How to Eat During an IBD Flare-Up

People with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) often face an uphill battle when it comes to diet, especially when the disease is active. Many people with IBD don't know what food to eat when the Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis is flaring. Everyone with IBD is different, and one person's flare-up diet isn't going to work for another, but there are some broad ideas that may work for many.

  • Eggs, fish, lean meats

  • Melons and bananas

  • Herbal teas

  • Liquid nutritional supplements

  • Coffee

  • Milk, cheese, ice cream, and yogurt

  • Brown rice, popcorn, oats, and barley

  • Fried food

  • Raw veggies

Don't Eat a Flare-Up Diet Forever

A flare-up diet isn't to be followed long-term, because it's somewhat restrictive and tends to exclude certain foods that are healthful. The goal should be to get the IBD inflammation calmed down and then start to introduce foods back into the diet. This could be a bit of a yo-yo experience, where a food is added and then if it doesn't go well, that food is taken back out for a bit before trying it again.

Seek Out a Professional

Creating a diet plan isn't easy, which is why it's always a good idea to get professional help. Meeting, even just once, with a dietitian, can be a revelation in terms of diet and answering that question "what do I eat?" Our understanding of IBD and diet is always evolving, so fine-tuning a flare-up diet plan is an ongoing process, and checking in with a dietitian will be helpful.

Many people with IBD restrict foods when in a flare-up, but more calories are needed to prevent losing too much weight. A physician can help you understand weight loss and how much is too much.

To Eat: Protein

Hard-boiled egg on wood

imv / istockphoto

One important part of an IBD flare-up diet is protein. Sources of protein to eat during an IBD flare-up include lean meats, fish, and eggs. Avoid fattier cuts of meat, as well as meats that are low-quality or are heavily spiced. Eggs should be cooked without adding fats (not fried).

To Eat: Easier to Digest Fruits

Papaya half on a colorful plate

silkegb / Getty Images 

Fruits with a lot of seeds might be difficult during a flare-up and should be avoided in most cases, which includes a lot of berries. Melons, however, are going tao be a good choice for a fruit that is easy to digest. Some of the fruits that are going to be more friendly for people in an IBD flare-up include bananas, watermelon, cantaloupe, papayas, and honeydew. Eat these fruits when they're quite ripe and with all the seeds removed.

To Drink: Herbal Teas

Natural Sun dried linden flowers in white mugs.

Emreturanphoto / Getty Images

Herbal teas are comforting during a flare-up and can break up the monotony of drinking plain water. Teas should be naturally caffeine-free and without any additives. Artificial sweeteners can cause diarrhea or stomach upset in some people, so those should be avoided if that's the case.

To Drink: Liquid Nutrition

Mason Jar of Kombucha on Restaurant Table

 Pam Susemiehl / Getty Images

There are a variety of nutritional supplements on the market that can be found in grocery and drug stores. They do tend to be pricey, but they can add much-needed nutrients to the diet during a flare-up.A gastroenterologist can recommend a particular brand and offer advice on how often they should be used. Liquid nutritional supplements shouldn't be used as the sole source of calories, however, as they are only meant to augment the diet until more foods can be added.

To Avoid: Coffee

cup of coffee and a pile of coffee beans

da-kuk / E+ / Getty Images

Coffee has a reputation for making people "go." It might not be the caffeine content but rather a substance in the coffee that stimulates the bowels, which means that decaffeinated coffee will have the same effects. It might not be realistic to go cold turkey or cut back entirely, so lowering the amount of coffee a little bit each day may help.

To Avoid: Milk Products

Bottles of milk and wedges of cheese

SilviaJansen / E+ / Getty Images

Foods made with cow's milk can cause problems for some people, which is why it's often recommended that people with IBD avoid them. A gastroenterologist can help in diagnosing lactose intolerance, and for those who do have an intolerance and find milk products cause gas and pain or other symptoms, avoiding those foods is the best idea. This includes foods like a glass of milk, cheeses, ice cream, pudding, and yogurt. Some foods will have a lower lactose content, or may even contain only traces of lactose, such as yogurt and aged cheeses (such as cheddar, Colby, Parmesan, and Swiss).

