Foods to Avoid During an IBD Flare-Up

by Jennifer Mitchell Wilson B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

Some of the common complaints that patients with IBD have are bloating, gas and diarrhea. Dealing with painful cramps and having to run to the bathroom constantly can seriously limit a person's quality of life. Unfortunately, there are also some foods that can make these problems worse. Limiting the following foods while your IBD is in a flare-up may help alleviate some of these frustrating symptoms.


Beans and legumes are foods that can be very hard to digest on a good day. Sometimes they can even pass all the way through the digestive tract partially undigested. This can lead to excessive gas, bloating and loose stools. Limit these foods until your symptoms resolve.

Cruciferous Vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and other high sulfur foods. In addition to the gas-producing sulfur, these foods also tend to have high amounts of insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber is great for moving things through the digestive tract quickly and plays an important role in a healthy diet, but, if you have diarrhea, it is best to avoid it until you feel better.

Dairy Products

Dairy products are notoriously hard to digest. Even if you do not have lactose intolerance, dairy can still be hard on your digestive tract. Eliminating an entire food group is never a good idea, so stick to dairy products that are easier to digest, like yogurt, kefir and other fermented products. Added bonus? These types of fermented dairy also contain probiotics that can help restore the normal gut bacteria.


Caffeine is a stimulant, which is why it works so well to wake us up in the morning. Unfortunately, it also triggers your digestive tract to speed up, increasing loose stools. Coffee can be even more of an issue than other caffeine-containing products, so limit it when you are having a flare-up of symptoms. If you have to have the caffeine, try small amounts of green tea as tolerated. Green tea provides antioxidants that can help heal damaged cells, as well as numerous other health benefits.


Fructose is the sugar found in fruit, fruit juice or high fructose corn syrup. An excess of this substance can cause diarrhea, or, as my mom calls it, "fruit fanny." That means that if you are in a flare-up, avoiding processed sugary foods, fruit juices and excessive amounts of fresh fruit can help limit symptoms.

Sugar Alcohol

In an effort to remove sugar from our diets, manufacturers have added in sugar substitutes like sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohol can wreak havoc on a healthy person's digestive tract, so during an IBD flare-up, it can be downright wicked. Check the labels on your sugar-free foods. If they contain sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol or another "-ol" ending substance, then it is best to avoid the food until your flare-up is over. If your symptoms reoccur when you reintroduce these foods, then you may need to completely avoid sugar alcohols.

Fat Substitutes

While not as popular these days, fat substitutes like Olestra can still be found in some low-fat foods. Even in healthy people, Olestra can cause gas, bloating, loose stools and anal leakage. You're better off eating healthy fats in moderation and avoiding this fat substitute all together.

Limiting these foods can help lessen the pain and discomfort of an IBD flare-up. As soon as your flare-up passes, you can reintroduce these foods slowly. By keeping a food journal during the reintroduction process, you can identify foods that may be the most problematic for you and completely eliminate them. If you find that you consistently have to remove entire food groups, you should make an appointment with a dietitian to ensure you are getting all the nutrients you need in your diet.

Jennifer has a bachelor's degree in dietetics as well as graduate work in public health and nutrition. She has worked with families dealing with digestive disease, asthma and food allergies for the past 12 years. Jennifer also serves the Board of Directors for Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association (PAGER).

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson
Meet Our Writer
Jennifer Mitchell Wilson

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson is a dietitian and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.