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Top 12 Crohn's/Colitis Trigger Foods (Based On 9 Research Studies)

Written by
Brittany Rogers, MS RDN
September 7, 2022

Disclaimer: The information provided is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnose, or treat medical diseases. It is strictly for informational purposes. Prior to undertaking any change in treatment or diet seek the advice of your physician. This blog post does not replace individualized medical nutrition therapy or medical advice. 

While there’s not a single diet that works for everyone with IBD, there are definitely certain foods that trigger symptoms more commonly than others.

In this post, I wanted to share a summary of 9 research studies from around the world that looked at patient-reported trigger foods in IBD and share those that are most commonly reported.

I also wanted to answer some common questions I receive about trigger foods so you can put these studies in context. Let’s dive in.

First, what is a trigger food?

A trigger food is any food that causes symptoms such as gas, bloating, cramping, pain, or diarrhea. Every person is different and may have different trigger foods that cause different symptoms. 

Are trigger foods inflammatory?

Trigger foods may be inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. It is possible for you to experience symptoms without having active inflammation. Inflammatory foods are foods which when consumed frequently over time increase the risk for flares. Inflammatory foods may or may not trigger symptoms. 

How do people identify their trigger foods?

In my experience, a lot of people with inflammatory bowel disease are able to accurately locate some of their trigger foods (which may include some of the ones in this blog post) but usually are not able to locate all of their trigger foods. That’s probably because trigger foods can be time and/or dose dependent. 

You may experience symptoms only after eating a certain amount of a particular food, when combined with other specific foods, or after a certain time has passed since eating.

There are also many lifestyle factors that appear (in my experience) to worsen symptomatic reactions to trigger foods, and therefore, I recommend controlling for these factors before restricting your diet in order to keep your diet as expansive as possible.

What are the 12 most common trigger foods for people with Crohn’s/colitis?

Below I’ve summarized the results from 9 research studies that looked at trigger foods reported by people living with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. 

Top 12 crohn's colitis trigger foods

It may or may not be surprising that participants in 6 out of the 9 research studies reported that fatty/greasy foods and dairy products trigger symptoms making them the two most commonly reported trigger foods based on these studies.

Spicy foods, raw nuts, red/processed meats, corn/popcorn, raw fruits/vegetables, and beans/lentils were all reported by participants in 3-5 of the 9 research studies. Sweets/added sugars, raw seeds, high fiber foods, and citrus fruits were all reported to trigger symptoms in 2 of the 10 research studies.

Below is a summary of the impact that each trigger food had on symptoms according to participants in each of the research studies.

Effect of trigger foods on symptoms in IBD patients across 9 research studies

Keep in mind that even if these foods worsened symptoms for participants in these research studies, that doesn’t mean that these foods should be avoided by YOU.

Your diet needs to be individualized to keep it as expansive as possible, reduce the risk of nutrient deficiencies and malnutrition, and maintain a healthy relationship with food.

Some foods on this chart are suggested in research studies to increase certain types of bad gut bacteria (inflammatory foods) and others in this chart are suggested to increase certain types of good gut bacteria (anti-inflammatory foods), but all could potentially trigger an increase in symptoms such as frequent or urgent diarrhea, constipation, changes in stool consistency, gas, bloating, pain, and/or cramping.

What are your options for dealing with trigger foods?

You have a few options when it comes to dealing with trigger foods.

  1. You can reduce the portion size of the trigger food rather than avoiding it all together. Reducing the portion size may decrease the amount of symptoms you experience and make eating more enjoyable.
  2. You can swap out the trigger food for a better tolerated alternative that is just as satisfying.
  3. You can have the trigger food as is. Sometimes having the trigger food is worth the symptoms, so if you do decide to have it, enjoy it! (I know I do)

P.S. If you’re tired of trying to find your trigger foods on your own and are ready to start feeling better, request a complimentary call to learn how we can help.

References

  1. Cohen AB, Lee D, Long MD, Kappelman MD, Martin CF, Sandler RS, Lewis JD. Dietary patterns and self-reported associations of diet with symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease. Dig Dis Sci. 2013 May;58(5):1322-8. doi: 10.1007/s10620-012-2373-3. Epub 2012 Aug 26. PMID: 22923336; PMCID: PMC3552110.
  2. Limdi JK, Aggarwal D, McLaughlin JT. Dietary Practices and Beliefs in Patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2016 Jan;22(1):164-70. doi: 10.1097/MIB.0000000000000585. PMID: 26383912.
  3. de Vries JHM, Dijkhuizen M, Tap P, Witteman BJM. Patient's Dietary Beliefs and Behaviours in Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Dig Dis. 2019;37(2):131-139. doi: 10.1159/000494022. Epub 2018 Nov 2. PMID: 30391940; PMCID: PMC6381876.
  4. Vagianos K, Clara I, Carr R, Graff LA, Walker JR, Targownik LE, Lix LM, Rogala L, Miller N, Bernstein CN. What Are Adults With Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) Eating? A Closer Look at the Dietary Habits of a Population-Based Canadian IBD Cohort. JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 2016 Mar;40(3):405-11. doi: 10.1177/0148607114549254. Epub 2014 Sep 4. PMID: 25189173.
  5. Zallot C, Quilliot D, Chevaux JB, Peyrin-Biroulet C, Guéant-Rodriguez RM, Freling E, Collet-Fenetrier B, Williet N, Ziegler O, Bigard MA, Guéant JL, Peyrin-Biroulet L. Dietary beliefs and behavior among inflammatory bowel disease patients. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2013 Jan;19(1):66-72. doi: 10.1002/ibd.22965. PMID: 22467242.
  6. Pituch-Zdanowska A, Kowalska-Duplaga K, Jarocka-Cyrta E, Stawicka A, Dziekiewicz M, Banaszkiewicz A. Dietary Beliefs and Behaviors Among Parents of Children with Inflammatory Bowel Disease. J Med Food. 2019 Aug;22(8):817-822. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2018.0206. Epub 2019 May 7. PMID: 31063436.
  7. Green TJ, Issenman RM, Jacobson K. Patients' diets and preferences in a pediatric population with inflammatory bowel disease. Can J Gastroenterol. 1998 Nov-Dec;12(8):544-9. doi: 10.1155/1998/928706. PMID: 9926264.
  8. Triggs CM, Munday K, Hu R, Fraser AG, Gearry RB, Barclay ML, Ferguson LR. Dietary factors in chronic inflammation: food tolerances and intolerances of a New Zealand Caucasian Crohn's disease population. Mutat Res. 2010 Aug 7;690(1-2):123-38. doi: 10.1016/j.mrfmmm.2010.01.020. Epub 2010 Feb 6. PMID: 20144628.
  9. Jowett SL, Seal CJ, Phillips E, Gregory W, Barton JR, Welfare MR. Dietary beliefs of people with ulcerative colitis and their effect on relapse and nutrient intake. Clin Nutr. 2004 Apr;23(2):161-70. doi: 10.1016/S0261-5614(03)00132-8. PMID: 15030955.
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