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What to Eat When You Can't

Thoughts on Five Foods from a Crohn's Patient

By Taylor InmanPublished 3 years ago 7 min read

Eating well or eating the right amount is difficult for most people, let alone those with a GI condition. Whether it be Crohn’s, IBS / IBD, GERD, or one of the many others, there’s times when you have no appetite and have to force yourself to eat, and times when you could eat a horse and yet gag at the idea of actually putting the food in your mouth. It’s a dreadful culinary purgatory, but there’s hope.

As someone with Crohn’s Disease, I know the struggle of trying to find food to eat that won’t leave you writhing in agony, but is still simple or ‘plain’ enough to get down. Over the years of living with and working around my condition, I’ve gained a bit of experience in non-inflammatory foods that are still exciting enough to encourage you to eat them.

The biggest complaint I’ve, personally, had with Crohn’s-friendly (and others) diets is that the biggest descriptor used for the food is ‘plain’ and ‘boring,’ like bananas and white bread, in order to avoid triggering intestinal distress. The issue with this is that everybody’s symptoms and triggers, while following a similar pattern for the same conditions, can still vary widely from person to person based on environmental factors, dietary factors, personal factors, and more.

So rather than provide an end-all be-all, comprehensive guide, I have a few suggestions that are tasty and palatable, and should be non-triggering for those with digestive conditions, based on my personal experience with my condition and speaking with others with similar conditions. I will note here that I am not a medical professional, simply a patient with Crohn’s Disease sharing my experiences with foods and recipes that I hope will be accessible to others with GI conditions or even just picky eaters.

1. Bananas

Yes, I know I just got done talking about how bananas are often described as plain and simple and how they’re boring, but let me clarify. A single medium-sized banana has around a hundred calories, ten percent of your daily potassium (for the standard 2000 calorie diet, which will vary from person to person), ten percent of your daily fiber and carbohydrate intake, and even a bit of plant protein thrown in there.

Because bananas are calorie dense, nutritious, and typically easy-to-eat (the texture can be off-putting for some for overripe bananas), they’re the number one recommendation for a supplementary fruit in anyone’s diet, especially if they have a sensitivity of some kind.

2. Yogurt

Obviously, for those who are lactose-intolerant, this isn’t the greatest choice. Crohn’s patients also suffer from lactose intolerance to an extent, due to the difficulty in digesting lactose sugars and some of the fats / proteins in milk.

Because of the probiotics and pasteurization processes involved in making yogurt, I’ve personally noticed it’s easier to digest for me, and it’s still a good source of Vitamin D, protein, fats, and other goodies.

It’s also super easy to eat if you’re not sensitive to the texture, and a great add-on to shakes or smoothies to add calories and protein. I personally prefer Greek yogurt, and recent studies have seemed to indicate that low-fat and non-fat yogurts are higher in sugars and still contain some fats (and primarily bad ones), but that is my opinion and your own tastes may vary!

3. Chicken

This third one is tricky. For some, chicken is plain and unassuming, and a bore to cook and eat. For me, with the right flavors and seasonings, it’s an excellent source of protein and can pretty much be thrown into any compatible recipe as necessary. It’s not vegan or vegetarian friendly, obviously, and it’s a little on the pricier side because it’s a solid meat (but depending on where you’re at, chicken is cheap). However, it’s an adaptable and easy to digest source of protein that tends to be easy on the stomach.

Simple white wine sauces or lemon-garlic-salt-pepper combinations of seasonings can help turn plain chicken into something much tastier and more appetizing, and they’re basic enough to make and prepare on the fly in the kitchen. For those on a smaller budget, any kind of creole seasoning - lightly seasoned if you’re sensitive to heat and spice - or poultry seasoning from the grocery store will get you through it.

Chicken is significantly heartier than bananas or yogurt, so for those with loss of appetite being a common symptom, it may not be the easiest to swallow. I highly recommend chicken salad sandwiches for these cases, or chicken noodle soup for the hard cases where anything solid sounds awful. The broth and veggies more than make up for the loss of calories from a whole chicken breast, leg, or whichever, and you get the additional vitamins and minerals from the other ingredients. Plus, chicken noodle soup for the soul, and all that. You can make your own or purchase it from the store, but homemade chicken noodle soup is both an enjoyable experience to make and to eat.

