July 25, 2022

Expanding your Foods: Why, When and How to Broaden your Food Range, Safely and Effectively

Expanding your Foods: Why, When and How to Broaden your Food Range, Safely and Effectively

Written by

The Allay Health Team

When it comes to living with a chronic illness like IBD or IBS, expanding food range could be a game-changer – only if we broaden the range safely and effectively. If you are an IBD patient, food and diet could be where you feel IBD mostly on a day-to-day basis. You might already start to wonder: what do I do if my standard GI clinics don’t have the time or resources to support me? Will I be able to hit the standard intake for important nutrients? And how can I expand my foods step-by-step to get a more diverse and healthier gut ecology?

What are the essential nutrients and their relationship?

The US Dietary Guidelines are the official guidelines from the US government and health authorities However, the guidelines aren't highly adhered to by the average population. In the average population, there is a general lack of intake of vegetables and fruits, while foods such as refined grains are being overly consumed. See the following graph for adherence to the US Dietary Guidelines.

Adherence to the US Dietary Guidelines by Major Food Groups

The dietary habits of the general public promote foods that are triggering to IBD while nutrients that are much needed for a healthy gut environment are lacking. As IBD patients, it is important to mindfully navigate your dietary environment, carefully plan your food intake to help manage your condition, move forward and hopefully put yourselves into remission. Therefore, it is important to understand the relationship between nutrients and what you eat in your diet.

Here are some essential nutrients and how we can obtain them via diet:

  1. Water:
    Eliminate consumption of non-nutritive beverages such as soda, sports drinks, beer, and fruit juice. Instead, you should rely on consuming pure water and beverages like tea or coffee if you can tolerate these foods. It is important to remember that food is also a substantial source of water.
  2. Protein:
    Ensure a sufficient intake of protein each day. Otherwise, it leads to weakness, sarcopenia and other dysfunctions. For IBD patients, protein is the most important to focus on because the disease increases the protein requirement. Normally, people need about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight to keep from getting sick. IBD patients should aim for 1.2 ~ 1.4 grams per kilogram of body weight to suffice their daily protein intake (For example, if your weight is 120 lbs or 55 kg, you will need to consume 65 ~ 76 g protein per day).
  3. Fat:
    Fat is essential for the healthy functioning of the human body. If an IBD patient is working on weight loss or growth faltering from their IBD, fat is a great source of calories for those problems. However, you should take caution if you have gallbladder surgery (where their ability to absorb fat is limited) or they have rapid diarrhea.
  4. Carbohydrates:
    Technically, there are no requirements for carbohydrates. In practice, a person will consume 100 to 400 grams per day. Carbohydrates induce insulin release, which is important for anabolic growth and maintaining weight. It may be hard to gain weight on a low-carb diet due to low insulin induction. It is also important to select the right set of foods where IBD patients get carbohydrates. Refined carbs like bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, and sugar are a pretty large portion of people’s diet. However, these refined carbs can aggravate IBD symptoms. In some cases eliminating them altogether is super beneficial. Instead of depending on refined carbs for calories, try adding more whole grains to their diet.
  5. Fiber:
    Fiber doesn’t get absorbed into the bloodstream but it feeds the gut microbes. Most people don’t get the vegetables they need, meaning they don’t get the fiber they need in their body. Fiber is a key missing part of IBD patient intake. Although recommend by almost every IBD doctor, a low residue and low fiber diet could take a heavy toll on his health. You should instead get as much fiber as they safely and quickly can.

How to incorporate these nutrients into the daily diet?

One of the best ways is to expand the diversity of food. As IBD patients, it is important for you to take gradual steps, starting from the foods that are friendlier and easier to tolerate, to foods that are more advanced. Here is a worksheet and strategy on how to gradually expand the diversity of your food. Access the worksheet here (link). Below is what the worksheet looks like:

Worksheet Sample

Stage 1 contains the easiest and most basic foods many patients feel comfortable with. As the stage number goes up, the foods become more advanced, and might be harder to tolerate if you are in flare or your disease is in a bad place. But as you gradually advance to the next stages, you will be exposed to a much diverse diet and in turn, your gut ecology becomes more diverse and resilient. Once you are comfortable with foods in your current stage, introduce some foods from the next stage and make sure to prepare them in a way that is more tolerable to your gut. When you notice that a newly introduced food is triggering symptoms, you can dial back to foods from your last stage so that you know that your basic nutritional needs are always covered. Once your symptoms subside and you are comfortable with expanding your foods again, try to reintroduce them. Gradually you will have a large set of ingredients available to you that supports your gut health.

Begin your guided personalized journey to a healthy gut

Learn about our personalized expert-guided care program by scheduling a free call with our nutritionist.