Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a catch-all term that covers three main conditions: Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome. These three conditions are caused by inflammation in the intestine, either centered in the large intestine, as is the case of ulcerative colitis, or in many areas along the digestive tract, as with Crohn’s disease. This inflammation causes symptoms, such as stomach problems, that are painful and cause physical discomfort and embarrassment.
Important facts about inflammatory bowel disease include:
- Inflammatory bowel disease has a genetic component, but it is not 100% hereditary. It can be triggered by the environment, another illness (such as an autoimmune disorder), or a combination of all three
- Symptoms can include stomach pain and bloating, an uncontrollable urge to move the bowels, constipation, nausea/vomiting, and fatigue
- Symptoms may disappear for a period of remission and then flare up
- There is no cure for this disease
While there is no cure for IBD, the first step for managing symptoms is to change the diet. Because symptoms for each condition can vary widely, there are a number of foods that can cause stomach problems, including pain, during a flare-up. Here are eight foods to avoid and five foods to incorporate into your diet for a healthy gut.
Many people suffer from minor lactose intolerance without even knowing it. Lactose is a type of sugar that can be difficult to digest, causing gas, pain, and bloating. Milk and milk products like cheese and ice cream are among the biggest culprits of foods that can cause stomach problems even for people without IBD.
2. Spicy foods
While pain patients may get great benefit from spicy foods, when stomach issues are present, a bland diet is the best choice. Spice tends to stimulate digestion, not what you want when the digestion is overly active.
3. Insoluble fiber
If your IBD symptoms include diarrhea, insoluble fiber isn’t doing you any favors. This type of fiber is not readily absorbed by the stomach and thus passes very quickly through, the opposite of what is needed. Zucchini, broccoli, cabbage, leafy greens, grapes, and root vegetables are some of the foods that can cause stomach problems for those with irritable bowel syndrome.
4. High acid foods
High acid foods such as citrus and tomatoes can irritate an already-inflamed stomach and should be avoided when having stomach problems. Coffee and carbonated beverages can also be highly irritating.
5. High- fat foods
Excess fat is no good at any time, but it is one of the key foods that can cause many different types of stomach problems. Fat not only stimulates the stomach but can also slow it down, causing either diarrhea or constipation.
Fried foods fall into the category of foods that can cause stomach problems, too, either moving too quickly through the digestive tract or lingering too long, depending on the type of stomach issue.
6. Processed foods
Processed foods often contain artificial colors and preservatives, which may cause a negative reaction in the stomach. In addition, the lack of fiber combined with the presence of lactose and other allergy triggers can cause constipation and bloating.
Processed foods include things like boxed mixes, crackers, and many snack foods, all of which can increase stomach discomfort.
7. Artificial sweetener
Artificial sweeteners, even those that claim to be “natural” like stevia, can actually worsen nausea and stomach discomfort. Many people have difficulty digesting artificial sweeteners in general, but any amount during a bout of stomach upset can make the problem worse.
8. Caffeine and alcohol
It may seem like a given that these two drinks can cause stomach upset, but many people suffering from IBD are reluctant to give up their morning coffee or evening cocktail. Still, alcohol and caffeine can be severely irritating to the stomach. Both are also dehydrating, with an excess of either caffeine or alcohol increasing the acidity of the stomach and thus increasing the chance for nausea.
For many, certain foods can offer comfort during a flare-up of any stomach condition. They include:
- Fermented foods: Fermented foods like sauerkraut, yogurt, and kefir help your gut recolonize itself with healthy microbes. Many conditions of the body can be associated with an imbalance of bacteria in the gut. Fermented foods can help strengthen the 100 trillion microbes in your stomach.
- Soluble fiber: Soluble fiber – the kind found in fruits and vegetables like oranges, strawberries, blueberries, cucumbers, and carrots – can help slow digestion down, alleviating diarrhea. Soluble fiber attracts water in the digestive system and helps the body to absorb nutrients better.
- BRAT diet: When experiencing a bout of stomach upset, whether it is accompanied by diarrhea, constipation, nausea, or a combination of the three, the BRAT diet is the best way to settle your stomach. BRAT is an acronym that stands for “bananas, rice, applesauce, toast.” These mild foods can help ease nausea without too much of a digestive burden.
- Papaya: Papaya has special digestive enzymes, papain and chymopapain, that help soothe the stomach and break down protein. Papaya can be taken after every meal to ease constipation, help with stomach pain, and calm a bout of nausea.
- Ginger: Ginger is a research-proven stomach soother, especially for pain, nausea, and indigestion. This can be taken fresh in a tea or as a supplemental capsule, starting with one gram every four hours as needed, with a limit of four grams per day.
If you or a loved one has inflammatory bowel disease, what changes have you made in your diet to avoid foods that can cause stomach problems?