If you suffer from a condition that causes intestinal inflammation and gastrointestinal distress, you know that the symptoms are no fun at all. It feels nearly impossible to figure out what to eat to help soothe your angry digestive system. What can you eat when your intestines are inflamed? On top of that, what can you eat in between episodes to help decrease the likelihood of experiencing another flare-up? In this article, we answer all of your questions about intestinal inflammation and related conditions and give you options for what to eat both during and between flare-ups.
What Causes Intestinal Inflammation?
Inflammation and irritation of the digestive tract is a common characteristic of many different conditions such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Any of these digestive disorders can be caused by a multitude of factors. These disorders may have a genetic component, meaning that if you have a parent with an inflammatory digestive condition you have a genetic propensity for developing the disorder, you will be more likely to have an intestinal issue. You may also be more likely to develop an inflammatory intestinal disorder if you eat an unhealthy or unbalanced diet over a long period of time.
Symptoms of Inflammation in the Digestive System
If you have digestive inflammation, small intestine problems, large intestine problems, or a related condition, you will likely experience the following symptoms and issues:
- Bloating: bloating is a common symptom that is associated with gastrointestinal disorders and intestinal inflammation. Essentially, bloating signifies that your gastrointestinal tract is not processing food as it should.
- Cramping: Abdominal pain is a very common symptom across numerous gastrointestinal disorders. If the digestive tract is not functioning properly, it’s common that it will react with cramping and unpleasant muscle contractions.
- Weight loss: Digestive inflammation is often accompanied by malabsorption diseases, simply meaning that the body is having a difficult time absorbing nutrients from the foods you eat. In particular, the intestines are responsible for absorbing energy from the macronutrients we consume. If the digestive system is having an inflammatory reaction and is unable to absorb calories, then you may notice that you begin to unintentionally lose weight.
- Food sensitivities: You may notice that certain foods will trigger an episode of gastrointestinal discomfort. Especially if you have a food-specific condition, such as celiac disease, you will notice a correlation between the foods you eat and the symptoms you experience. For example, if you have celiac disease, you will notice that whenever you consume gluten, you will feel exhausted and sluggish, while also experiencing gastrointestinal pain, bloating, and diarrhea.
What to Do If You Have Symptoms of a Digestive Disorder
If you have symptoms of a digestive disorder, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your physician. After assessing your symptoms, your doctor will likely refer you to a gastroenterologist who can examine you more closely and make an exact diagnosis. When you visit a gastroenterologist, he or she may perform tests such as an endoscopy or colonoscopy to evaluate the condition of your digestive system and to assess what may be causing your symptoms. Blood tests and fecal samples may also be used to determine your diagnosis. After you are diagnosed, your doctor will provide you with your health information and recommend a treatment plan that may include medications like steroids, immunosuppressants, and others to help manage your symptoms.
Your physician may also refer you to a dietitian to create a tailored diet plan that works for your specific needs. In addition to a medical treatment plan, there are many steps you can take at home to help manage your digestive condition. Keep reading to find out more.
What to Eat During an Episode of Intestinal Inflammation
Generally, when you have issues with intestinal inflammation, your diet will vary depending on whether you are currently experiencing a flare-up, or if you are between flare-ups. Here we created two lists to help you manage your digestive inflammation both during an episode and between episodes.
When you are experiencing an episode of intestinal inflammation, eating simple foods is the name of the game. Let’s go through some of the best foods to eat when you are having a flare-up of intestinal inflammation.
1. Breakfast Porridge
Is oatmeal good for colitis and other inflammatory conditions? Yes, oatmeal is a great option for colitis and other conditions that cause intestinal inflammation. Other breakfast porridges are also great options for mitigating symptoms of intestinal inflammation. In addition to oatmeal, try having grits, cream of wheat, and cream of buckwheat on hand to prepare when needed. When choosing oatmeal and other breakfast porridges to eat during your flare-up, make sure that they are not whole grain and contain as little fiber as possible! Keep in mind that during a flare-up is the only time that processed, white grains are recommended, simply because they are much easier to digest. Additionally, if you have a gluten sensitivity or have celiac disease, take caution that the breakfast porridges you choose are gluten-free.
