Look for “superfoods” in any online search engine and you’ll generate a long list of possible choices chock-full of vitamins and nutrients. While superfoods are beneficial for good health, they might not be the best option if you have an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Plus, superfood options for Crohn’s are more limited than for someone without any digestive issues. For instance, superfoods that are high in fiber may simply be too difficult for you to digest, as fiber and Crohn’s are often a bad combination.
But don’t throw in the towel on a healthy diet with Crohn’s just yet: Some nutrient-dense superfoods are easier on your digestive tract than others. You just have to know which ones to try, and have patience to sample one at a time.
“Much like if you were testing a particular food for an allergy, we recommend trying only one new food (or reintroducing a food) at a time,” says Kelly O’Connor, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Northwest Hospital in Randallstown, MD. “That way, you’ll easily be able to pinpoint if a certain food exacerbates symptoms or not.”
Because Crohn’s disease can interfere with the way your body digests foods and absorbs nutrients, it’s important to make the food you eat count. Talk with your doctor or dietitian to see if the following nutrient-rich superfoods will be a good fit for you and what else you might need to supply the minerals and vitamins that Crohn’s makes it hard for you to get.
Salmon Seafood is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to have an anti-inflammatory effect, says O’Connor. Try simple cooking preparations without excess added fats or spices, which could trigger a flare. Salmon is also a good source of protein and is gentle on the stomach.
Eggs An excellent source of protein, eggs are generally very well tolerated and easy to digest, notes O’Connor. They can be prepared in a variety of ways to keep things interesting.
Almond milk O’Connor likes this alternative to regular cow’s milk as it’s a good option for people who don’t tolerate lactose. Although almond milk is not a good source of protein, it contains polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are said to have an anti-inflammatory effect. Just be careful of flavored almond milk, which contains added sugar.
Vegetable soups Eating veggies in their raw forms can aggravate Crohn’s symptoms. O’Connor suggested making soups with low-fat broth or stock (instead of a creamy dairy-based broth that may not be well tolerated), and pureeing veggies to create a highly nutritious meal that’s easy on the digestive tract.
Avocados “Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fat and a great source of fiber, potassium, vitamin E, B vitamins, and folic acid,” says Karen Langston, a certified holistic nutritionist specializing in Crohn’s disease and author of the e-book Healthified Pantry. “This is good news for someone with Crohn’s, as it’s an easily digestible, good-for-you fruit loaded with vitamins.” Avocados don’t have to be reserved for guacamole and salads. She recommends adding them to smoothies or using them as a substitute for oil in muffin and cake recipes.
Orange sweet potatoes Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamins A and C, B vitamins, manganese, potassium, and the amino acid tryptophan, says Langston. Valued for their anti-inflammatory health benefits, sweet potatoes are delicious roasted, boiled and mashed, or even cooked on the grill. Just avoid eating the skins, because they’re fibrous and may trigger a flare.
Purple sweet potatoes Purple sweet potatoes are as nutrient dense as their orange counterparts, but they also have an abundance of antioxidants such as anthocyanins, cyanidins, and peonidins that help protect your body from free radical damage, which leads to inflammation, says Langston. When cooking with purple sweet potatoes, you might have to add an additional tablespoon or two of liquid to achieve the consistency you are used to when using orange sweet potatoes.
Yogurt Yogurt is a rich source of probiotics — “good bacteria” — and is known to help promote gut health. Research also shows that eating yogurt can help people to better manage Crohn’s. A study published in January 2014 in Nutrition Journal examined 40 patients with IBD who were placed on a low-carb and high-probiotic diet. Of those people, 60 percent reported good results, while all of the participants dropped at least one of their IBD medications and had reduced symptoms, including bowel frequency.
When choosing yogurt, opt for the plain variety with no added sugar. And make sure the label states that it contains “live and active cultures.”
Your Crohn’s superfoods list is by no means limited to these foods, but they’re a tasty and nutritious start. Happy eating!