The Food Debate
I've noticed that within the IBD community there are those who think food and diet has no bearing on IBD symptoms and then there are those who think that food and diet changes can help to improve symptoms. From my personal experience I fall into the latter category. About ten years ago, when my IBD symptoms were at their worst I embarked on an Elimination diet and found that, indeed, certain foods, beverages, preservatives, sugars, and food colorings (red, in particular) exacerbated my symptoms. By removing, or eliminating, the identified food ‘triggers' from my diet I found that many of my symptoms improved. Changing my diet, as hard as it has been, hasn't ‘cured' me, but it has definitely made a difference in how I feel, how many prescription medicines I take, and how I am able to live my life.
Often I receive emails from people or see questions posed in chat rooms on web sites about the many new products on the market that claim to improve digestive health - I'm thinking of Activia yogurt and a cheese product called LiveActive from Kraft. My best response to people's questions about the effectiveness of these food products is simply: you'll have to try it and see how it makes you feel. What helps and what hurts people's IBD symptoms is as individual as what medications or other treatments help people. I find that everybody I talk to with IBD seems to have particular things that help and hinder them
I, for one, cannot eat foods that contain preservatives - this includes things like high fructose corn syrup, MSG, any word on a label that I can't pronounce. Preservatives simply kill my gut and send me to the bathroom. It's a challenge in today's world to eat out, to shop in the aisles of a grocery store rather than the perimeter where the veggies, fruits, and meats are, but I've figured it out. I've tried cheating or finding the quick food fix, figuring a quick bite at a fast food restaurant wouldn't kill me. Wrong-o, my friends, McDonalds, Carl's Jr., any of the chain restaurants, even a deli where many cold cuts contain preservatives will cause me problems for days afterwards, maybe even induce a flare.
I've learned to be diligent, to plan meals ahead, to find those restaurants around me that use only fresh products or are able to tailor foods to my diet. It is challenging, for sure, and perhaps I'm lucky because I know how to cook and I like to cook. I make my own yogurt, I juice my own fruits and veggies, I bake my own cookies and treats using products I know my body can handle. And if I can't figure out a solution to a food problem, I go without it. If I do go off my list of ‘good' foods, and sometimes I do, I know that I will probably pay later for my decision but I make the decision going in with my eyes wide open and later if I am ill don't complain or blame or wonder why.
Now, all that said, my dad has UC just like I do and he can eat and drink pretty much everything and anything without it affecting his IBD either positively or negatively. I sometimes marvel at the hot and spicy foods he can eat without having a gut issue later. But, it simply proves to me that each person with IBD reacts to the illness differently from fellow IBDers. I think this fact must be one of the reasons that it can be so hard for doctors to know what treatments are most effective and for researchers to pin-point what causes and could cure IBD.
The best advice I can give those who ask me what they can do to get a handle on what foods they should or shouldn't eat to help their IBD is: listen to your body, hear what it has to say, and give it what it's asking for (or not asking for, as the case might be).
You can read more about how I identified my trigger foods in my book: Living with IBD & IBS: A Personal Journey of Success (www.ibdandibs.com)