If you have Crohn’s disease, then you know what a debilitating disease it can be. The good news is that you have complete control over what goes into your gut, and food is your best defense when it comes to beating this disease. The foods you choose to eat can either worsen your disease, or they can make it more tolerable. Some people even reverse their symptoms entirely and get off all their medications by making fundamental lifestyle changes that include adopting a healthy diet.
It’s important to keep in mind that no two cases of Crohn’s disease are exactly alike. You might find that most Crohn’s patients can tolerate certain foods, but they make you feel sick. For this reason, it’s a good idea to keep a list of foods that are off limits to you. Writing them down will help you remember. Because Crohn’s is an inflammatory disease, the key to fighting it is to choose anti-inflammatory foods whenever possible. Here are the top 17 anti-inflammatory foods to help you overcome Crohn’s disease and live your best life.
What is Crohn’s Disease?
By definition, Crohn’s disease is an autoimmune disorder. It occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks its own organs because it thinks they are foreign invaders. During a Crohn’s disease attack, which is commonly referred to as a flare, the disease is active, and it can attack anywhere along the gastrointestinal tract, which runs from the mouth to anus. This may cause swelling and inflammation anywhere in the digestive system, which leads to malabsorption of nutrients, diarrhea, fistulas, mouth sores, abdominal cramping and pain, hair loss, skin problems, and weight loss. Medications are often prescribed to treat the inflammation associated with Crohn’s disease. Other pharmaceutical treatments include immunosuppressants to reduce the impact in which the immune system attacks itself. But for many people, food can be used as medicine.
If you’ve tried to change your diet before and it didn’t have much of an impact on your health, don’t give up. Some people with Crohn’s disease have such a severe case that it takes months of eating a certain way before they can see progress. The important thing is to limit the number of inflammatory foods you are eating as this is the primary cause of the disease. Typical examples of inflammatory foods include processed foods such as baked crackers, margarine, chips, soda, candy, and sweets, fast food, foods that contain refined sugars and carbohydrates, and caffeine and alcohol. Most people with Crohn’s find success when they also cut grains, gluten, and dairy from their diet.
So what can you eat when you have Crohn’s disease? Contrary to what many doctors may say, you don’t need to avoid high fiber foods, especially in the form of fruits and vegetables. In fact, the majority of your diet should come from fresh fruits and vegetables as they contain antioxidants and fiber to combat inflammation and restore gut health. Focus on non-starchy vegetables because they are often easier on sensitive tummies. Other good examples of anti-inflammatory foods include wild fish such as salmon, and nuts and seeds, including walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds. Lean meats such as organic, antibiotic-free chicken and turkey provide the lean protein you need to rebuild damaged cells and tissues. Here are 17 foods to get you started.
Pineapple is a delicious fruit that is perfect for people with Crohn’s disease. This is because pineapples contain an enzyme known as bromelain that has been shown to reduce gut inflammation and intestinal pain. As an enzyme, it also helps digest protein and has even been shown to help you digest and absorb nutrients more efficiently. This is important for someone with Crohn’s because intestinal inflammation often gets in the way of absorbing the nutrients you need to stay healthy. One study found that bromelain decreases gut inflammation in patients with Crohn’s disease by inhibiting the secretion of pro-inflammatory mediators. The best part is that pineapple is so tasty, you shouldn’t have a problem fitting it into your diet. Eat it plain or add it to salads. Some people like it added to Greek yogurt for natural sweetness.
2. Wild-Caught Salmon
Salmon is an excellent source of one of the best anti-inflammatory ingredients ever. Omega 3 fatty acids are a unique type of polyunsaturated fatty acids that are extremely useful in reducing inflammation associated with autoimmune conditions. One study found that omega 3 fatty acids have immunomodulatory activities, which means that they can help suppress the immune system’s attack on the body. Omega 3 fatty acids also modulate the number and types of eicosanoids that are made, which are molecules that send signals between cells. This can help reduce the inflammatory response. Finally, omega 3’s are useful because they inhibit a type of proinflammatory cytokine known as interleukin 1 (IL-1). Research shows that people who eat salmon and other sources of omega 3 have a reduced need for anti-inflammatory drugs, such as the ones that are commonly used to treat Crohn’s.
3. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is highly anti-inflammatory, which makes it a great food to add to your anti-Crohn’s disease diet. It is especially beneficial when you cut out other forms of highly processed oils, such as the vegetable oils soybean and canola oils. These oils have been hydrogenated, which means they are heated to high temperatures and chemically altered, which makes them hard to digest and provokes inflammation in the gut. On the other hand, coconut oil contains long-chain fatty acids that are easier to digest because they are smaller in size. Research shows that a diet high in good fats such as the ones in coconut oil has been shown to reduce the harmful bacteria associated with Crohn’s disease. Try cooking your vegetables and meats in coconut oil as opposed to vegetable oils. You can also add some to smoothies or homemade baked goods.
Cucumbers are enormously underrated as a vegetable. They’re great for people with Crohn’s disease because they’re made of mostly water to help keep you hydrated and flush toxins out of the body. They’re also a good source of vitamins A, C, and folic acid to reverse inflammation. Research shows that eating cucumbers may help prevent constipation. Be sure to eat the skin as that’s where many of the nutrients are.
Just like salmon, flaxseeds are another excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids. Plus, they’re plant-based, which makes it a good option if you’re vegan or just looking to eat more plants. You can use them as a gluten-free substitute in your baking or add a few tablespoons to your morning bowl of oats for a nutty crunch. The only time you’ll want to avoid eating flaxseeds, and other small seeds are during a flare. This is because the small seeds could irritate your digestive system and cause further pain or inflammation. If you’re flaring, try flaxseed oil instead. You’ll still get all the healthy omega 3 fatty acid benefits but without the seed-like effects. One study found that flaxseed oil acted as an antidiarrheal agent due to its laxative effects, which makes it a great tool if you’re suffering from constipation. Be sure to start small if you’re not sure how it will affect you.
Green, leafy vegetables such as spinach are the perfect vegetable for people who suffer from Crohn’s disease because they are easier to digest than others, especially cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage). They are also high in anti-inflammatory ingredients, such as antioxidants, fiber, and vitamins. Some people find that raw vegetables cause stomach pain and bloating, so you may want to cook your spinach in some coconut oil to make it easier to digest. Cooking your spinach in healthy fats also enhances the absorption of the protective nutrients in the vegetables, such as antioxidants, flavonoids, and some vitamins. Try adding sauteed spinach to stir-fry dishes. It goes great when mixed into grain-based meals or as a side to a meat-based dish. Add some to your favorite salads, omelets, and smoothies.
6. Pasture-Raised Eggs
While it’s important to focus on anti-inflammatory foods to help you recover from Crohn’s disease, you also need protein to help rebuild damaged tissues that occur during the inflammatory process. Pasture-raised eggs are gluten-free and often easy to digest for people with upset stomachs. When compared to conventionally raised eggs, pasture-raised eggs contain one-third less cholesterol, one-quarter less saturated fat, two-thirds more vitamin A, twice as much omega 3, three times more vitamin E, up to six times more vitamin D, and seven times more beta-carotene. Try scrambling a few pasture-raised eggs in the morning for breakfast or have an omelet with vegetables and chicken for a surprisingly filling dinner. Eating two eggs a day can provide you with up to 126 percent of your daily recommended intake of vitamin D, which is needed to keep your Crohn’s disease in remission.
Papaya contains a healing enzyme known as papain that is needed to help break down protein, which can make it easier for you to break down meals during a flare. In addition to being high in the flavonoids lutein, zeaxanthin, lycopene, and cryptoxanthin, one cup of papaya also contains 224 percent of your daily recommended intake of vitamin C, which has antioxidant properties in the body to help heal and repair inflammation. Papaya might be hard to find in your local supermarket, but if you can find it, it’s worth investing in, especially during a flare as it’s incredibly soothing on the tummy and easy to digest. Add some to a tropical fruit bowl along with melons, pineapple, mango, and strawberries. They are delicious in smoothies and even in salads.
8. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes aren’t only delicious. They are packed full of anti-inflammatory antioxidants that combat free radicals, which is often a byproduct of inflammation. It’s full of healing and restorative vitamins and minerals that your body needs to restore proper immune health and stop your gut from beating up on itself, so to speak. One medium cooked sweet potato contains 438 percent of your daily recommended intake of vitamin A, which helps stimulate the production of immune cells to keep you healthy. Try replacing white or russet potatoes with sweet potatoes whenever possible, such as alongside a meat-based dish. Slice them up, coat them in olive oil or coconut oil and your favorite spices, and bake them for homemade french fries that everyone will love and no one will feel guilty about eating.
Avocados are packed full of fiber that your digestive system needs to keep it running smoothly. In fact, avocados contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber helps add bulk to your stool, which makes it easier to move through the digestive system. On the other hand, soluble fiber draws water into the stool to make it easier to push. It also helps create good bacteria in your gut that is responsible for keeping your entire body healthy. Avocados are also a good source of vitamin A and choline, which are needed to strengthen the mucosal wall of the intestinal lining to keep harmful pathogens from entering. They are great if you’re trying to watch your carbohydrate intake as they are very low in carbs. Dip your vegetable sticks in some guacamole, add some avocado to your salads, or use avocado in your smoothies as a sugar-free thickening agent.
Blueberries are among one of the healthiest foods on the planet. They contain a unique type of antioxidant called anthocyanins that help eliminate toxins from the body that accumulate in tissues and organs and cause painful inflammation. Just like avocados, they contain both types of fiber to help clean out the digestive system. Research shows that the health benefits of blueberries on the gut are enhanced when you pair them with probiotics. This is because blueberries help your body absorb two substances that are used as cellular energy when fiber is broken down in the intestines called butyric acid and propionic acid. Mixing blueberries with probiotics has been shown to reduce inflammation, inhibit the production of “bad” bacteria in the gut, enhance the protective mucosal intestinal layer, and increases the number of anti-inflammatory molecules found in the digestive system.
Walnuts are a tree nut that contains healthy fats to help you absorb nutrients. They’re also high in anti-inflammatory properties as well as vitamin E, which is needed for its antioxidant properties to heal and repair the gut. A one-ounce serving of walnuts contains 2 grams of fiber, six different vitamins and minerals, and over 4 grams of protein. They tend to be calorie dense, so keep your serving size down if you’re watching your calories. The good news is that they are very filling, so a little bit goes a long way. Add walnuts to your morning oatmeal along with some blueberries or eat them raw as a snack when you need an energy boost.
Dates don’t look like your average fruit, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give them a chance! Research shows that they improve gut health and reduce toxicity due to their soluble fiber and phytonutrient profile, which both have a prebiotic effect on the body. In other words, they “feed” the good bacteria in the gut. Dates can also act as a laxative, so if your Crohn’s disease has prevented you from going for a few days, it might be a good idea to eat a few dates. There are several types, but Medjool dates tend to be the most popular. They’re plump and delicious and usually have a pit inside of them that you’ll need to remove before eating. Try removing the put and adding a walnut to the middle of the date for a tasty natural snack in between meals.
An orange a day keeps the doctor away. Well, not exactly, but it’s a good place to start. One large orange contains about 18 percent of your daily recommended fiber intake, which is essential when it comes to restoring your digestive health because it restores the health of your gut bacteria. Your gut bacteria houses about 80 percent of your immune system. This means that when your gut is damaged, so is your immune system. Repairing the stomach is the first step in restoring your immune system and preventing it from attacking its own tissues and organs. Oranges are also high in vitamin C, which is a known immune system booster. Keep in mind that eating the whole fruit is better than drinking juice as you get the fiber from the orange.
Beets are naturally detoxing. They pack quite a nutritional punch for not a lot of calories. A 3.5 ounce serving of cooked beets contains eight different vitamins and minerals, including 20 percent of your recommended daily intake of folate. Folate levels are often low in people with Crohn’s disease. It’s a B vitamin that is needed to help with cell repair, such as in the case of the reconstruction of the cells that line the protective intestinal layer of the gut wall that is often damaged during a Crohn’s flare. Beets also contain a pigment called betalain, which has antioxidant properties to reduce inflammation. Finally, it’s loaded with fiber to help keep digestive ailments in check. Try roasting some beets at home and adding them to salads. Some people even drink beet juice as it’s naturally sweet but remember that you’ll be missing out on the fiber unless you eat it whole.
Asparagus is a prebiotic food, meaning that it fuels the good bacteria in your gut. This is beneficial because Crohn’s disease causes inflammation that attacks and tears down the good bacteria that you have. Replacing it with healthy food is the best way to overcome a flare. Try sauteed some asparagus to go alongside a fresh piece of wild-caught salmon for dinner. Or add some to an omelet in the morning along with a bowl of fresh fruit for a meal your gut will appreciate.
Bananas are a great food to eat anytime. They’re bland and easy to digest, so you can eat them during a flare without worrying about worsening your symptoms. They’re also soft and mushy, so your digestive system doesn’t have to work as hard to break it down. Finally, bananas are a prebiotic, which means that they provide fuel or an energy source to the good bacteria in your gut. Put some bananas in the freezer overnight and blend them in a high speed blender the next day for a dairy-free frozen dessert that tastes just as good as ice cream.