Cooking Tips From Chefs With Crohn’s Disease – Everyday Health

Cooking your own meals is the best way to avoid food triggers. Use these food-prep tips from home cooks who have Crohn’s.
Whether you love to cook or consider it a chore, one thing remains true: Cooking your own meals can be the difference between a great evening and a terrible one.
By knowing exactly what’s in your food, you can avoid ingredients that irritate your digestive system. “The upside of cooking at home is that you have control,” says Christine Lothen-Kline, RD, who has Crohn’s disease and works at Health Promotion On Call in Columbia, Maryland.
In particular, dietary fiber — found in foods such as nuts and leafy green vegetables — can be very disturbing to an already irritated digestive tract, according to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. Other common offenders include high-fat foods, such as butter, and lactose-rich foods, such as cheese and dairy products.
Here are a few cooking tips from Lothen-Kline and home cooks with Crohn’s.
Foods that cause one person to double over in pain may not be problematic for someone else. This makes it hard for nutritionists to develop a standardized diet for Crohn’s disease. The best way to find your food triggers is with an elimination diet, a process in which you remove foods, such as dairy and gluten, and then add them back one at a time to determine how well you tolerate each food.
That’s how Sarah Choueiry, who has Crohn’s disease, learned that she should avoid red meat, gluten, dairy, and nightshade vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.
If you’re interested in trying an elimination diet to find your trigger foods, it’s best to work with a nutritionist, so you don’t leave out important nutrients, Lothen-Kline says.
You don’t have to be Martha Stewart to make nutritious, Crohn’s-friendly meals at home. Noelle Gardner of Los Angeles, who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2001, says many of her creations are one-pot dishes. “I’ll get some scallops or shrimp, toss in some fresh spinach, cut up a whole bulb of fennel, and then pour in some natural vegetable broth,” she says. “I throw it in one casserole dish and bake it for 45 minutes.”
Lothen-Kline is a big fan of omelets, even for dinner. Use eggs, green pepper, and a little cheese — if you can tolerate them — and you’ve got a meal, she says.
As nutritious as fruits and vegetables are, their high fiber content can cause trouble for some people with Crohn’s disease. Peeling the skin off the fruit can remove some of the fiber, as can using a juicer, which Gardner does. “It’s so much easier to digest, and your body gets the nutrients you need without working so hard to process it,” she says.
Choueiry, who lives in southern California, takes daily vitamin supplements and gets most of her fruit through smoothies she makes in a blender.
If you have colon strictures, or narrowing, in your digestive tract, you should be especially cautious about including too much fiber in your diet, to avoid a blockage, says the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation.
Some people with Crohn’s disease find that fruits and vegetables cause fewer unpleasant symptoms when they’re baked, boiled, or stewed.
Most of the vegetables Choueiry consumes are cooked, and she eats only a limited amount of raw fruit. “I make a conscious effort to chew really well and use the rules of mindful eating when I do eat raw fruits or vegetables,” she says.
If a particular food doesn’t agree with your digestive system, a little creativity can usually help you find a good substitute. For example, Gardner eats rice noodles or pasta made with arrowroot rather than wheat and uses almond or coconut milk in place of cow’s milk.
Choueiry makes “noodles” from long strips of zucchini or sweet potatoes and eats them in place of traditional pasta.
If you’re experiencing a Crohn’s disease flare, you may want to reduce your intake of insoluble fiber, which is bulkier and doesn’t break down as easily as soluble fiber.
Sources of insoluble fiber are whole-grain breads, brown rice, and fruit and vegetable peels, such as on an apple or cucumber.
On the other hand, a study published in 2021 in Frontiers in Pediatrics suggests that soluble fiber promotes fermentation in the gut, which can help ease inflammation. You can find soluble fiber in bananas, cantaloupe, honeydew, and applesauce.
“As we learn more about digestive disorders, we come up with many more healthy, non-triggering options and food and ingredient substitutes,” says Gardner.
With family, work, and other obligations, life can get so busy that pulling into the nearest drive-thru may seem like the easiest option, but the high-fat fare typically offered isn’t a good idea for many people with Crohn’s disease. With a little planning, you can prepare easy-to-digest meals in minimal time.
“I pack my lunch the night before,” Choueiry says. “If I’m going to be really busy during the week, I’ll cook dinners on Sunday and put them in the freezer.”
Also consider buying dinners made at meal-prep stores or using delivery services where you can put together several family-size dinners at once. All of the ingredients are prepped and precut for maximum time saving. Pop the meals in the freezer and you’ve got healthy options ready to go when you need them, Lothen-Kline says.
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