To Avoid: High Fiber Foods

Fibrous Food

RosetteJordaan / istockphoto

Foods that are high in fiber might be a challenge during an IBD flare-up. Most Americans don't get enough fiber and need to eat more. During an IBD flare-up, however, fiber might not be tolerated well. High fiber foods include brown rice, wild rice, popcorn, barley, oats, and anything made with whole wheat. These foods could be added back into the diet when a flare-up is over (unless strictures or blockages are an issue) but might need to be excluded for a time while a flare-up is going on.

To Avoid: Fried Foods

Glazed spicy chicken wings with sesame seeds served in cast iron skillets

 istetiana / Getty Images

Fried foods taste good and restaurants throughout America offer a menu full of them. The problem is that fried foods are usually fatty. They're cooked in oil and while there's a wide variety of oils and frying methods, the end result is typically a huge amount of fat in that food, which is why they taste so good. It's not realistic to avoid all fried foods forever. However, while flaring, it's a good idea to avoid those "appetizer-type" foods that aren't nutritious and that we eat more for fun and taste than for nourishment.

It's impossible to name every food that falls into this category, but this includes foods like french fries, chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, corn dogs, and fried chicken. Our bodies need a certain amount of fat, but too much can cause diarrhea, which no one with IBD wants during a flare-up.

To Avoid: Raw Vegetables

Fresh green broccoli on wood table

chesterf / istockphoto

Most people don't eat enough vegetables, so the recommendation is usually that people eat more of them. However, for people with IBD who are in a flare-up, vegetables can cause problems. Not eating vegetables shouldn't be a way of life: it should only be done for a short period of time. Adding vegetables back into the diet slowly should be a goal. Well cooked (not steamed) or canned vegetables might be a better bet in the short term, in order to get some nutrients without causing too much distress during a flare-up.

Most vegetables are easier to digest when they are cooked well, with some exceptions, but every person is going to find their own personal list of vegetables that work well. Some of the more problematic vegetables, even when cooked, include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, corn, lentils, lima beans, mushrooms, parsnips, peas, and winter squash.

A Word From Verywell

Every person's flare-up diet is going to be unique. The goal should be to stick to whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible. We use food for comfort and for socializing but it's important to remember that the main goal of food is to nourish the body properly. During a flare-up, nutrient-dense foods are vital, as is drinking plenty of water and other fluids.

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Crohn's & Colitis Foundation. What Should I Eat?

  2. Crohn's & Colitis Foundation. Diet, Nutrition, and Inflammatory Bowel Disease.

  3. Triantafillidis JK, Triantafyllidi A, Vagianos C, Papalois A. Favorable results from the use of herbal and plant products in inflammatory bowel disease: evidence from experimental animal studies. Ann Gastroenterol. 2016;29(3):268-281. doi: 10.20524/aog.2016.0059

  4. ScienceDaily. Artificial sweetner could intensify symptoms in those with Crohn's disease.

  5. Jadhav P, Jiang Y, Jarr K, Layton C, Ashouri JF, Sinha SR. Efficacy of dietary supplements in inflammatory bowel disease and related autoimmune diseases. Nutrients. 2020;12(7):2156. doi: 10.3390/nu12072156

  6. Cancarevic I, Rehman M, Iskander B, Lalani S, Malik BH. Is there a correlation between irritable bowel syndrome and lactose intolerance? Cureus. 2020;12(1). doi: 10.7759/cureus.6710

  7. Pituch-Zdanowska A, Banaszkiewicz A, Albrecht P. The role of dietary fibre in inflammatory bowel disease. Gastroenterology Rev. 2015;10(3):135-141. doi: 10.5114/pg.2015.52753

  8. American Society for Nutrition. Most Americans are not getting enough fiber.

  9. American Heart Association. Dietary Fats.

  10. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only 1 in 10 Adults Get Enough Fruits or Vegetables.

Additional Reading

By Amber J. Tresca
Amber J. Tresca is a freelance writer and speaker who covers digestive conditions, including IBD. She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 16.