What to Eat During an IBD Flare
You’re considered to be in an IBD flare when your disease activity spikes, causing increased symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal pain, lack of appetite — the works. Eating can feel tricky right now, but it’s important to get enough nutrients to help you recover.
There are several strategies you can try in order to get enough nourishment while minimizing symptoms. Everyone is different, so you might find some of these works better for you than others.
Strategy #1: Eat small, frequent meals or snacks
Large meals send a stronger signal to your GI tract to get things moving. Eating five to six smaller meals spread throughout the day may be beneficial if you are experiencing diarrhea or abdominal cramping. If you don’t have a strong appetite, eating smaller meals or snacks may be easier to handle.
Strategy #2: Know your safe foods
Keep a list (mentally or written down) of foods that you know don’t make symptoms worse. These can vary person to person, but common foods that are generally well tolerated are bananas, rice, and yogurt.
Strategy #3: Limit common trigger foods
Some foods are known or potential triggers for increasing symptoms, especially diarrhea. Try to remove or limit these from your diet when you are experiencing a flare.
- Lactose containing dairy (*lower lactose kefir or yogurts are usually tolerated during this time)
- Greasy or high-fat foods
- High sugar foods like juice, soda, candy, and sweet baked goods
- Sugar alcohols like sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol (these are often found in “sugar-free” products including most gum and breath mints)
- Spicy foods
Strategy #4: Make fruits and veggies easier to digest
Eating fruits and veggies (especially with the skin or seeds) can potentially make symptoms worse, but we don’t want to exclude them if we don’t need to! Good fruit options are bananas and cantaloupe or cooked fruit like applesauce.
For veggies, make sure to remove all peels and seeds as these typically are the hardest parts for us to digest. Raw veggies may trigger symptoms, so stick with well-cooked veggies during a flare.
Good veggie options are peeled and well-cooked carrots, green beans, zucchini, winter squash, asparagus, spinach, and cucumbers.
Cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and cabbage might be more likely to increase symptoms than other veggies. Consider limiting them to see if there is any improvement.
Blending can also help break down fruits and veggies to make them easier to digest. You can add fruits and veggies to a smoothie or use an immersion blender, regular blender, or food processor to make pureed soups. Frozen fruits and veggies also tend to be mushy when thawed, so are easier to digest. These are good options to add to oatmeal or soups.
Strategy #5: Include foods high in soluble fiber
Soluble fiber is a type of fiber that dissolves in water and acts like a gel to slow diarrhea. Foods that are higher in soluble fiber may be beneficial to include in your diet when you’re experiencing symptoms.
Here are some good options:
- Applesauce (No sugar added)
- Peeled sweet potato (well cooked)
- Peeled winter squash (well cooked)
- Ground flax (can add to yogurt, oatmeal, or smoothies)
- Chia seed (can add to yogurt, oatmeal, or smoothies)
Strategy #6: Rest and digest
Try to eat your meal or snack in a relaxed state and chew your food thoroughly. When you are trying to rush eating or experiencing stress during your meal, you shift your body away from “rest and digest” mode which could potentially make symptoms worse.
If you do feel high stress or anxiety when it’s time to eat, take a few minutes to do some deep breathing exercises.
Strategy #7: Plan ahead
Keeping foods on hand can be helpful if a flare-up of symptoms come on quickly. Here are some suggestions for your freezer or pantry for premade meals or meal components.
- Pre-cooked rice (shelf-stable or frozen)
- Soups, stews, or broth (shelf-stable or homemade and frozen)
- Oatmeal (dry or ready-to-eat frozen)
- Frozen tolerated veggies (green beans, carrots, zucchini)
- Frozen cooked chicken or rotisserie chicken
- Shelf-stable or refrigerated tofu
- Smooth nut or seed butters (peanut, almond, sunflower, etc.)
If you really struggle to eat when you are in a flare, keep your favorite nutritional shake on hand. Good options include Kate Farms or Orgain.
Meal and snack ideas
Here are some go-to meal and snack ideas that take very little energy to prepare, are nutrient rich, and are generally easy to digest.
- “Fried” rice made with pre-made white rice, frozen veggies (carrots, zucchini), and scrambled eggs, pre-made chicken, or firm tofu. Flavor as desired with sesame oil, dried ginger, and/or soy sauce.
- Sourdough toast with avocado and eggs
- Congee with added chicken, tofu, or eggs
- Butternut squash soup (pre-made frozen or boxed) with protein of choice
- Microwave baked potato or sweet potato (insides only) with rotisserie chicken and soft-cooked green beans
- Banana and smooth peanut butter
- Lactose-free cottage cheese and cantaloupe
- Greek yogurt with defrosted frozen blueberries
- Applesauce and a cheddar cheese stick
Think about how you eat on your typical day. What changes can you make during a flare to help with symptoms? What foods can you keep on hand for when you do have a flare?