Crohn’s disease is becoming increasingly prevalent across all age groups, including older adults and kids. In fact, it can develop at any point throughout a person’s life and currently affects millions of people worldwide. However, there is unfortunately no cure for Crohn’s disease at the moment which makes learning to manage flare ups through a Crohn’s disease diet an essential part of any treatment plan.
In this article, we will explore Crohn’s disease and how it works as well as provide you with answers to some frequently asked questions. In addition, we’ll look at several foods that fit into a recommended Crohn’s disease diet – in particular, which foods you should eat during a Crohn’s flare up.
What Is Crohn’s Disease
Crohn’s disease is a type of chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. It occurs when something, either in the environment or your genes, triggers your immune system to attack healthy bacteria throughout the GI tract resulting in inflammation.
The inflammation within the GI tract is what causes the common symptoms associated with Crohn’s disease. This includes but is not limited to cramps, abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloating, weight loss, and nutritional deficiencies.
Is Crohn’s an autoimmune disease?
There is some debate over whether Crohn’s is an autoimmune disease. While research shows that the immune system is involved in Crohn’s disease it is unclear what causes that involvement.
For example, an autoimmune disease is a condition in which our immune system attacks the body’s own healthy cells. However, with Crohn’s disease, it appears that the immune system attacks healthy bacteria present throughout the GI tract which results in inflammation.
As a result, some experts have suggested that Crohn’s may be more appropriately characterized as an immunodeficiency disorder.
Can you die from Crohn’s disease?
According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, death due specifically to Crohn’s disease or its complications is uncommon. In other words, yes you can die from Crohn’s disease but it is unlikely.
However, some research has shown that Crohn’s disease may lead to a number of complications with increased mortality. These include small intestine and colorectal cancers, intestinal failure, and amyloidosis—when the protein amyloid builds up in organs.
In addition, people with Crohn’s disease have an increased risk of other chronic and sometimes fatal diseases, including cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, kidney disease, and liver disease.
What Causes Crohn’s Disease
Doctors aren’t sure what exactly causes Crohn’s disease. However, researchers believe that it is likely an interaction between your genes, your immune system, and something in the environment.
In addition, although a specific cause may be unknown, there are factors that increase a person’s risk of developing Crohn’s disease. These include a family history of Crohn’s disease, smoking, poor diet, and taking certain medications, including NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen and aspirin.
Is Crohn’s disease genetic?
Crohn’s disease is, in part, genetic. In fact, according to Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, between 5-20% of people with IBD have a first degree relative (parent, child, sibling) with Crohn’s disease.
Furthermore, researchers recently discovered genetic variants in 10 genes that elevate a person’s susceptibility to Crohn’s disease. This research further establishes the connection between a person’s genetics and a Crohn’s disease diagnosis.
However, while these genes increase a person’s risk, someone with a genetic predisposition won’t always develop Crohn’s disease. A person’s lifestyle and certain environmental factors are also believed to play a role.
Ultimately, more research needs to be done as there is still a lot we do not know about the causes of Crohn’s disease.
Is Crohn’s disease contagious?
Crohn’s disease is not contagious or transmitted from one person to another. In other words, you cannot “catch” Crohn’s disease from another person.
The condition is dependent on a person’s genetic makeup, environment, and lifestyle. Some factors that may increase a person’s risk of getting Crohn’s are smoking cigarettes, eating a poor diet, and living in an industrialized area.
Crohn’s Disease Diet
Finding the right Crohn’s disease diet will depend on a number of factors including your individual condition. In general, it is important to look for nutrient rich foods and stay hydrated even when you are not experiencing symptoms.
According to the Crohn’s and Colitis foundation, several categories of food you should target for a Crohn’s disease diet may include:
- Fiber-rich foods – Whole grains, oats, etc.
- Protein – Lean poultry, meats, fish, etc.
- Fruits & Vegetables – Vaireties of berries, melons, etc.
- Calcium-rich foods – Milk or if lactose intolerant, beans, spinach, etc.