Can you eat potatoes with colitis and other inflammatory intestinal conditions? Absolutely! Potatoes are an excellent food to eat and you are experiencing a flare-up of colitis or other forms of intestinal inflammation. However, make sure that you stick to white potatoes that have been boiled and have had this skin removed. You can then prepare the potatoes by gently mashing them and adding a little bit of salt and pepper. It’s best to check the potatoes by boiling them, rather than frying them or baking them because boiling only involves water. Other cooking methods often use oil, which can further irritate the digestive tract. The white interior of potatoes is very easy to digest and contains relatively little fiber, helping to soothe the intestines and reduce episodes of diarrhea.
3. White Rice
White rice is another simple carbohydrate that is easy to digest and helps soothe episodes of intestinal inflammation. Make sure that the rice is well cooked, and aim to eat it plain. Because white rice has been processed and doesn’t contain the outer hull, it tends to be much lower in protein and fiber, making it much easier to digest.
4. Cooked, Skinless Vegetables
Well-cooked vegetables can provide nutrients while avoiding irritation in the digestive tract. If you are preparing the vegetables at home, try boiling them and removing the skins. Great veggie options to enjoy cooked and skinless include sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, cauliflower, green beans, zucchini.
Foods to Avoid During a Flare-Up
Avoiding certain foods can help your body take care of the inflammation and soothe your symptoms during an exacerbation.
1. High-Fat Foods
Foods that are high in fat can be particularly challenging to digest, especially if you’re experiencing a flare-up of a digestive condition. Although fat is a vital nutrient and there are healthy kinds of fat, it is best that during a flare-up you keep fat to a minimum. It is most important to avoid saturated fat and trans fat, which are found in fried foods, restaurant foods, and processed food items such as frozen meals and prepared baked goods. Saturated fat and trans fat, in addition to being difficult to digest, also contribute to insulin resistance, diabetes, fatty liver disease, high cholesterol, and cardiovascular disease.
2. Fried Foods
Fried foods fall under the umbrella of high-fat Foods. However, it is extremely important to avoid fried foods, especially if you are experiencing a clear-up of digestive inflammation. Eating fried foods when you have intestinal inflammation will simply worsen cramping, malabsorption, and diarrhea. To stay away from fried foods, steer clear of food items like french fries, onion rings, mozzarella sticks, fried fish, and fried chicken.
Preservatives are chemicals found in food that help keep food fresh on the shelf for longer. However, they can be very irritating to the digestive tract and worsen diarrhea, abdominal pain, and cramping. Avoid foods that contain preservatives like nitrites, sulfites, and sodium benzoate. Before buying a food product, make sure to check the food label to ensure that the product doesn’t contain any of these irritating compounds.
4. Dairy Products
Though not everyone will need to avoid dairy products during a flare-up, it’s good to at least be cautious of them. Dairy products may be difficult to digest for some, especially if you are lactose intolerant. This means that your body is unable to break down lactose, which is a specific sugar that is found in milk. Lactose intolerance combined with an inflammatory intestinal condition can worsen symptoms.
If you’re not particularly sensitive to dairy foods, it’s a good idea to pick high-quality dairy foods that are low in saturated fats, in order to minimize irritation to the digestive system.
5. Raw Fruits and Vegetables
Raw fruits and vegetables are healthy under nearly all other circumstances, they can cause a great deal of irritation and gastrointestinal distress during a flare-up. The flash of raw fruits and vegetables as well as the skin is packed with insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber is very fibrous and does not dissolve in the digestive tract. This means that is left basically intact as it passes through the digestive system. Though insoluble fiber is healthy under other circumstances, it can be very irritating if you are experiencing intestinal inflammation. To cut down on your consumption of raw fruits and vegetables during an active episode, stay away from foods like apples, broccoli, cucumber, and tomatoes.
6. Whole Grains
Much like raw fruits and veggies, whole grains can be equally irritating to the digestive systems and they are packed with lots of fiber. Although high-fiber food is normally extremely healthy for the digestive system, during an active flare-up too much fiber can irritate and worsen abdominal cramping and diarrhea. When in the middle of an episode, stay away from foods like whole-grain bread, brown rice, quinoa, and millet. Instead, stick to low-fiber foods like crackers.
7. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds go together with whole grains and raw fruits and veggies. Nuts and seeds can sometimes have a tough outer coating that’s filled with fiber and protein, and breaking down these compounds can be very challenging for an inflamed digestive system. On top of that, nuts and seeds are usually packed with fats. go the fat found in nuts and seeds is usually very healthy, your digestive system may have trouble breaking down these fats during an episode. When you are in an active flare-up, avoid foods like pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cashews, almonds, peanuts, and walnuts.
Other Tips for Managing a Flare-Up
Though diet is a big part of managing episodes, there are other steps you can take to manage your symptoms.
1. Eat Small Portions
When you are experiencing a flare-up, eating smaller portions of food than usual will be helpful for managing an episode of intestinal inflammation. Eating too much food at once can overwhelm the stomach and intestines, which can cause food to pass through the digestive system largely undigested. This can be very irritating for IBD patients and others with Crohn’s disease, IBS, and celiac disease.
2. Eat Slowly
Eating slowly and chewing thoroughly and deliberately is important for the health of the digestive system. Many people don’t realize that chewing food is actually a very important part of the digestive process and is called mechanical digestion. Chewing your food before swallowing allows for the food to be physically broken down into smaller pieces before it enters the stomach and small intestines for chemical digestion. The more thoroughly you chew your food, the easier it will be for your stomach and small intestines to chemically digest it. Smaller particles mean there is more surface area for stomach acids and intestinal enzymes to break down the particles further.
3. Drink Smoothies with Essential Amino Acid Supplements
Smoothies are an effective way to get all of the nutrients that you need, without requiring too much from your digestive system. If you are having trouble eating meals, a high-calorie shake may be just what you need to make sure you are getting the energy and nutrients that you need.
If you are experiencing gastrointestinal distress, you may also find that it’s difficult to consume enough protein during a flare-up. Protein is taxing on the digestive system to process since whole protein particles must be broken down into individual amino acids to be utilized and shuttled throughout the body. To eliminate the digestion difficulty, try adding a high-quality essential amino acid supplement to your smoothies to enhance the nutritional value of the smoothies and to make up for any shortage of protein in your diet.
4. Add a Probiotic to Your Diet
Though it’s not recommended to take a bunch of supplements during a flare-up since they may be irritating to your stomach, adding a probiotic supplement is likely to help with your symptoms. A probiotic supplement contains a variety of good bacteria that can help reduce inflammation in your intestines and aid with the breakdown of food. A chewable supplement might be the best idea when you are in the middle of a flare-up, simply because it allows for mechanical digestion to break down the supplement, so you don’t need to rely on your stomach and intestines to break down any capsules or coatings.
Foods to Eat Between Flare-Ups
In between episodes, the key is choosing food that will decrease the probability of experiencing another flare-up and generally limit the frequency of flare-ups.
1. Lean Meats
Lean meats are very important to incorporate into your diet. Lean meats are packed with essential amino acids that are vital for nearly all biological mechanisms. Essential amino acids help fortify the immune system, maintain muscle mass, and produce hormones and neurotransmitters. Great options for lean meat to incorporate into your diet regularly include chicken breast and turkey breast. Make sure to choose organic meat that is free of added hormones and antibiotics, when possible. It is also best to choose meats that are free of preservatives and are unprocessed.
2. Fatty Fish
Fatty fish is one of the best sources of protein. Fatty fish contains optimal ratios of essential amino acids, so it is packed with bioavailable protein that can be used to fortify the immune system and support other biological functions. Most importantly, fatty fish is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which exhibit potent anti-inflammatory activity. Individuals with IBD and ulcerative colitis are particularly responsive to omega-3 fatty acids since these conditions tend to have a significant inflammatory component. Healthy fatty fish to incorporate into your diet include salmon, mackerel, sardines, and tuna. Mackerel is also very high in vitamin D, which is also a strong anti-inflammatory vitamin. Consuming adequate amounts of vitamin D is important for individuals with inflammatory digestive issues since vitamin D is responsible for modulating the immune response and reducing inflammation.
3. Fruits and Veggies
Eating an abundance of fruits and vegetables is extremely important when you are in between flare-ups. Fruits and vegetables are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Getting lots of antioxidants in your diet also helps to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress and the digestive tract. Antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables, such as polyphenols and carotenoids, an important part of repairing cellular damage inflicted by inflammation.
