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You’ve probably heard conflicting messages about whether dietary fiber is good or bad for your Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. The truth is that dietary fiber is an important component to a well-rounded anti-inflammatory diet and is associated with improved outcomes in patients with IBD.
In this post, we unpack what the research says about the importance of dietary fiber for people with Crohn’s and colitis and share some tips to improve tolerance to these foods if they cause symptoms for you.
What is dietary fiber?
Dietary fiber, also known as roughage, is a part of plant-based foods that cannot be completely broken down by your digestive system. This fiber passes through your stomach and intestines relatively intact and adds bulk to your stool before exiting your body. Dietary fiber is commonly found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
Researchers believe that consumption of dietary fiber may promote the growth of good gut bacteria while diets low in dietary fiber may contribute to the growth of bad gut bacteria which may contribute to inflammation.
Is dietary fiber good for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis?
Current dietary guidelines for IBD recommend that people with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis consume at least the same, if not more, dietary fiber than the general population (about 14 grams of fiber per 1000 calories consumed).
In fact, according to a recent study, people with Crohn’s disease who consumed more high fiber foods were 40% less likely to flare than those who avoided high fiber foods. Another study found that J-pouch patients who consumed more fruit in their diet were less likely to develop pouchitis than those who consumed less fruit.
But what should you do if certain fiber-containing foods trigger your symptoms?
Tips to improve tolerance to dietary fiber
Dietary fiber is considered anti-inflammatory, but many people with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis still experience symptoms when consuming certain high-fiber foods.
When we talk about symptoms and inflammation, it’s important to remember that symptoms are poorly correlated with inflammation. It’s possible to experience symptoms without inflammation and to have inflammation without experiencing symptoms.
Because dietary fiber is anti-inflammatory and consumption is recommended for people with IBD, we like to focus on helping people improve their tolerance to fiber so that they can meet their daily intake requirements without causing symptoms.
Here are 3 ways to improve your tolerance to fiber:
1. Adjust the type of fiber
Choose foods higher in soluble fiber instead of foods high in insoluble fiber. A good rule of thumb is that if the food would dissolve in water relatively easily, it’s probably higher in soluble fiber. Some examples of foods rich in soluble fiber include raspberries, zucchini, squash, and bananas.
2. Adjust the texture of fiber
The texture of a food containing fiber also greatly impacts tolerance. Choose soft and smooth fibrous foods such as smooth nut butters instead of raw nuts, or a smoothie instead of a salad. Blending, cooking, or pureeing fibrous foods may also help improve tolerance while still allowing you to consume and enjoy the food.
3. Adjust the amount of fiber
If you’re not consuming a lot of fiber right now, consider slowly adding fiber to your diet over time instead of adding in a lot all at once. Adding too much fiber at once can lead to an increase in symptoms.
What to do if you have stricturing Crohn’s disease
If you have stricturing Crohn’s disease, you should always talk to your IBD care team (your gastroenterologist and IBD registered dietitian) before increasing your fiber intake to learn how much fiber is appropriate for you.
How to get support with your diet
If you’re not currently consuming a lot of fiber in your diet or you’re not sure how to reintroduce certain foods without triggering symptoms, working with an IBD registered dietitian can help.
Our team of IBD-focused registered dietitians are specialists in helping people with Crohn’s and colitis expand their diets without triggering symptoms. Reach out to request a free consultation to learn if our one-on-one nutrition counseling program is right for you.
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