What to eat during an IBD flare

When you have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), your diet can play a role in your management plan. And the foods you eat—or avoid—may change depending on whether you’re in remission or in a flare. You should be working with your care team to determine whether or not you are in a flare of your IBD.

An exact diet for IBD flares doesn’t exist, and what’s well tolerated during a flare can vary from person to person. However, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind when planning a flare-friendly diet.

“When you’re in a flare, you want to avoid irritating your gut lining,” 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.

Ready to plan out a flare-friendly diet for IBD? Here are a few tips.

Avoid trigger foods

For starters, you’ll want to swap foods that are likely to trigger your symptoms with foods that are easier on your digestive system.

“It’s important to avoid rough textures—like popcorn, corn, nuts, and seeds, as well as any raw vegetables or fruits that have a thick skin,” explains Manning. These foods are high in insoluble fiber, making them harder to digest.

Other foods to consider minimizing during a flare include those with lactose, like milk and cheese, those containing artificial sweeteners, like candy or ice cream, high-fat foods, like butter or fried foods, spicy foods, alcohol, and caffeine. Remember that these are general guidelines and your individual condition may differ and so dietary changes should be discussed with your care team.

Eat a gentle diet

Instead, you’ll want to focus on a diet full of easy-to-digest, well-tolerated foods, such as:

  • Refined grains, like white bread, pasta, and rice
  • Low-fiber fruits, like bananas, cantaloupe, and melon
  • Cooked, skinless, non-cruciferous vegetables, like squash, potatoes, and green beans
  • Protein, like fish, white meat chicken, eggs, and tofu

“If you have foods that are more bland, you’re less likely to exacerbate your symptoms,” explains Manning.

It is important to note that these recommendations are only for when you are in a flare and that your regular, healthy diet should be resumed once you are feeling better and back in remission.

Think before you cook

It’s also important to consider how you flavor and prepare your food during a flare. Consider fresh or dried herbs and spices in lieu of higher fat condiments or spicy items. “If you stick to baked, broiled, and grilled types of cooking methods, that’s also going to be easier to digest. And avoid dishes that have heavy sauces on them,” explains Manning.

Change how you eat

Eating smaller, more frequent meals is often recommended for people who have IBD. “It can be very individual, but generally speaking, when there is less for your body to process, there may be better tolerance toward the food,” says Manning, who recommends eating six times each day:

  • Breakfast
  • Snack
  • Lunch
  • Snack
  • Dinner
  • Snack

Drink water

When you’re experiencing an IBD flare, you’re at risk of becoming dehydrated, so it’s important to drink lots of water. Aim to get at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day. You know you’re well-hydrated by checking the color of your urine—it should be light yellow. If it’s very dark or bright yellow, that may be a sign you need to drink more water.

Consider caloric intake

Some people with IBD have increased caloric requirements. During a flare, symptoms like nausea can reduce your appetite, and when you’re dealing with diarrhea, you may shy away from eating in order to make it stop. However, avoiding food altogether increases your risk of malnutrition—and if your body isn’t getting the nutrients it needs to function, it can be harder to heal. Talk to your doctor about your ideal caloric intake, both during remission and in a flare. If necessary, your doctor or dietitian can help you find a nutrition supplement that can help you to meet your needs if you are struggling to eat enough.

Work with a registered dietitian

“Any person that has IBD should seek nutrition counseling at the beginning of their diagnosis,” says Manning. “You need to have the tools in place and tips to manage whatever comes your way in the beginning, instead of waiting for a flare to occur.” A registered dietitian can help to make sure you are getting the right amount of calories and help you put together a nutrition plan unique to your needs.

Medically reviewed by Matthew Hamilton, MD

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