Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is the umbrella term for two conditions that affect the gastrointestinal tract: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. These conditions are chronic, meaning they don’t have a cure, and symptoms may go dormant or come on again in episodes known as flare-ups. 

These diseases are autoimmune conditions in which the body’s immune system attacks healthy tissue, which can result in damage to your digestive tract over time. Fortunately, there are certain ways you can control the symptoms of IBD, and diet is one important way to do so.

The Role of Diet in Managing IBD

Admittedly, research around diet and IBD has led to some conflicting outcomes. Some evidence suggests diet doesn’t directly cause IBD or flares, though it does help manage symptoms. But many medical professionals have witnessed patterns in dietary factors that may contribute to IBD flare-ups. 

IBD reactions to dietary factors can vary from one patient to the next, making it difficult for doctors to recommend one specific IBD-friendly diet for each of their patients. However, one way to reveal the patterns that lead up to flares is to keep a food diary that tracks what you eat, and how your body reacts. That way, you and your doctor can look at it together and help determine a course of action. 

There is some evidence that indicates certain foods may be better (or worse) for people with IBD. Here are a few options to consider avoiding, as well as those to prioritize, in your diet.

Foods to Avoid with IBD

Hard-to-Digest Fibers

Fiber has been a subject of considerable controversy in managing IBD. While the nutrient plays a key role in digestion and gut health, certain types of fiber remain unfermented during the digestion process. These fibers may aggravate those with IBD who lack the gut microbes to break them down. In particular, you may have difficulty digesting artichoke, garlic, asparagus, and onions.

In addition, if you’re experiencing a flare-up with symptoms like diarrhea, avoid foods that are high in insoluble fiber. This type of fiber doesn’t dissolve in water and helps to clear out the colon, which isn’t the goal when you’re already having loose stools. Foods high in insoluble fiber include raw nuts and seeds, whole grains, and “skin-on” fruits and vegetables. 


Some people with IBD may have lactose intolerance. If you suspect this to be the case, consider avoiding dairy products for several weeks to see if it prevents flares or alleviates symptoms.

Spicy or Greasy Foods

Spicy or greasy foods can cause gastrointestinal distress, and are therefore best avoided altogether or eaten in moderation if you have IBD.

Alcohol & Caffeine

Since IBD can cause diarrhea, it’s best to avoid anything that can worsen or lead to dehydration. Caffeine can also irritate the gastrointestinal tract and is therefore best avoided or limited. 

Foods That May Help with IBD

Since there are no specific triggers for everyone with IBD, the best approach is to simply avoid what you’ve determined to be a known or suspected trigger for yourself, while prioritizing foods that don’t appear to cause flare-ups. 

In particular, foods with omega-3 fatty acids, such as flax seeds and fish, could reduce inflammation and provide benefits to gut bacteria. Some people also experience symptom relief by taking certain supplements, including probiotics.

Other tactics to reduce your IBD symptoms include:

  • Eating meals regularly, but slowly
  • Eating to the point of fullness and not beyond
  • Staying hydrated with at least eight cups of fluid daily

For assistance managing IBD or another chronic condition, turn to University Health Alliance. Our gastroenterologists can help you find the best approach to reduce the frequency and severity of your flare-ups. View our locations here or schedule an appointment by calling 762-356-4785.