Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is oftentimes mistaken for other digestive tract issues such as a food allergy or sensitivity, ulcers, or gastritis, to name just a few. With that said, IBD is far more serious and can even be life-threatening if not treated appropriately.

With that said, how do you treat chronic inflammation of the digestive system? What steps can you take to manage and reduce the severity of symptoms?

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While there is currently no cure for IBD, many people who suffer from this autoimmune disorder have responded positively to a healthy whole foods plant-based diet. Along with decreasing sugars, alcohol, and processed foods, while increasing anti-inflammatory foods such as omega-3 fatty acids, low-fiber fruits, and cooked veggies, practicing an overall balanced diet has been shown to ease symptoms and even help medications work better.

Here’s the down low on inflammatory bowel disease and plant-based foods!

What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

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Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is an autoimmune disorder that refers to “disorders that involve chronic inflammation of your digestive tract.” An autoimmune disorder is a condition in which your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues in the body such as joints, skin, and even internal organs. When it comes to inflammatory bowel diseases, there are two types of autoimmune disorders in which the immune system attacks the digestive tract causing chronic inflammation.

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Let’s take a look at both of these disorders.

Ulcerative Colitis

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Ulcerative colitis “affects the innermost lining of your large intestine (colon) and rectum)” and, due to the chronic nature of the disease, can cause “long-lasting inflammation and ulcers (sores) in your digestive tract.” Related complications of ulcerative colitis make this disease both debilitating and life-threatening. Symptoms of ulcerative colitis include diarrhea (oftentimes with blood or pus), rectal pain and bleeding, abdominal cramping, weight loss, the urgency yet inability to defecate, fatigue, and fever.

Crohn’s Disease

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While ulcerative colitis is restricted in the large intestine, Crohn’s disease is not as limited and “most commonly affects the end of the small bowel (the ileum) and the beginning of the colon, but it may affect any part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, from the mouth to the anus.” While these two diseases are similar, they are distinctly separate conditions. Crohn’s disease has altering effects on the thickness of the bowel wall and is not all consuming. In fact, inflammation and damage caused by Crohn’s disease may leave “normal areas in between patches of diseased intestine.” With that said, symptoms of Crohn’s disease are incredibly similar to those of ulcerative colitis such as diarrhea, rectal bleeding, the urgency of bowel movements, abdominal cramping, fever, fatigue, and weight loss.

Digestive Healing through Plant-Based Foods

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While there is no cure for inflammatory bowel disease, diet does play a crucial role in either instigating or reducing the severity of some symptoms. Plus, diet “may play some role in the underlying inflammatory process.”

Both ulcerative colitis and crohn’s disease cause loss of appetite and therefore can lead to malnourishment, which has a whole host of other unwelcome side effects. Yet, it’s not just malnourishment to look out for. A balanced diet is a “key principle in the management of IBD for several [other] reasons” such as boosting the effects of IBD medications, restoring lost protein and nutrients, and counteracting the negative hormonal effects in women — such as menstrual changes and missed periods — that IBD-related weight loss can instigate.

Therefore, it’s incredibly important to find foods that are gentle on your digestive tract, meet your individual sensitivities, and also provide appropriate nourishment. This is where plant-based foods can play an integral role in managing and healing IBD diseases. Many plant-based foods are rich in anti-inflammatory properties, antioxidants, and specific IBD-friendly nutrients.

Specifically, IBD sufferers should look to integrate soluble-fiber rich carbs, lean proteins, healthy fats, deeply colored fruits, cooked veggies, calcium-rich foods, and, based upon your conversation with your doctor, supplements. On the flip side, when in the midst of a flare up, try to avoid alcohol, caffeine, high-fiber foods, spicy foods, raw fruits and vegetables, beans, and eat smaller portions at a time.

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Plant-Based Foods for Ulcerative Colitis

Crispy Thai Roasted Cauliflower Tacos/One Green Planet

While ulcerative colitis is not curable via diet, certain plant-based foods can help manage symptoms, especially during flare-ups. As this is a digestive tract issue, the most important thing is to integrate gut-friendly and easy to digest food items. Here are three great ingredients to integrate into your diet to help manage ulcerative colitis symptoms!

With that said, people who suffer from ulcerative colitis may have individualized dietary triggers. Therefore, it’s incredibly important to speak with your doctor regarding your diet before removing or integrating any food items!

Avocado

Arugula and Strawberry Salad with Cayenne Lemon Vinaigrette/One Green Planet

For those that love avocado, you’re most likely releasing a sigh of relief! Avocado is not only delicious, creamy, and filling, but they also happen to be “rich in nutrients and [are] considered a good food choice for people with ulcerative colitis.” For instance, one cup of raw avocado provides over 15 grams of fiber — an essential nutrient for bowel health — as well as over 35 grams of healthy fat — another component to keep your digestive tract running smoothly. 

Try out some of these avocado-based recipes: Arugula and Strawberry Salad with Cayenne Lemon Vinaigrette, Avocado Rolls, Crispy Thai Roasted Cauliflower Tacos, or this Chocolate Avocado Mousse.

Squash

Butternut Squash Tacos with Tempeh Chorizo/One Green Planet

When it comes to squash, the moons the limit. There are over fifteen different varieties of squash including classics such as acorn, banana, butternut, carnival, spaghetti, kabocha, and delicata, as well as a few less well-known varieties including gold nugget, fairytale pumpkin squash, autumn cup, turban, and sweet dumpling. Squash also happens to be rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which have been linked to decreased inflammation making this veggie a great option for those with ulcerative colitis. Different varieties of squash have varying levels of these healthy fats. For instance, one cup of butternut squash contains over 80 milligrams of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, while the same amount of acorn squash offers over 120 milligrams of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Squash is one of those meaty, satisfying veggies perfect for meatless recipes such as these Butternut Squash Tacos with Tempeh Chorizo, this Jambalaya Stuffed Spaghetti Squash, these Smoky Squash and Mushroom Enchiladas, or this Spaghetti Squash with Meatballs.

Certain Fermented Foods

Fermented Vanilla Yogurt with Millet and Cashews/One Green Planet

Fermented foods are known for their gut-health benefits. You can thank probiotics for this! Probiotics “are good bacteria that are either the same as or very similar to the bacteria that are already in your body.” The digestive tract is teeming “with a complex and diverse community of these bacteria,” and require certain bacteria and fiber-rich foods to keep them healthy and fed. When it comes to ulcerative colitis, studies “have shown routine use of probiotics can help reduce flares and symptoms.”

One of the best sources is yogurt, but, if you’re practicing a plant-based diet, this means you’ll need to find a dairy-free and probiotic-rich alternative. This Raw Fermented Coconut Yogurt uses probiotic capsules to infuse this coconut-based yogurt with healthy bacteria. If you’re not a fan of coconut, try this Fermented Vanilla Yogurt with Millet and Cashews or add a few probiotic capsules to this sweet treat Yogurt Parfait.

Probiotic capsules are widely used and easy to find, especially online. Look for brands that are organic, non-GMO, and preferably vegan or vegetarian such as these organic, non-GMO, vegan and Ora Organic Probiotic Capsules with Prebiotics. These capsules also happen to be dairy-free, soy-free, gluten-free and contain no artificial flavoring or synthetic fillers. Another great option for cooking with probiotics is powder, such as this Organic Probiotic Powder with Prebiotic Fiber by Changing Habits. This supplement is also organic, vegan, soy-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, and contains zero GMO’s.   

Plant-Based Foods for Crohn’s Disease

Protein Rich Green Smoothie/One Green Planet

As is the same with ulcerative colitis, due to the “diverse biological and clinical characteristics of each [Crohn’s disease] patient, there is no single diet that works for everyone.” Certain foods may instigate or worsen a flare-up. This is why working with your medical practitioner is so important. They can help you discover your individual triggers via an elimination diet.

With that said, an important component to managing Crohn’s disease is to “try and maintain a well-balanced and nutrient-rich diet.” Yet, for those suffering a current flare-up of their inflammatory bowel disease, a diet rich in low impact, easily digestible foods has proven helpful. This includes plant-based dairy-free milk, cheese, and yogurt, lean sources of protein (such as beans and legumes), low-fiber fruits (such as banana, cantaloupe, and cooked fruits), and gluten-free grains (such as quinoa, millet, and arrowroot).

Plant-Based Milk

How to Make Homemade Unsweetened Coconut Milk/One Green Planet

When it comes to managing a Crohn’s disease flare-up, it’s recommended to avoid lactose. Oftentimes, this is due to lactose intolerance, when your body lacks the lactase enzyme that properly breaks down lactose. For those suffering from Crohn’s disease, especially in the middle of a flare-up, your digestive tract may have a difficult time breaking down the high-volume of sugar in lactose-rich items.

Therefore, substitute your lactose-rich milk with a gentler plant-based alternative such as homemade milk made from coconut, soy, or almonds. Are you particularly sensitive to these foods? Take a look at this article that helps you navigate the plant-based milk market! 

Lean Protein

Oven Roasted Chickpeas/One Green Planet

Lean protein is one of the most readily available proteins on a plant-based diet. There is a wide variety to choose from, making this a particularly easy component to integrate into a restrictive Crohn’s disease diet. Some of the best sources of plant-based lean protein include tofu, tempeh, edamame, lentils, chickpeas, peanuts, almonds, quinoa, chia and hemp seeds, beans, potato, and a variety of dark leafy greens. Depending on your individual sensitivities, you can choose a variety of these lean proteins to integrate into your diet during a flare-up.

Plus, lean proteins are a staple in most plant-based recipes. Here are a few to get you started: Oven Roasted Chickpeas, Peanut Stew, Kale, Quinoa, and Radish Salad, or this Protein Rich Green Smoothie.

Gluten-Free Grains

Cranberry Buckwheat Pancakes/One Green Planet

Most autoimmune diseases, including Crohn’s disease, react poorly to gluten. Even those without a disorder oftentimes feel better and have a healthier digestive system when gluten is removed from their diet. Gluten is a “general name for the proteins found in wheat (wheatberries, durum, emmer, semolina, spelt, farina, farro, graham, KAMUT® khorasan wheat and einkorn), rye, barley and triticale – a cross between wheat and rye.” Gluten is also found in many processed food products including condiments, packaged soups, and frozen foods.

With that said, there are a handful of naturally gluten-free grains including quinoa, millet, arrowroot, amaranth, buckwheat, teff, and brown rice. These are also great ingredients to cook with! As a gluten-free dieter, I have found that my longing for gluten hits me in the morning the most. Quinoa and millet are both wonderful comfort foods for the morning, such as this Warm and Cozy Breakfast Quinoa or this Blueberry and Millet Porridge. A few stellar gluten-free flour alternatives for backing include arrowroot flour and teff flour. Plus, my favorite pancakes are made with buckwheat, such as these Cranberry Buckwheat Pancakes or these Buckwheat Pumpkin Pancakes.

We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!

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