Q: I was recently diagnosed with a mild case of Crohn's ileitis. I was wondering what diet and lifestyle changes I should make to accommodate to my disease?
A: 1) Eat a cleaner diet. Try to choose whole foods and whole ingredients. Reduce/avoid processed, packaged, artificial, dyed, and fast food. This naturally forces you to cook a little more and have a better general awareness of food. I usually do suggest to try and choose local/organic options, especially when it comes to animal products and use the Dirty Dozen/ Clean 15 for all produce, which will help reduce pesticide exposure.
2) Avoid foods that exacerbate symptoms. It can help to keep a food/symptom diary. Some common triggers are:
a. Alcohol and/ or caffeine (stimulants)
b. Dairy products, usually high in lactose such as milk, ice-cream, creamy sauces
c. Fried or high-fat foods, such as fried foods, red meats, processed meats, pastries
d. Large quantities of roughage, such as salads, beans, whole nuts/seeds. Too much fiber, especially during a flare, usually exacerbates symptoms.
e. Refined sugars and flours. Some patients are sensitive to high amounts of gluten, such as bagels, pastas, cookies, etc
f. Additives and preservatives such as MSG, antibiotics, emulsifiers, artificial sweeteners, and coloring agents
3) Instead of altogether avoiding foods, try to change the quality and/or texture of the food. For instance, patients during a flare may not be able to have a salad, but you may be able to include a little spinach in a smoothie, add yam and squash to a chicken soup, or have soft/skinless fruit such as bananas, cantaloupe, or papaya as a snack. Cooked, blended, stewed, ground, and pureed food are can be easier to digest.
4) Focus on how you eat as much as what you eat. Chewing your food, slowing down, eating mindfully, and avoiding overeating are as important. This aids the digestive process and essentially creates a better relationship with food.
5) Find something that helps you relax and find your happy place, it can be meeting with a friend, finding a support group, meditation or Yoga. Stress mgt is a key part of your overall healing.
Alanna Cabrero, MS, RDN, CDN
Clinical Dietitian at NYU Langone and Private Practice