Nutrition in College

“Juggling school work, living on my own, and staying on top of my health was initially unnerving but after talking with dining hall staff and finding a handful of recipes and some go-to foods, managing my diet was an empowering experience and one of the few aspects of my disease I felt in control of.”

Kalee Eichelberger, Alumn of the National Council of College Leaders

Inflammatory bowel disease can present a number of unique challenges related to nutrition. Concerns over nutritional management in college life is understandable. While inflammatory bowel disease is not caused by diet, it tends to play a key role in its symptoms and potentially some of the underlying inflammation. Because Crohn’s and colitis are diseases of the gastrointestinal tract paying attention to what you eat may help with reducing symptoms and promoting healing. College life can add a new set of challenges, but there are a number of ways patients can effectively manage nutrition and make college life a good experience.

Eating in your dorm

Healthy Snacks - No kitchen access? No problem! Creating a stash of IBD-friendly snacks that are easy to buy and store in your dorm room can be a huge help. Many dorms allow small appliances like microwaves and mini-fridges so be sure to check with your school’s policies before moving in.

Dining Halls - When it comes to navigating the dining halls, here are a few tips to ensure that you can find food that fits your IBD needs:

  1. There are different types of meal plans like unlimited packages, flexible spending, etc., so make sure to do some research and pick the plan that’s best for you.
  2. Meet with dining hall staff or the area’s manager to discuss any concerns you might have about your meal plan, such as dietary restrictions, allergies, flare-friendly foods, and other special considerations.
  3. Be proactive about your nutrition by communicating with dining hall staff if you run into issues regarding your selected meal plan.

Apartment Life

If you’re living in an apartment, you’re more than likely going to be cooking for yourself and attending to your own dietary needs. Being in control may seem daunting but can be an empowering experience. Planning out meals and preparing food in advance can help make busy school days less stressful. Using crock pots, freezing meals, and finding easy microwavable options can take time off meal preparation. Communicating with roommates on any dietary considerations is important to resolve potential concerns.

Nutritional Considerations

While nutritional considerations should be evaluated on an individual basis, the inflammation associated with Crohn’s and colitis may cause multiple vitamin and/or mineral deficiencies. IBD may also play a role in how fat is absorbed and how many calories and protein is required. Due to potential disruptions involving the intestinal tract and liver in some IBD cases, fat soluble vitamin deficiencies especially vitamin D and K may occur. Some potential sources include dairy products, sun exposure, and seafood for vitamin D and green leafy vegetables for vitamin K. When outputs are increased during times of active disease, demands for nutrients (including calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin C) and electrolytes may be increased as well. If bleeding is occurring or anemia is playing a role in your IBD, introducing additional iron, folate, and B12 may be helpful. Before introducing a supplement or specific dietary changes, it’s recommended to meet with a healthcare professional to discuss what might work best for your particular case.

Other helpful Tips

The following ideas might be helpful ways to overcome some potential challenges:

  • Food prep - How food is prepared may play a role in how it is tolerated. For example green  leafy vegetables like spinach can be steamed, broiled, blended in smoothies, dehydrated, or cooked. Think about your triggers and adjust your cooking methods according to your needs.
  • Special diets - Specialized diets such as the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, Mediterranean Diet, Paleo, or Low FODMAP diets are becoming more popular, however more research is underway to investigate their role in IBD.
  • Track your food - To find out what foods might work best for you, try keeping a food log and talking to a dietitian to discuss options.

Other helpful resources on diet and nutrition in IBD: