although IBD mainly affects the colon and rectum, it can also attack other parts of the body. IBD symptoms widely vary in nature and intensity among people, but the most common symptoms of both Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis include: 

  • Abdominal pain 
  • Rectal bleeding 
  • Diarrhea,sometimes accompanied with blood 
  • Unexplained weight loss 
  • Tiredness and fatigue 

It is important to note that while IBD can neither be caused nor treated by the consumption of specific types of food, food still plays an important role in making those symptoms easier or harder to deal with. 
 
Diet is very important for the growth and development of the human body and eating good nutritious food is key to staying healthy. Due to the inflammatory nature of the disease, it may sometimes be difficult for the body to absorb all the right nutrients and some foods can even trigger flare- ups
 
Some people can have different reactions to foods and therefore it is important to understand your own body, but here is a list of potential trigger foods which may exacerbate IBD symptoms: 

High Fat, Greasy or Fried Foods 

Although fat is an essential component of a healthy diet, it is generally more difficult to digest than other nutrients such as carbohydrates or proteins. High-fat processed foods are common IBD triggers due to their high content in salt and low content in fiber

Nuts and Seeds 

Yes, they come with a great deal of protein and nutrients, including omega 3 rich fatty acids that are good for the body but these type of food products can be difficult to digest and absorb. Especially in the case of nuts like walnuts, almonds, cashewnuts, hazelnuts, and seeds like pumpkin, sunflower and flaxseeds, which can bring up gas, diarrhea and bloating for an average IBD sufferer. 

Dairy Products 

Foods such as cheese, yogurt, and milk contain lactose, which is the naturally occurring sugar in dairy products. Lactose Intolerant IBD sufferers may find it difficult to digest dairy foods, which may cause abdominal discomfort and/or trigger IBD flare-ups. However, it is important to identify lactose-free sources of calcium to meet your daily needs. 

Spicy Foods 

Hot and spicy foods are stimulants that can raise the body temperature and stimulate blood circulation in the body but for IBD patients it can trigger GI tract pain or lead to bloating and diarrhea. Indeed, spicy foods require more stomach acid to be digested which can further irritate the already damaged linings of the GI tract, colon or rectum

Sugary Foods 

Foods high in sugar may be harder to digest and promote GI tract inflammation if consumed in large amounts. As high-sugar foods are often combined with high fat content, some IBD patients may want to steer clear of them to avoid flare-ups. Some people may even react poorly fruits, but eliminating them completely from the diet increases the risk of nutrient deficiency and must be closely monitored by a healthcare team. 

Alcohol and Caffeine 

Alcohol is generally an irritant for anyone’s GI tract and especially so if different types of alcohol are consumed within a short amount of time. The negative effects of high alcohol consumption on the stomach and liver are well-documented. Caffeine is a stimulant that affects the nervous system and helps us to stay awake, but also stimulates the GI tract and the digestion process. Unfortunately for some people, even small amounts of caffeine can trigger bowel urgency and complicate cases of diarrhea

Gluten and Wheat Products 

Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley, rye etc. It is the constituent that makes bread fluffy and is a very common ingredient in most meals. However, gluten intolerance (also called Celiac Disease) is sometimes reported among IBD patients. In this case, it is essential to opt for gluten-free alternatives and limit high-gluten foods as much as possible to avoid uncomfortable symptoms

High Fiber Fruits and Vegetables 

It is important for IBD patients to be careful with the consumption of fruits and vegetables especially during a flare- up. Raw fruits and vegetables can kick up a storm in the stomach, making it hard to digest and pass through the digestive tract. High- fiber legumes can cause bloating, induce gas and bring about cramps as well. Between flare-ups, fruits and vegetables rich in fiber can often be slowly re-introduced to reach the general dietary recommendation of 30g of fiber per day. 

Carbonated Beverages 

Like alcohol, carbonated drinks may irritate the GI tract due to the carbonic acid reaction in the stomach. Common symptoms include gas and bloating, and in some cases even cause diarrhea

The list of potential food triggers for IBD seems long, but it is important to remember every IBD patient will have their own sensitivity and reactions to specific foods. Foods generally in the clear include cooked vegetables, refined grains, lean proteins, and soft fruits low in fiber that are easy to digest. Fluid intake is also crucial and it is best to drink water- at least 8 cups of it each day. 

Finally, please always consult a healthcare professional before implementing any diet changes, so that they can recommend the best course of action in accordance with your specific IBD symptoms. It can seem difficult to integrate a diet with a balanced nutrition for an IBD patient, but it is possible to fight away the flares with some flair! 

 
  
 

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avatar Rahul Roy

Author: Rahul Roy, Health Writer

Rahul is a content creator at Carenity, specialised in health writing. Rahul is pursuing his masters in management from EDHEC Business School and in his spare time loves to play football and listen to music.

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Who reviewed it: Laury Sellem, Doctor of Nutrition

Laury holds a PhD in Nutrition Sciences (University of Reading, UK) and a master's in Nutrition and Human Health (AgroParisTech, France). She has conducted clinical and epidemiological research projects in Nutrition... >> Learn more

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