Diet & Nutrition for Children with IBD
Many children with IBD worry that they will no longer be able to enjoy their favorite foods or eat with their friends. Because IBD affects the organs responsible for absorbing vitamins, nutrients, and water, it is important for your child to maintain a healthy diet with proper nutrition. Proper nutrition along with disease management will enable your child to live a healthy life and reach their full potential.
Did you know “diet” and “nutrition” are two different things?
- Diet refers to the foods we eat
- Nutrition means properly absorbing food to stay healthy
What should my child with IBD eat?
When your child's IBD is well managed, or they are in remission, it’s important for them to maintain a healthy diet. Please check with your child’s healthcare provider about the type and quantity of foods that are recommended for them based on their disease activity and distribution. A healthy diet includes a variety of foods from all food groups:
There are some foods like candies and salty snacks which do not give your child essential nutrients. Eating these foods without eating enough of the foods from the above food groups may hinder your child from getting what they need to grow, be strong, and participate in the things they enjoy. If you notice your child is having symptoms when eating foods from a particular food group, you can work with their healthcare provider or dietitian to replace those nutrients with other foods, vitamins or mineral supplements.
What about during a flare?
When your child is experiencing IBD symptoms, or when their disease is in a flare, these food tips may help:
- Eat smaller meals more often to reduce cramping
- Reduce the amount of greasy or fried foods they eat
- Avoid foods that have made their symptoms worse in the past and focus on foods that you know they can tolerate
- Limit certain high-fiber foods such as seeds, nuts, popcorn, beans, green leafy vegetables, wheat bran, and raw fruits and vegetables
- Limit milk or milk products if they are lactose intolerant
- Avoid caffeine in soda, tea and other caffeinated beverages. Caffeine can act as a stimulant to “rev up” the bowel resulting in diarrhea
- Ask their health care provider about taking vitamin and mineral supplements, such as vitamin D and calcium.
- Encourage your child to drink as much water as they can. Their symptoms during a flare could make them dehydrated
- If appetite decreases during flare, talk to your child's health care provide about supplements to help meet nutritional needs
How do I know if my child is getting the nutrients they need?
Generally, children will be weighed at every healthcare visit, as weight is one way healthcare providers asses how your child is doing nutritionally. Height is also an important indicator of growth, but measured over time, so it can be difficult to diagnose any delays based on one visit. In some cases, your child's healthcare provider or dietitian may suggest your child begin receiving nutritional support therapy. There are a few types that can be prescribed based on your child's disease activity and nutritional needs:
If you're thinking about giving your child any multivitamins or herbal supplements, it’s important to discuss it with your child's healthcare provider or dietitian first, as some of these treatments may interact with your child's current treatment regiment. Children with IBD can be lacking in iron, calcium and vitamin D, so it may be recommended that they take additional vitamins or supplements. Your child's healthcare provider can suggest the recommended amount for your child based on their weight and age.
Teaching your child to make food choices
When children eat healthy, they are more likely to follow good habits as an adult. Teaching your child to be involved in their food habits is important as they grown into young adulthood and beyond. For kids with IBD, meal planning, eating out, and food shopping may involve a little more preparation. Remind them that eating healthy can give them: more energy, better concentration, and help them feel better overall. Eating healthy can also improve behavior, and absorption of medications. Here are some tips to begin getting your child more involved in their food decisions:
- Involve your child in meal planning and preparation. Being a part of the process not only teaches children great skills, but also shows them how to create a healthy meal on their own.
- Bring them grocery shopping. Some children with IBD need to remove specific ingredients from their diet or only eat certain foods. Teaching them how to read food labels and what ingredients to look out for is a very important skill for IBD patients. By involving your child in the shopping process, they can start to learn how to make healthy choices independently.
- Help them keep a food journal. Keeping track of what your child is eating and how their body is responding is key to understanding how their diet could be affecting their IBD. If you feel the need to limit certain foods from your child’s diet, make sure you speak with their healthcare provider or dietitian.
- Let them read the menu. When eating out, allow your child to look over the menu, or read it with them to see what fits into their diet. Remind them that when in doubt, it’s best to keep it simple with boiled, grilled, broiled, steamed or sauteed options and they may want to limit sauces and spices.