How Does Food Affect My IBD Symptoms?

Diet and nutrition are important parts of IBD management.

Diet and nutrition are important parts of IBD management. “Diet” refers to the foods we eat. “Nutrition” is a term that refers to properly absorbing food and staying healthy.


Since IBD affects the organs responsible for absorbing vitamins,  nutrients, and water, it is important that you maintain a healthy diet with proper nutrition. IBD tends to increase the body’s need for calories, nutrients, and energy. During IBD flares, it may be difficult to maintain adequate nutrition.


Although what you eat won’t trigger a flare, it could make you feel worse during one. However, if you maintain good nutrition, it will improve your overall wellness, promote healing and immunity, increase your energy levels, and may lessen some gastrointestinal  symptoms. Once you have your symptoms under control, you may be able to eat the foods you want once again.


A well-balanced diet with an adequate intake of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals is necessary for proper nutrition. This can be achieved by eating a variety of foods from all the food groups.  Meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products are sources of protein. Bread, cereal, starches, fruits, and vegetables are sources of carbohydrates. Butter, margarine, and oils are sources of fat.


With IBD, you’ll need to pay more attention to what you eat than you ever did before. There is no evidence to suggest that any particular food or diet causes, prevents, or cures IBD.


The best way to figure out what foods are causing problems is to keep a food diary or journal. Identify what you eat and when you feel worse. You may have to use trial and error to see what reduces your symptoms.


If you cut a certain food out of your diet, do you feel better? You will probably see a pattern and notice which foods are affecting you and should be avoided. When experiencing symptoms, it may help to follow some of the food tips below:

  • Eat smaller meals more often
  • Reduce the amount of greasy or fried foods you eat
  • Avoid trigger foods (foods that make your symptoms worse)
  • Limit eating certain high-fiber foods such as seeds, nuts, popcorn, beans, green leafy vegetables, wheat bran, and raw fruits and vegetables
  • Limit drinking milk or milk products if you are lactose intolerant
  • Avoid caffeine in coffee, tea, soda, and other beverages (caffeine can act as a stimulant to “rev” up the bowel resulting in diarrhea)
  • Consider vitamin and mineral supplements, such as vitamin D and calcium, if your HCP approves
  • Sometimes during a flare you will become dehydrated and need to drink extra fluids

For more information on diet and nutrition, and to access a sample food journal, check out the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation's Diet, Nutrition and Inflammatory Bowel Disease brochure [PDF].


Podcast Series for IBD Patients and Families - Maintaining Healthy Nutrition in Pediatric IBD Patients