Have Crohn's Disease? What To Eat at Holiday Parties
During the holiday season, many of us are invited to lots of parties and family dinners that offer a wide variety of tempting foods and beverages. But if you have the inflammatory bowel disease known as Crohn’s disease, it can be a challenge to find foods and drinks that don’t bother you. Here are a few suggestions and some of the latest findings from research as well.
What’s safe to eat at holiday parties?
Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease in which the small intestine can be inflamed, although inflammation can occur anywhere in the intestine. Symptoms can include diarrhea, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, and fever, and they can come (flares) and go (remission).
Not everyone who has Crohn’s disease is affected in the same way by the same foods, which makes it impossible to develop a one-size-fits-all dietary program. However, there are some food items that tend to cause more symptoms than others, and at the same time, foods that tend to not trigger symptoms. The severity of reaction to any one food can depend on whether a person is experiencing a flare or remission of the disease.
If you consider the foods in these two categories, and pay attention to how your body typically reacts to certain foods, then hopefully you will be better prepared to eat and drink your way through the holidays with a minimum of problems, even when it comes to holiday favorites. If you have been invited to a potluck or asked to bring along a food item to share, be sure to bring something you can eat, just in case the pickings are slim at the party!
- Eggnog. Many people with Crohn’s disease are lactose intolerant so eggnog is off the menu because of the milk and cream. However, eggnog can be made with almond milk, frozen bananas, and nutmeg. Rum can be added if you can tolerate alcohol. To make a dairy-free eggnog, combine 2 cups almond milk, 1 frozen banana, and ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg. Mix at high speed in a blender and enjoy.
- Pasta dishes. Although whole-grain pasta is a healthier choice for most people, individuals with Crohn’s disease often tolerate refined grains better. If pasta dishes are offered, be sure to choose those that do not use a tomato-based or cheese-based sauce. Instead, look for those prepared with olive oil and herbs.
- Vegetables: It’s best to bypass the raw vegetable platter and green salads and seek out cooked veggies that are easier on the digestive tract, such as sweet potatoes, various squashes, and roasted peppers.
- Appetizers: Say “no” to the bacon-wrapped goodies and the cocktail hotdogs (processed meats are generally a no-no) and look for fresh avocado slices, black olives, or baked bagel chips. Guacamole dip can be safe if it’s not spicy and made without tomatoes. Here’s a recipe you can bring with you: 3 avocados, one minced garlic clove, juice from one lime, ¼ cup minced onion, and finely chopped fresh cilantro (if desired). Mash the avocadoes, add the other ingredients, and serve with baked tortilla or bagel chips.
- Snacks: Baked chips, pretzels, and dried fruits may be your safest bets. Avoid the nuts, greasy potato and tortilla chips, and dairy-based dips.
- Dinner is served: Search out foods that are not fried or spicy, and look for vegetables that are cooked (no raw salads), except the cruciferous veggies (such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts). Non-fatty meats and fish, such as turkey, baked chicken, salmon, shrimp (not fried) and lean beef, may be good choices. Avoid cream sauces, spice dips, and gravies.
Recent research on Crohn’s disease and diet
Some people swear that probiotics are helpful in relieving symptoms of Crohn’s disease, although the literature has yet to fully support their use. In a recent study published in Current Gastroenterology Reports, researchers at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center reported that “although there are insufficient data to recommend probiotics in ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, good evidence supports the use of specific probiotics for maintenance of remission in pouchitis,” which is a side effect of treatment for inflammatory bowel disease.
An interesting study that will appear in the January 2013 issue of Current Gastroenterology Reports notes that despite continuous efforts, “the effect of diet on established disease [Crohn’s disease] remains poorly studied,” and that “vitamin D supplementation may prevent relapse of disease.” Therefore it may be wise to evaluate your vitamin D intake (from sunlight, food, and supplements). The Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamin D is 600 International Units for adults up to age 70 and then 800 IU thereafter, according to the National Institutes of Health.
In fact, lower levels of vitamin D are associated with an increased risk of Crohn’s disease, while taking supplements of the nutrient may help prevent relapse of the disease. If you are using oral contraceptives, hormone replacement, aspirin, antibiotics, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, they may increase your risk of developing Crohn’s disease.
If you have Crohn’s disease, eating and drinking your way through the holiday season may present a challenge, but you can take steps to prevent flares or problems with the disease. To be on the safe side, you may want to bring a dish you have prepared that will allow you to participate in the festivities of holiday parties and reduce the chance you will experience any symptoms of Crohn’s disease.
Ananthakrishnan AN. Environmental triggers for inflammatory bowel disease. Current Gastroenterology Reports 2013 Jan; 15(1): 302
National Institutes of Health
Veerappan GR et al. Probiotics for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease. Current Gastroenterology Reports 2012 Aug; 14(4): 324-33