Fiber, Protein and IBD

When you have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, your gut is often inflamed, or you may have had segments of your intestines removed, leaving less surface area to absorb the nutrients in the food you eat. You may feel lethargic, and you may even be experiencing unwanted weight loss. It is important to maximize the nutrient quality of the foods you are able to eat so that you can increase your immunity and heal from a flare-up.

For some IBD sufferers, fiber can be a real issue, causing cramping, gas, and diarrhea. But not all fiber is the same – there is a difference between soluble and insoluble fiber.

Soluble fiber, found in oats and brown rice can often help diarrhea symptoms by absorbing liquid and forming a gel-like consistency in the intestines that slows the movement of food. It allows time for stool to form, which helps lessen occurrence of diarrhea.

In contrast, think of insoluble fiber, like celery and apple skins, as the broom that helps to sweep things along in the intestines, which is helpful if you are feeling constipated. Insoluble fiber also draws liquid into the gut, which helps to facilitate the movement of stool through the colon.

If fiber causes irritation, try soft, low-fiber breads and grains, like sourdough bread, saltine crackers, or if you’re gluten-free, some rice crackers. Some people report very soft-cooked oatmeal to be calming to their stomach, regardless of its fiber content. Also note that some fruits will be gentler than others: Bananas, applesauce, melons, honeydew, and papaya may satisfy your fruit craving without disturbing your stomach. Well-cooked vegetables (soft enough to cut them with a fork) like carrots, yams, and butternut squash are great! You could even try making a pureed butternut squash soup.

Protein is important for healing damaged tissue in the intestines and along the entire length of the GI tract. Try simple baked fish, chicken, or eggs. Avoid highly-spiced and fried foods – these have been known to irritate many with IBD. If lactose intolerance is not an issue for you, try adding some sour cream to vegetables and cheese to sandwiches and salads. You’ll also get a good calcium boost for healthy bones.

If dairy products give you problems, try a lactase supplement just before consuming the milk products. 2 Peanut and other nut butters can also add protein and healthy fats. Add them to milkshakes or smoothies for a nutrient boost. High-calorie, high-protein nutritional shakes are always an option if you feel unable to stomach whole foods. And don’t forget avocado – their smooth consistency can be soothing to sore stomachs. Add avocado to smoothies, puree in soups, and spread on crackers – they are a great source of healthy monounsaturated fats.

Hydration - a flare up can increase fluid loss; so make sure to stay hydrated. Try to drink a minimum of ½ ounce for every pound of body weight per day. So, if you weigh 140 pounds, drink 70 ounces a day of fluid, or 8 ¾ 8-ounce glasses of water. 1 Other good choices are rehydration beverages such as coconut water as well as decaffeinated coffee and herbal hot and iced teas, both of which you can add a punch of flavor to with herbs like mint or basil.

Different foods affect IBD sufferers differently, so make sure you pay close attention to how you feel a few hours after a meal. It generally takes 6 to 8 hours for a mixed meal to be digested by the stomach and reach the intestines, where absorption and GI problems can begin. The amount of food you eat at once can also be an issue. Avoid large meals that can stretch the GI tract and cause discomfort. Eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day can help.

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