Moreover, there’s and vegetables are packed with fiber that has an anti-inflammatory impact on the digestive system. When you eat foods that are rich in fiber, good bacteria in the digestive system feed on this fiber. An important metabolic by-product results and enters the bloodstream, and is responsible for reducing inflammation not only in the digestive tract but also throughout the body. In between episodes, aim to incorporate fresh fruits and veggies into your diet on a daily basis. Good examples of fresh produce include spinach, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, apple, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and cherries.
4. Whole Grains
Whole grains are excellent foods to consume in between episodes. Whole grains are packed with nutrients like vitamins, minerals, protein, and antioxidants. Eating plenty of whole grains can help fight against irritation in the digestive tract by providing tons of fiber and anti-inflammatory compounds. To incorporate lots of whole grains into your diet, eat an abundance of quinoa, brown rice, whole-grain bread, and whole-grain pasta.
Foods to Avoid Between Flare-Ups
What foods trigger colitis? In between flare-ups, it’s best to avoid food that may trigger inflammation and lead to an episode.
1. Dairy Products
As mentioned above, many people with inflammatory intestinal issues are sensitive to compounds in dairy products.
In addition to the dairy products themselves, oftentimes the other ingredients included in dairy products can be irritating to the digestive system. For example, yogurt, cheese, and other foods contain saturated fat, added sugars, and preservatives.
If you like to turn to dairy products in your diet as a primary source of protein, that works as long as you know that your body is not sensitive to the compounds in dairy. However, if you find that dairy tends to trigger an inflammatory response in your digestive system, choose other products to serve as your primary source of protein. Lean meats and fatty fish are excellent protein sources. If you follow a plant-based diet, consume a variety of plant-based proteins. Finally, add an essential amino acid supplement to your diet to make up for any lack of protein in your diet or issues with absorption.
Gluten is a common trigger of intestinal inflammation, especially for individuals who have a gluten sensitivity or suffer from celiac disease, which is complete gluten intolerance. In these cases, avoiding gluten will help avoid episodes of intestinal inflammation. To reduce the amount of gluten in your diet, stay away from wheat bread and flour, as well as foods prepared with these items. It’s important to know that gluten is also hiding in a variety of food products that are not bread or baked goods. Always check the ingredients label for gluten, to make sure that you’re truly getting a gluten-free item.
3. Spicy Foods
Spicy foods tend to be a major trigger of intestinal inflammation for individuals with inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and ulcerative colitis. For many individuals with these kinds of inflammatory digestive issues, spicy foods tend to trigger a histamine reaction that can in turn set off an episode. Stay away from spicy food like chilis, jalapenos, and heavily spiced dishes.
4. Added Sugars and Simple Carbs
Added sugars and simple carbs, though they may be helpful to eat during flare-ups, are generally inflammatory foods. Eating added sugars and simple carbs on a regular basis can contribute to inflammation in the digestive tract as well as systemically.
Moreover, eating an abundance of added sugars and processed carbs spikes your blood sugar, and also increases the risk of developing insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and fatty liver disease. Steer clear of foods that contain added sugars, like sugary breakfast cereals, granola bars, candy, cookies, baked goods, and soda. To stay away from simple carbs, avoid many of the same foods like white rice, white bread, crackers, and white pasta.
5. Saturated and Trans Fats
As mentioned above, saturated and trans fats are challenging to digest and should be avoided during flare-ups. However, they should also be avoided in between flare-ups to minimize inflammation. Both in between and during inflammatory episodes, it’s helpful to avoid saturated and trans fat. To stay away from these kinds of fat, avoid fatty dairy products, fatty cuts of meat, baked goods, ice cream, and other sweets. Instead, stick to unprocessed foods and lean proteins.
Conclusion: What Can You Eat When Your Intestines Are Inflamed?
Digestive issues such as inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and ulcerative colitis can be extremely bothersome and interfere with everyday life. However, a healthy diet can make a significant difference when it comes to attenuating your symptoms. The foods you eat both during and between flare-ups help relieve your symptoms and decrease the frequency of flare-ups.