“Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life. Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something.” –Thoreau

18 September 2013

Eating with Crohn's Disease

This is part one of a two-part essay. Part two (Affording Good Food) is coming later this week.

Look, guys, I'm not a doctor. I haven't even had Crohn's Disease as long as a lot of people, since I developed it as an adult. But what I am is an obsessive researcher. And I've been doubling down on research since I've begun breastfeeding my daughter in the middle of a flare. That's why this post is so long. I always listen to my doctors, but I don't take my doctor's word as gospel. I read the news reports and the medical journal articles and wack-a-doo naturalist websites. If I'm going to confront something like this, something which affects my health and future happiness, I'm going to do it with as much information as I can. Information is power. That's why I'm sharing some of mine with you.

Let's get started.

According to WebMD, any of these foods might trigger the symptoms of Crohn's disease:
  • alcohol (mixed drinks, beer, wine)
  • butter, mayonnaise, margarine, oils
  • carbonated beverages
  • coffee, tea, chocolate
  • corn husks
  • dairy products (if lactose intolerant)
  • fried foods
  • foods high in fiber
  • gas-producing foods (lentils, beans, legumes, cabbage, broccoli, onions)
  • nuts and seeds
  • raw fruits
  • raw vegetables
  • red meat and pork
  • spicy foods
  • whole grains and bran
I challenge you to name a food not on that list. Although, to their credit, they did say might. Chocolate, tea, and coffee don't trigger anything for me if I consume them in moderation. I have no trouble with butter or oils. Raw fruits, veggies, and whole grains can be balanced out with healthy fats to help them digest easier. I saute all of my onions and cook all my beans very soft. Broccoli, uncooked cabbage, and high-lactose dairy products are out, though. I don't drink alcohol or carbonated beverages. Fatty foods go down easier than anything else, unfortunately, but they also cause diarrhea. I mostly avoid them.

Foods Crohnies (and everyone else) should be eating include:
  • almond milk -- high in protein, calcium, and vitamins D and E but low in fat and cholesterol (although commercial varieties might also be high in carbohydrates, so look for unsweetened)
  • eggs -- easily digested protein; poach them to avoid additional fats
  • oatmeal -- tons of soluble fiber but best eaten when you're not in a flair
  • olive oil -- normalizes blood clotting and benefits blood sugar control
  • vegetable soup -- roast the veggies, because they retain their nutrients better than boiled, and puree smooth
  • salmon -- high in omega-3 and easily digestible, although most fatty fish is good
  • tropical fruits -- vitamin-rich, easy to digest, and papaya even helps the body digest protein
  • poultry -- stick to white meat so it's low in fat and easy to digest
  • avocado -- full of good fats, vitamins, potassium, and soluble fiber... pretty much the perfect food
  • butter lettuce -- the greens of choice for Crohnies
  • bell peppers -- roast them, and remove the skins when in a flare
  • rice -- not much nutritional value but always easy to digest
  • nut butters -- choose smooth varieties, not chunky, and it's a good source of protein and fat
  • coconut oil -- helps the body absorb magnesium and calcium, eases heartburn and bowel movements
  • low-lactose dairy products -- if you cut out dairy altogether, you'll develop an intolerance so stick with dairy below 2% lactose (check this list for reference)
I eat all of these things regularly (although salmon ends up on my plate less than I'd like!), and I often combine them with foods which are healthy but difficult to digest. For example: I drink my black tea with almond milk. My green smoothies usually include banana and low-fat Greek yogurt, and sometimes avocado, and I puree them really smooth. I like risotto, so I can get some protein from chicken stock, some nutrients from added veggies, and some calcium from butter and parmesan cheese. I eat my salads with at least two healthy fats on them-- usually poached eggs, avocado, olive oil, or tuna-- to help me digest the raw veggies. I also salt my salads to provide my body with enough sodium. I often include low-sugar dry cranberries, which provide antioxidants and help prevent urinary tract infections. Bonus: My salads are absolutely delicious!

Let's talk protein for a second:

A lot of people with Crohn's avoid protein because it's hard to digest. I totally get that... when I'm in the middle of a flare-up, the last thing I want to eat is a big, rare steak. But protein is really, really important. It's what helps our body heal, and that's what we need to be doing.

My gastroenterologist says the protein sources that are easiest to digest are eggs, well-cooked fish, and skinless chicken breast. I've found that good-quality, natural lunch meats (like these) go down pretty easily as well. I slice them into strips for my salads. I do eat bacon and mild sausage, which don't bother me but seem to be triggers for other people. And when I'm not in a flare, I eat a lot of beef. When I'm flaring, though, I eat it sparingly because it definitely causes me pain.

So protein. Eat it. Eat meat (or a substantial serving of high-protein plant food) at one meal a day, every day. As I've discussed before, don't gorge yourself on it. You're not a lion. But don't skip just because your sick and it's easier.

Okay. Now some of you will have noticed that I haven't mentioned gluten-free products yet. That's because gluten-free products taste gross. I'm sorry, I know I'm generalizing, and I wish it weren't so. But I've tried E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. and none of it was worth the money. The best thing out there is Rice Chex cereal, people. That's just sad. If you have Celiac Disease, or you are a Crohnie who knows for sure that gluten aggravates your symptoms, you have my sincere sympathies. I'm not minimizing your struggle. But as for me? I can eat limited gluten with no repercussions. I stick to low-gluten foods, for the most part--corn tortillas, sourdough bread, and the like--but I require that they taste good and contain no weird chemicals. If my universal eating philosophy could be summed up in one sentence it would be this one:

I'd rather eat a little of something that tastes good than a lot of something mediocre.

Actually, I guess it can be summed up in one sentence. Huh. Seems this long post was all for naught!

Part the second, coming at you soon.

Eat well, friends. Bless you.