Medically reviewed by Shannon Chang, MD
When you have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), you may experience periods of remission, where you have little to no symptoms, and periods of active disease, where symptoms resurface. These periods of active disease are also known as flares.
During an IBD flare, one of the most important things you can do is work with your doctor to get treated and regain control of your symptoms. Part of that equation is knowing how to change your diet to help alleviate symptoms, prevent nutritional deficiencies, and promote healing.
“It’s important to be able to tolerate the foods you eat during a flare so that you can absorb the nutrients without exacerbating your symptoms,” explains Laura Manning, MPH, RD, CDN, Clinical Nutrition Coordinator at the Susan and Leonard Feinstein IBD Clinical Center at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. This often means leaning toward a more bland diet.
Next time IBD symptoms strike, try incorporating these flare-friendly foods and beverages into your diet to help you find relief.
“Having proper hydration is critical for someone that’s having multiple bowel movements and losing fluids,” explains Manning, as you may be at an increased risk of becoming dehydrated. Sports drinks may contain too much sugar, which can actually make symptoms like diarrhea worse. Sticking to water is usually your best bet. “Or try the World Health Organization’s rehydration solution,” recommends Manning.
2. Lean protein.
Protein is an essential nutrient to focus on during a flare. “I find fish and eggs are usually the easiest protein sources to digest,” explains Manning. Other options include chicken or other white meat poultry, and lean cuts of pork. “I tell people to hold off on red meat until they can better tolerate it,” adds Manning.
If you don’t eat meat, there are alternative ways to add protein to your diet. “For vegetarians, I usually recommend well-cooked blended beans, tofu, or smooth nut butters,” says Manning.
3. Refined grains.
Hold off on whole grains. “In an active flare, you want to avoid the abrasiveness of a whole grain,” explains Manning. Instead, choose options that contain refined grains, like white rice or pasta, potatoes, and oatmeal, as they’re easier to digest.
4. Non-cruciferous vegetables.
“Any kind of root vegetables, like carrots, parsnips, winter squash, turnips—anything you can pull out of the ground—are the easiest to tolerate during a flare,” says Manning. And be sure to peel and cook them until they’re nice and soft. “They should be fork-tender,” adds Manning.
The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation recommends steaming vegetables, which helps preserve their nutritional value.
“If you have trouble tolerating well-cooked vegetables, another option is to blend them into a soup,” says Manning.
Pro tip: You can also use vegetable stock to cook easy-to-digest grains like white rice or pasta when you’re in a flare.
5. Low-fiber fruits.
Seedless, skinless, low-fiber fruits, like bananas, cantaloupe, or honeydew melon, are good fruits to eat during a flare. Cooked fruits—even applesauce—are other options to try.
“If those are well-tolerated, you can start to incorporate things like peeled peaches and peeled apples,” adds Manning.
If you need help incorporating these types of fruits into your diet during a flare, try making a fruit smoothie, suggests Manning.
Aim for balanced meals
Once you have a sense of which foods you can tolerate during a flare, it’s important to incorporate all food groups to achieve a well-balanced diet.
“Meals should have a protein source, a starchy carbohydrate, a peeled and well-cooked vegetable, and then finish with peeled fruit,” says Manning. “So, for example, an easy-to-digest meal would be baked flounder with white rice, well-cooked carrots, and honeydew melon.”
Medical reviewer and Oshi physician-partner Shannon Chang, MD is a gastroenterologist specializing in IBD at NYU Langone Health’s Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center in New York City. Her clinical interests include J-pouches, pregnancy in IBD, and in-patient IBD management. Dr. Chang is an Assistant Professor of Medicine, as well as the Associate Program Director for the Gastroenterology Fellowship. She completed her internal medicine residency at Mount Sinai Hospital and her gastroenterology fellowship at NYU.
Oshi is a tracking tool and content resource. It does not render medical advice or services, and it is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. You should always review this information with your healthcare professionals.