- Foods with Probiotics – Miso, sauerkraut, etc.
It may be a good idea to consult with a specialized Crohn’s disease dietician to figure out a diet specifically tailored to your individual condition. This can make managing the condition much simpler and lead to a better overall quality of life.
Regardless, try to introduce any changes to your diet slowly and make sure you always consult with your doctor (or dietician) before making any changes.
What To Eat During a Crohn’s Flare-up
If you are trying to decide what to eat during a Crohn’s flare up, it is important to remember that the disease affects everyone differently. That is why it is important to talk to a specialized nutritionist who can help determine the right Crohn’s disease diet for you.
However, during a flare up, there are certain foods and beverages that may help ease or prevent the worsening of symptoms. Here are a few options for you to consider.
*Always consult with your doctor before starting or changing an established Crohn’s diet regimen. If you know you don’t tolerate any of these foods well then it is best to avoid them. If you aren’t sure what you do or don’t tolerate, it may be helpful to keep a food journal to keep track of what you eat and pinpoint the foods that trigger symptoms.
1. Cooked Non-Cruciferous Vegetables
Cooked, non-cruciferous vegetables are a great source of nutrients that people with Crohn’s can consume during a flare-up. Cooked vegetables are easier to digest than raw vegetables, and non-cruciferous vegetables are easier to digest than cruciferous vegetables.
Good options include spinach, beets, asparagus, squash, and potatoes. Try cooking them in simple ways, such as steaming, boiling, or grilling. People with Crohn’s may also tolerate these vegetables better if the skin is removed.
2. Protein Shakes
A homemade protein shake or smoothie can be a helpful tool for people with Crohn’s disease. It is an easy and nonirritating meal that can be full of nutrients.
Simply combine a protein powder you tolerate well with water or non-dairy milk, non-irritating fruit, such as bananas, and yogurt. The addition of yogurt can provide calcium, which is especially important for people with Crohn’s disease.
3. Caffeine-Free Tea
Caffeinated beverages like coffee, black tea, and energy drinks can trigger symptoms in people with Crohn’s disease.
Instead, try to opt for caffeine-free beverages if you’re experiencing a flare-up of symptoms. Options like herbal teas can be a good option and they can help rehydrate you if you are experiencing symptoms such as diarrhea.
4. Lean Meats
Lean meats can provide essential nutrients without worsening symptoms during a Crohn’s disease flare-up. This includes poultry and fish.
However, before cooking meet, be sure to trim away any visible fat as excess fat can lead to poor absorption, which may worsen symptoms.
5. Soft, Seedless Fruits
Soft fleshy fruits are generally well tolerated in people with Crohn’s during flare-ups.
These include melons like cantaloupe, bananas, avocados, and applesauce. Other fruits may also be safe, as long as the seeds and skin are avoided.
Can you eat pizza with Crohn’s disease?
Although everyone with Crohn’s disease is different, pizza may trigger symptoms in some people.
Common ingredients found in pizza that may cause trouble include cheese, sauces, and fatty, processed meats, such as sausage, bacon, ham, and pepperoni. In addition, spicy foods may trigger symptoms as well, which means if you do opt for pizza, try to avoid any spicy sauces or toppings.
Can you eat potato chips with Crohn’s?
Processed carbohydrates, such as potato chips, can be well tolerated in people with Crohn’s disease.
However, fried, fatty foods, which can include non-baked potato chips, should be avoided during a flare-up. Additionally, processed foods like chips can contribute to other chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes.
For these reasons, it may be best to just avoid them altogether.
Managing Crohn’s Disease
Managing Crohn’s disease is already difficult. Add in trying to learn what foods won’t give you symptoms while still getting ample nutrients, and it can quickly become overwhelming.
Ultimately, you may want to work with a dietician specializing in Crohn’s to figure out a diet specifically tailored to your individual condition. This can make managing the condition much simpler and lead to a better overall quality of life.
In the meantime, the tips above can give you a general idea of what to eat to during a Crohn’s flare up as well as how to best manage the condition beforehand.