The question “What’s for dinner?” takes on a whole new meaning when you’ve got Crohn’s disease. Food doesn’t just fill you up and keep you healthy. Some foods may contribute to cramps, bloating, and diarrhea, while others may not.
Certain foods are notorious for making Crohn’s symptoms worse (we’re looking at you, broccoli). That’s especially true if you have narrowing in your intestine called a stricture. Slow-to-digest foods can get stuck in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract and create an uncomfortable backup.
Your doctor might put you on corticosteroids to bring down inflammation. In the meantime, sticking to a low fiber, easy-to-digest diet can help prevent bloat and diarrhea until the flare passes.
When inflammation and other symptoms are so severe that you can’t get enough nutrition, or if you have a Crohn’s complication like an abscess or fistula, your GI doc or dietitian might recommend a liquid diet. Another name for this is enteral nutrition.
Drinking breakfast, lunch, and dinner might not be your preferred way to eat, but there are a few pluses to the liquid diet.
It’s a nutritionally complete way to give your intestines a break. And you won’t be on it forever — just long enough to give your gut time to heal.
Just as the name suggests, a liquid diet delivers 100% of the calories and nutrients you need each day through a liquid. You can drink that liquid, or it can be delivered straight to your stomach through a feeding tube.
Enteral nutrition comes in several types:
- Polymeric diets come from whole proteins.
- Elemental diets are made up of amino acids from proteins plus other nutrients.
- Semi-elemental dietscome from protein, mostly in its peptide form.
Which one of these you get depends on how severe your Crohn’s disease is and what you can tolerate.
The liquid diet is often used as a treatment in kids with Crohn’s disease. It helps put them into remission.
But this diet has some benefits for adults too. It can give your intestines time to heal, improve your symptoms, and help you catch up on weight gain. It can be used safely and improve the effectiveness of other Crohn’s therapies.
Your doctor might also put you on enteral nutrition before surgery to reduce your risk of complications.
According to a 2019 review, enteral nutrition works better than corticosteroids in children with Crohn’s disease, but it may not lead to remission in adults. It’s important to note that enteral nutrition may not be the best choice for adults with Crohn’s disease who are trying to stay in remission.
“Enteral” literally means “passing through the intestines.” Enteral nutrition delivers all the protein, fat, and other nutrients your body needs straight into your GI tract, no solid food needed.
Exclusive enteral nutrition is when you get 100% of your calories from liquids. Partial enteral nutrition means you get 35% to 50% of your calories from liquid and the rest from solid food.
You can drink enteral nutrition or get it through a feeding tube that goes:
- through your nose into your stomach (a nasogastric, or NG, tube)
- straight into your stomach through an opening in your skin (a gastrostomy tube or jejunostomy tube)
The most obvious downside is that by going 100% liquid, you won’t get to eat solid food. It’s not forever, but you will need to go several weeks sans solid food.
Another problem is that these liquids aren’t exactly delicious. In one review of 7 studies, more than 40% of people receiving exclusive enteral nutrition dropped out because they couldn’t stand the smell or taste of their enteral cocktail.
Very young children on enteral diets sometimes have the opposite problem: The may become dependent on the ease of tube feeding and refuse to eat solid food.
Going on a liquid diet could spare you the side effects of medication, but it does come with a few possible side effects of its own, including:
And while enteral feeding might help you get through a flare, a feeding tube isn’t necessarily the most comfortable accessory.
Some foods can make Crohn’s symptoms worse. The same goes for certain drinks.
Ask your doc whether you should cut back on or avoid these beverages, which are known gut irritants:
- coffee and other caffeinated drinks
- sports drinks
What should you drink? You can never go wrong with water. It gives you hydration, especially after a bout of diarrhea. Broth and tomato juice are other ways to get in your daily fluids.
If you’ve lost weight or you aren’t eating enough calories, ask your doctor about adding a nutritional supplement or protein shake to help you catch up.
If you’ve seen the commercials for nutritional shakes, you may have wondered whether one of them might be right for you.
Nutritional drinks are high in protein and a variety of vitamins and minerals. And yes, the American Gastroenterological Association does recommend them as part of enteral nutrition.
One caution, though: Don’t make Ensure Clear your beverage of choice. It’s fat-free and too light on nutrition to drink alone. You can add it to other Ensure drinks or nutritional supplements to increase the variety of your daily beverage mix.
You shouldn’t be on the diet for very long. Most people stay on an enteral diet for 6 to 8 weeks, but it could go as long as 12 weeks if you’re slower to heal.
Your doctor can give you a better read on how long you’ll need to follow this diet.
- Do I need to be on a liquid diet? If so, why?
- How long will I need to be on it?
- What type of enteral nutrition do you recommend for me?
- Should I drink the liquid or get it through a feeding tube?
- What kind of diet should I follow after enteral nutrition?
Going on a liquid diet can be a huge help for kids with Crohn’s disease.
If you’re an adult, going exclusively enteral might help you heal and gain back lost weight during a severe flare, but it’s not guaranteed to put you into remission.
Plus, the taste and smell could be a big turnoff.
Ask your doctor whether a liquid diet is the way to go or whether a change in meds or solid food is a better option for you.
A liquid diet, aka enteral nutrition, is a way to get calories and nutrients through a drink or a feeding tube.
This diet can lead to remission in kids with Crohn’s disease. In adults, the evidence isn’t as clear, but it may help your intestines heal during a flare.
Enteral nutrition comes in several forms. The diet typically lasts 6 to 8 weeks.
And remember, before starting any special diet, it’s important to talk with your doctor about the possible pros and cons.