Are you one of the 61,000 Australians affected by inflammatory bowel disease? Here’s how a healthy diet can help you manage Crohn’s disease.

Good nutrition is important for everybody’s general health, and particularly for those with a chronic disease.

While there are no particular foods that cause Crohn’s disease or trigger the inflammation, it’s a good idea to watch your eating habits if you’ve developed the disease. Certain foods may make your symptoms worse, and you may need to replace particular nutrients that Crohn’s disease has caused you to lose.

In some cases, people with Crohn’s disease may even suffer from malnutrition:

    • Abdominal pain can cause appetite loss, as can diarrhoea, stress and changes in your sense of taste.

    • Diarrhoea can drain minerals and other nutrients from the body.

    • Inflammation may mean that nutrients aren’t properly absorbed into the body by the intestine. Some surgery for Crohn’s disease can also cause this problem.

    • Blood loss from rectal bleeding may lead to anaemia and iron deficiency.

    • Some medications for Crohn’s disease also make it harder to absorb nutrients.

If the patient is a child, this kind of malnourishment is very dangerous, as it can give rise to stunted or delayed growth. This will require nutritional supplementation.

In most patients, however, a well-balanced diet should be sufficient to prevent malnourishment. Patients are encouraged to have small, frequent, highly nutritious meals.

Make sure to drink plenty of water, or drinks containing electrolytes, if you have diarrhoea. Diarrhoea causes the body to lose water and salts, resulting in dehydration. This is especially dangerous in babies, very young children and elderly people.

Every person with Crohn’s disease will have different dietary requirements, depending on their symptoms and the location of their inflammation. One person’s needs may also change over time. It’s a good idea to keep a food diary. This will make it clear if any particular food is responsible for specific symptoms.

It may be helpful to modify your diet during a flare-up. At different times, the following may be useful:

    • Fat absorption may be affected, and greasy or fried foods can cause diarrhoea and flatulence. Try out a low-fat diet.

    • Carbonated drinks can also give you gas.

    • If you’re taking corticosteroids, a low-salt diet may reduce water retention.

    • If you have strictures (narrowed sections of bowel), a diet low in fibre will help to prevent blockages.

    • If you have bad diarrhoea, try to avoid coffee and other caffeine-containing substances, as these can have a laxative effect.

    • You may find that spicy foods worsen your symptoms.

Image via Thinkstock.