This post is part of the IBD Index. I plan to flesh out the topic of nutrition for IBD (arguably the only topic I’m technically qualified to speak on, on the basis of formal education) in far greater detail as soon as I’m able, but for now, this page will serve as a placeholder and a gentle reminder that ensuring adequate nutrition is of the utmost importance when dealing with chronic illness.
This isn’t “diets for IBD.” IBD diets are, more often than not, more about what you don’t eat than what you do. This page is about nutrition: making sure your body has all the nutrients – both macro and micro – that it needs in order to function, grow, and repair. This is, after all, the entire reason we eat food to begin with, but that fact is often forgotten amidst frantic attempts to quell symptoms by eliminating foods.
Although medical professionals aren’t renowned for their nutritional expertise, any doctor or other healthcare practitioner should at least be able to identify any glaring deficiencies – particularly vitamin D, vitamin B12, and iron, to name the three most commonly and easily tested for in the blood.
In the future, I plan to delve deeply into the topics of vitamin D, iron, and omega-3 supplementation in the context of IBD (and chronic illness more generally), as these three nutrients in particular have become embroiled in controversy.
For now, I will leave this page with some common sense nutritional guidance. And believe me when I tell you that I know how infuriating it is to listen to someone – healthcare professionals, nutritionists, or otherwise – give hackneyed advice to “eat a balanced diet” and “everything in moderation” and “don’t cut out food groups.” Those phrases would’ve sent me straight into a conniption during my sickest days. “It’s not like I want to have such a limited diet!” I would’ve yelled in exasperation. “But in case you hadn’t noticed, I’m really sick, and you aren’t offering me any better options, so I’m doing the only thing I know how!”
My goal with the IBD Index is to offer you better options. So that even if you do restrict your diet for a time to get symptoms under control, it won’t be because you feel limited and boxed in, and you’ll have a plan for how to emerge on the other side with an ability to eat a variety of foods again. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my own experience, it’s that adopting a mindset of resignation to a life of restriction is not a recipe for joy or success.
All that said, here’s my common sense nutritional guidance, to be fleshed out at a later date.
Common Sense Nutritional Guidance
Regardless of whether you’re on a particular therapeutic IBD diet or not, eat with an eye towards micronutrient density – think foods like organ meats (especially liver), shellfish, egg yolks, and dark fruits and vegetables. Other meats and seafood, grass-fed dairy, legumes, nuts, and other fruits and vegetables are also generally nutrient-dense.
If you’ve cut a major food group out of your diet for therapeutic purposes, pay special attention to what nutrients you might be missing out on, and be strategic with the rest of your diet to ensure you don’t develop a deficiency.
Similarly, if you’ve cut a macronutrient category out of your diet for therapeutic purposes (think keto/carnivore, SCD, or other low-carb diets; very low fat diets; or vegan/raw vegan diets that are often low in protein), pay attention to how you feel. Most people are ultimately healthiest on a balance of macronutrients, and if a restricted diet is undertaken temporarily for therapeutic purposes, you’ll want to ensure you don’t accidentally cause yourself additional harm in the process. If you start to notice signs of stress that you didn’t have before starting the diet (such as cold hands and feet, hair falling out, insomnia, skin issues, or problems with blood sugar regulation), I’d strongly encourage you to rethink your strategy.
Food is Best!
It can be easy to get in the habit of filling nutritional needs with vitamins and other supplements, but our bodies are used to getting nutrients from food – remember that, and whenever possible, just eat the food.