Eating Healthy While Living with IBD

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Many college students living with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) have diet and nutrition concerns. IBD patients often believe that their disease is caused by, and can be cured by, diet. While diet can certainly affect symptoms of IBD, research and data suggest that it is not the primary factor in the inflammatory process.


Since Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis affect the digestive tract, it is only natural that you will have many questions about diet and nutrition. You may be surprised to learn that there is no evidence that anything in your diet history caused or contributed to your disease. However, once you develop IBD, paying special attention to what you eat may go a long way toward reducing symptoms and promoting healing.


There is not one particular diet that works for  everyone living with IBD—it is an individualized plan. Modifications in your diet depend on the symptoms you experience, the extent of your disease, and many other factors that can be determined by your physician. Note that because IBD affects every patient differently, certain foods may be OK for you to have, while other patients may not be as tolerant. Below are foods that have commonly been helpful, or not helpful in IBD. Talk to your dietician/nutritionist to see what works for you.

  • Things that may help: Bananas; white bread; white rice and cheese (if you're not lactose intolerant); an electrolyte drink diluted with water; fruit juices; applesauce; smooth peanut butter; bland soft foods such as crackers made with white flour, plain cereals, refined pastas, broth, canned varieties of fruit, cooked vegetables, potatoes without skin, broiled or steamed fish (e.g. herring, salmon, halibut, flounder, swordfish or pollack); using canola and olive oils; small and frequent meals; as well as nutritional supplements if you experience weight loss and your doctor’s approval.
  • Things that may hurt: Caffeine in coffee, tea and other beverages; fresh fruits and uncooked vegetables; high-fiber foods such as fiber-rich breads, cereals, nuts and leafy greens; high sugar foods; skins; seeds; popcorn; high fat foods; spicy foods; raw foods; prunes; beans; large food portions; dairy products if you are lactose intolerant; ice-cold liquids (even water); and too much of any type of liquid.

You may also want to consider keeping a food journal to help determine which foods you are able to tolerate and not tolerate during flare-ups. Finally, you should consult with your campus food services or college student services to see if meals that meet your dietary requirements are available.


Energy and Protein

People with IBD often have a decreased appetite due to symptoms and inflammation in the gut, or even perhaps the body is unable to absorb all the necessary nutrients on its own. Therefore, protein is a very important part of a healthy diet that can help prevent complications associated with malnutrition. However, the amount of protein recommended depends on a person’s disease severity. Always talk to a doctor and nutritionist before taking any proteins supplements or other alternative changes to your treatment plan.

Nutrition support therapy

Enteral nutrition is often considered in people who are unable to maintain proper nutrition sufficiently by mouth. It means that a person would receive their calorie requirements through a feeding tube inserted into the gastrointestinal tract. If your doctor is concerned about your body’s ability to absorb nutrients, your doctor and nutritionist may consider a specific formula to help you get the nutrients your body needs.


Parenteral nutrition means that a patient is having their caloric needs provided through a vein, rather than through their intestinal tract. This type of feeding is considered in people who are unable to tolerate enteral nutrition or in those with a gut that is not functioning due to other complications from their disease.


Additional resources on nutrition and IBD: