Common Medical Diets for IBD

For people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), diet is a major concern. While there is no one diet that is prescribed for all people with IBD, there are several medical diets that could be used as a part of a treatment plan. At some point, most patients get sent home from the doctor's office or hospital with a special diet.

Most of these are restrictive, by nature, and patients often look for ways to expand the variety of foods they can eat while still following doctors' orders. In some cases, a little out-of-the-box thinking can add more variety to the types of foods that can be safely eaten.

Here are four of the specific diets that are most often prescribed to IBD patients. However, none of these diets are meant to be followed long-term. At some point, a doctor should give the go-ahead to begin adding more foods to the diet.

If the doctor doesn't bring it up, be sure to ask, because the goal of treatment should be to get back on a regular diet that includes various forms of protein, fruits, and vegetables.

Cutting foods or food groups out of the diet for long periods of time could result in vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Always consult a physician before starting or stopping any diet.


Clear Liquid Diet

Water being poured into a glass

Wladimir Bulgar / Getty Images

A clear liquid diet may be prescribed after abdominal surgery. Often, the first "meal" a patient is allowed a day or two after abdominal surgery contains items found on the clear liquid diet. This is a way of easing the gastrointestinal system into processing food again after the fasting that takes place before and after surgery.

When a patient does well on the clear liquid diet, her diet might be advanced further. After a clear liquid diet, the full liquid diet might be next, followed by soft foods or bland foods.

Patients are usually moved through these diets slowly in order to give the digestive system plenty of time to adjust. It might not be recommended to go right from a liquid diet into a diet of regular solid foods. Some foods included in a clear liquid diet:

  • Tea
  • Coffee
  • Ginger ale
  • Gummy bears
  • Broth
  • Popsicles
  • Gelatin

Full Liquid Diet

A full liquid diet may be prescribed after a patient has graduated from the clear liquid diet as the next small step on the way to solid foods and resuming a typical diet. A key difference between the clear liquid diet and the full liquid diet is the addition of liquids and foods that contain milk products or milk alternatives.

For those who are lactose intolerant, this can be especially tricky, as foods containing cow's milk will need to be substituted with non-milk alternatives (such as soy, almond, or coconut). Some foods included on a full liquid diet:

  • All foods on the clear liquid diet
  • Milk (cow, soy, almond)
  • Honey
  • Creamed soups
  • Ice cream
  • Sorbet
  • Frozen yogurt

Lactose-Free Diet

A lactose-free diet could be recommended at any time for those who have, or who are suspected of having lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance causes symptoms such as diarrhea, gas, and abdominal pain, which can be difficult to distinguish from the symptoms of IBD.

In addition, it is a common condition. That's why many physicians recommend that patients with IBD or other digestive problems try avoiding milk products for a time, to see if any symptoms resolve.

There are many ways to get calcium and vitamin D in the diet without cow's milk, and a nutritionist or dietician can help formulate an eating plan that doesn't sacrifice vitamins and minerals. 


Restricted Fiber Diet

A restricted fiber diet may be recommended in a variety of situations, such as during a flare-up or as the last step before resuming an unrestricted diet after surgery. This diet consists of a variety of foods but emphasizes the restriction of foods that contain a high amount of fiber, such as some vegetables and grains.

Fiber is an important part of the diet, and a low-fiber diet isn't recommended long-term. Many people with IBD have problems with very fibrous foods. However, the goal of a treatment plan is to get back to an unrestricted diet that includes foods that contain fiber.

Which Diet Should You Use?

A physician and the rest of the medical team are going to be the best resource when it comes to the diet plan that is best for IBD. These restricted diets are typically only used for a short time, and not as a long-term solution. Even after abdominal surgery, the low-fiber diet should only be used while healing is taking place, It's not meant to be a forever diet, and people who have had surgery for IBD should, in most cases, be able to add foods back into the diet. Check with a doctor about expanding food choices to ensure that enough nutrients are being taken in.

2 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. Stanford Health. Clear Liquid Diet Guidelines.

  2. UW Health. Full Liquid Diet.

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.