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The Best IBD Diet Plan: The Mediterranean Diet?

By Chrissy Arsenault, MBA, RDN, LD

What Is Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)?

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a term for two specific conditions, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, that are characterized by chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. Globally, the prevalence of IBD is increasing due to a young age of onset and low mortality rates. [1]

Common symptoms are fatigue, diarrhea, reduced appetite, blood in the stool, unintentional weight loss, and abdominal pain and cramping. The symptoms range from mild to severe, with most people experiencing periods of active illness. [2]

With such symptoms, it’s easy to see why people suffering from IBD desire an IBD diet plan to help improve their quality of life and get some relief.

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes consuming fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, beans, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices. The key is to base all meals around these food groups, making it more of a lifestyle than a diet! The diet encourages the addition of fish and seafood at least twice per week. Eggs, cheese, poultry, and yogurt are recommended minimally and in moderate portions.

Time and time again, we hear about the many health benefits of this wonderful diet! Based on recent research, this eating pattern may even be a good solution to help alleviate symptoms of IBD. 

Read on to learn why the Mediterranean diet may be a suitable IBD diet plan and why a Mediterranean diet delivery may help simplify meal planning. However, keep in mind that there is no specific, one-size-fits-all medical nutrition therapy for IBD. Be sure to consult a Registered Dietitian or your healthcare provider to devise a plan that works for you.

9 Powerful Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet for IBD

1. May help improve nutritional status in people living with IBD
Given that many people living with IBD experience nutrient deficiencies and an increase in fat, maintaining a good nutritional status is a key benefit of following the Mediterranean diet! A recent study of 142 participants showed that following a Mediterranean diet may help decrease your weight, reduce your waist circumference, and reduce indicators of IBD. [3] 

2. May help you achieve symptomatic remission for mild to moderate IBD
For those living with mild to moderate IBD, the Mediterranean diet may even help you get closer to remission in just six weeks. One study compared remission rates between the specific carbohydrate diet (SCD) (46.5 percent) and the Mediterranean diet (43.5 percent) and saw no difference between the two. [4]

While remission rates in this study were similar between the two diets, the ease of following the Mediterranean diet may make it a more suitable choice for people deciding between the two as SCD can be challenging for some to follow over the long term. Both are commonly cited by the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation as possible special diets for IBD, under the supervision of a doctor and dietitian. [5]

3. May help decrease inflammation
As the name suggests, IBD is a chronic, inflammatory disease that is worsened by inflammation. Fortunately, the Mediterranean diet is rich in anti-inflammatory foods such as tomatoes, olive oil, dark leafy greens, nuts, fatty fish, and fruits. [6] Following this pattern was shown to promote less inflammation in the gut in a study that involved looking at children’s food diaries. [7]

4. Limits or eliminates highly-processed foods
When we eat highly processed and nutrient-poor foods, we typically see more inflammation in our gut – this is why patients with IBD often feel crummy after eating sugary desserts. Red meat and dairy products can also be inflammatory, which are limited to this eating pattern. The Mediterranean diet has potential to be the best diet for IBD since it focuses on nutrient-dense, (mostly) plant-based, and whole foods.

5. May support a better quality of life
IBD is often associated with malnutrition and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which can then worsen inflammation in the digestive tract. This vicious cycle can be debilitating to those experiencing stomachaches and diarrhea. Following a Mediterranean diet for IBD can result in fewer, undesirable side effects and an increase in quality of life. [3]

6. Rich in healthy fiber
Prebiotics are fibers that may help increase the presence of healthy bacteria in your gut. Think of them as the food for your healthy gut microbiome! Prebiotic fibers are typically found in plant-based foods like veggies, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and fruits – which are all staples of the Mediterranean diet. 

7. Helps you fill any nutrient gaps
An estimated 20 to 85 percent of people living with IBD suffer from malnutrition, including nutrient deficiencies. [8] Delicious and nutritious dishes like baked white fish with quinoa and vegetables from ModifyHealth’s Mediterranean meal delivery can help bridge some of these gaps.

For example, some of the key ingredients in this entrée as part of the Mediterranean diet meal delivery program include:

  • Grape tomatoes: Rich in lycopene (antioxidant), vitamins A & C, and fiber

  • Basa fish: 22.5g of protein, 5g of unsaturated fat, including heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

  • Quinoa: Insoluble fiber, some resistant starch, complete protein source, antioxidants, and minerals like manganese, phosphorus, folate, and copper.

  • Asparagus: Good source of potassium, vitamin B6, fiber, thiamin, and folate.

  • Olive oil: Heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties. May also help stabilize blood sugar, support bone health, reduce inflammation, and protect against heart disease. [9]

Be sure to get labs regularly checked with your physician to monitor any nutrient deficiencies. The most common deficiencies to check on are iron, B12, vitamin D, vitamin K, folic acid, selenium, zinc, vitamin B6, and vitamin B1.

8. May help reduce comorbidities

Many individuals living with IBD may be at greater risk of comorbidities, which are other chronic diseases. We know that the Mediterranean diet can help with weight loss, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease given its focus on veggies, fruits, lean proteins, and whole grains.

9. May help prevent the onset of IBD
The best diet for IBD is one that could ward off IBD altogether! Although there is no magic solution, two studies showed that following a Mediterranean diet may help reduce the risk of developing later-onset Crohn’s disease – people who followed the diet were 58 percent less likely to develop Crohn’s. [910]

How ModifyHealth Can Help

Many individuals with IBD often report needing a modified or strict diet to help manage their symptoms. However, research also demonstrates the difficulty people have in adhering to a specific diet for various reasons. In one study, participants felt that maintaining a diet long-term can be challenging and impractical. [11]

One of my outpatient clients suffered with IBD for years with bad side effects. He had tried just about every therapeutic diet -- cardiac, low fat, low sodium, specific carbohydrate diet, and Mediterranean. Although he saw some positive short-term benefits, he couldn’t continue any of them long-term due to the time it took to measure portions and prepare his meals as a busy professional with little kids at home! Eventually, he was able to find a personal chef service that could prepare his weekday meals for him -- but, that’s not a resource that everyone has at their fingertips or can afford long-term.

That’s where ModifyHealth’s Mediterranean meal delivery comes to the rescue! It eliminates guesswork and provides affordable, nutrient-dense foods that adhere to the Mediterranean diet without compromising flavor. While many other delivery programs and diets focus on fad diets, ModifyHealth offers sustainable Mediterranean diet delivery programs that fit your lifestyle.

The Bottom Line

Inflammatory bowel disease is an uncomfortable, painful, and challenging condition to live with. Making changes to your diet may assist with a reduction of symptoms and, possibly, help you enter remission. While there is officially no best diet for IBD, the Mediterranean diet can offer some promising benefits.

With ModifyHealth’s Mediterranean diet meal delivery plans that include nutrient-dense meals, achieving remission through an IBD diet plan may be easier than you think so that you can begin living your best life.

Explore different Mediterranean meal delivery options that come to your door. ModifyHealth also offers optional dietitian support to support you on your journey.

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Chrissy Arsenault, MBA, RDN, LD

 

[1] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31338613/

[2] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/inflammatory-bowel-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20353315

[3] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32440680/

[4] https://www.gastrojournal.org/article/S0016-5085(21)03069-9/fulltext

[5] https://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/diet-and-nutrition/special-ibd-diets  

[6] https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation

[7] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33092159/

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12562443

[9] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29495598/ 

[10] https://gut.bmj.com/content/69/9/1637

[11] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33171662/