4. Potatoes / Sweet Potatoes

Here’s another one for the vegans / veggies out there. While plain white potatoes can be a bit inflammatory and harder to digest for some, red potatoes, fingerling potatoes, and sweet potatoes of all kinds are calorie-dense, high in potassium and other vitamins/minerals, and possess mild antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

They are also very filling and widely accessible to most people in most regions. You can grow your own, start your own after getting extra, and they tend to be fairly cheap. They’re versatile when it comes to recipes and tend to take on the flavor of whatever they’re cooked with, but they do tend to soak up salt. Yellow potatoes tend to be sweeter, as do the smaller ones, but red and purple potatoes are also tasty - and the purple ones are purple all the way through! Fun fact.

Because potatoes can be cooked in a wide variety of ways, you can easily figure out a meal plan involving them that avoids certain textures or flavors. If you’re having difficulty with solid foods, mashed potatoes are an excellent substitution, and you can add all sorts of bits to fill it out further. You can make your own french fries - baked, fried or air-fried - with as much or as little seasoning as you prefer, and munch on them throughout the day for a healthier snack.

5. Salmon / Tuna / <Insert Your Favorite Fish>

Shout out to the pescetarians for this one. An excellent source of protein, fat, iron, and others, salmon is an excellent and anti-inflammatory food. Likewise for tuna, with white tuna having a higher IF rating than light. For days where solid food is a thing, fillets or steaks of either grilled, baked, or sauteed are excellent with salt, pepper, garlic, lemon, and some herbs, or blackening seasoning of your choice. Salmon patties are quick and easy if you only have canned salmon, and also rather tasty.

(I’ve heard fish stews are a thing, but I’ve never had the experience, so I can’t speak much on those for this purpose - but they sound good to me!)

Tuna, like chicken, can be made into salad for sandwiches, or just for easier and quicker consumption if you only have canned or packaged tuna.

Fish is understandably tricky for some, both because of taste and smell, but there are non-fishy fish out there - swordfish is often seen as closer to steak than fish, but it’s obviously more expensive; Lean cod is fantastic and mild, wonderful for frying; Halibut is known to be mild as well, if a bit sweeter, thicker, and a bit larger.

Honorable Mention - Water!

We can’t do anything without good old H2O! Quite literally, in fact. Our bodies need it to store nutrients, digest food, process electrochemical signals within/between the brain and critical organs, and maintain thermal equilibrium. Basically, we need water to live. Most of us already know this, but some of us (myself included) have to be reminded of it every so often.

Drink water. A glass when you wake up and a glass before you go to bed(or an hour or two before), at the very least. Ideally one with every meal if you can. A glass of water in the morning has been shown to help kickstart appetite and can often help settle an upset one in the mornings enough to make breakfast possible, and we all know about breakfast by now.

For those with chronic GI conditions, particularly during flare-ups, staying hydrated is very important. I won’t go into the dirty details, but suffice to say, if you’ve got a lot coming out, you need to be putting a lot more in. Your body won’t be up to snuff and will be using all available resources quickly, and you probably won’t be able to provide all the nutrients and calories it needs at such times - but you can drink water, and that alone will help get you through to the next meal.

As I said, I’m not a doctor, just an informed patient with Crohn’s who has an interest and experience in this, and a desire to share what I know with others in hopes of helping them. None of this is professional nor medical advice, just friendly words of advice based on my subjective experience and knowledge.

I hope those who read this find something helpful to them, and can use it for themselves or for others in pursuing their dietary and nutritional goals. If it does, feel free to pass it along, and if not, I hope you’ve gained some inspiration from it otherwise!


About the Creator

Taylor Inman

I'm a Computer Engineering major who enjoys reading, writing, fitness, and Crafts, and who occasionally writes stuff that can be published. Most is opinion, some is fact, a good majority is fiction - unless otherwise specified. Enjoy!

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