In this article, I am going to show you exactly which types of fibers are beneficial for IBD / Crohn’s / Ulcerative Colitis and which can be detrimental to your progress.

You’ll learn about the different kinds of fibers (not all act the same) for IBD as well as which you can easily start implementing into your diet and which you may want to remove or limit.

Table of Contents

Video:

Stream this Podcast episode:

Summary:

  • Fiber is a very important nutrient for gut health in IBD
  • Timing of fiber is critical to long-term success
  • Avoiding fiber at the wrong times can perpetuate the “viscous cycle”

Article:

If you suffer with IBD and are consuming the wrong types of fibers, then you are making it really hard on yourself to get out of flair ups and into remission.

In this article, we are going to get to the bottom of what the right type of fibers are to consume for IBD and which should be avoided.

Now, we aren’t going to cover ALL the different foods with fiber in this article, as that would take a small book to do. However, I do want to give you some practical, take-home tips that you can start implementing today that can set your gut up for success and help limit “flair ups” with Crohn’s or U.C (IBD).

Two Main Types: “Safe” Fibers and “Cautious” Fibers for IBD

The “safe” fibers are the ones that IBD patients typically do very well with, and they’re the types of fiber that the research supports to be helpful and beneficial.

Typically, even if you are in a bad place (i.e. a flair up), you can still consume at least small quantities of these fibers, and they can have a beneficial effect. This is good to know because it means that you can be supporting your microbiome even when you are struggling (this will set you up for more success in the future)!

—> Did you know that WHEN you consume fiber is incredibly important to help manage IBD? Learn more here.

On the other hand, “cautious” fibers are fibers that, while not inherently bad for everyone, more often than not tend to cause problems for those with IBD and can increase symptoms such as bloating, pain, and gut irritation.

Thus, we want to make sure we have a clear distinction between the safe fibers that we should be focusing on that will support our gut health and microbiome, and the cautious fibers that can increase symptoms and gut irritation.

Safe Fibers for IBD: Fermentable and Soluble

While not a 100% hard rule, the vast majority of the time the safe fibers are going to be both “fermentable” and “soluble”.

What does this mean?

“Fermentable” means that the fiber can feed and be eaten by (fermented by) your gut bacteria.

This is a very good thing because it promotes bacterial diversity. A diverse microbiome helps to prevent any one particular species, usually a pathogenic or “negative” species, from growing out of control and causing problems.

The old categories for fibers were soluble and insoluble, however, there are limitations when thinking about fibers this way. I prefer to break them up into “fermentable” and “non-fermentable”. However, most fermentable fibers are also soluble.

Two Great Options for IBD

Two great options for fiber for IBD specifically are steel cut oats and psyllium husk.

Both of these foods / fibers tend to work very well with IBD, even if you are in a “bad place”.[1, 2, 3, 4]

High fiber / unrefined carbohydrate intake has even been shown to help reduce total hospital visits in Crohn’s patients. Those on the high fiber / unrefined carb diet had a nearly 80% reduction in total hospital visits vs. the control diet group! The high fiber patients were also less likely to end up needing surgery! [5]

(By the way, steel cut oats are a perfect high fiber, unrefined carbohydrate!)

Steel cut oats are the “most” unrefined for oats, but most patients with IBD also can do pretty well with regular rolled oats.

Also, both steel cut oats and psyllium husk are very easy to digest and are not “hard on the gut” like some other fibers. However, do make sure that you cook the steel cut oats long enough until they are very “soft”.

How to Take

Psyllium husk is usually taken in the form of a supplement. There are two forms: whole and ground / powdered. Different recipes will require different forms; however, if you buy whole psyllium husk, you can simply grind it yourself in your coffee grinder if needed.

Most people start with 5g a day and can work up to 5-10g 2-3 times a day, depending on what feels good for their body.

(By the way: while some brand name fiber supplements use ground psyllium husk, I usually do not recommend these, as they tend to be loaded with sugar and artificial colors and ingredients.)

Don’t Rely On Safe “Pure” Carbs for IBD!

Relying on something like steel cut oats is a great staple unrefined carb to rely on for IBD, even if you are in a flair up.

However, most people end up relying on other “safe foods” when they are in a flair up, such as white rice (as just one example), to help their gut calm down during the flair up period.

This is very short-term thinking. White rice is a “pure carb”. What I mean by this is that white rice doesn’t contain any beneficial fiber, vitamins, minerals, nor anti-inflammatory phytonutrients such as polyphenols.

On the other hand, steel cut oats contains ALL of the above in large quantities!

Don’t Promote the Viscous Cycle

So when it comes to relying on a specific type of carb during a flair up, if you choose white rice, you are not doing your microbiome any favors and are allowing yourself to stay caught in the “viscous cycle”.

Yet, by relying on steel cut oats instead, you are improving your microbiome and gut health, allowing you to slowly break further and further free from this “viscous cycle”!

Relying on something like white rice is very short-term thinking, like a band-aid solution. We want to focus on long-term thinking so that we can gain freedom from our health condition!

Cautious Fibers for IBD: Non-Fermentable and Insoluble

The fibers we want to be cautious about are usually non-fermentable and insoluble.

This means that the gut bacteria can’t actually use these fibers for energy, so these fibers do not improve your microbiome health.

The best way to think about these types of fiber is by picturing a raw stalk of broccoli or raw kale.

These vegetables are very hard and tough to digest. Their “hardness” comes mainly from cellulose, a non-fermentable and insoluble fiber that gives plants their structural strength.

Cellulose has essentially zero benefits for IBD, and usually just causes problems if over-consumed.

What to Limit

Thus, the types of fiber foods that you want to limit / avoid (at least until you get to a “better place” with your current gut condition) are:

  • Hard vegetables (broccoli and other stem-like vegetables)
  • Whole nuts and seeds (almonds, for example, consist of mainly insoluble fiber)

This isn’t to say that all these foods are “bad” to eat.

Don’t Be Afraid of These Forever

Almonds, for example, can be great for the microbiome for the average person. [6] However, it would be in your best interest to way to add them in until you are at a pretty good place symptom-wise. For more information on WHEN to add in fibers, see this article. (Note: soaking almonds for 12 hours in salt water can make them easier to digest and more nutritious!)

If you are at a point where you do want to add broccoli into your diet, for example, just make sure you cook it well and make it as soft as you can. You definitely do not want to consume it raw!

Now, in my master online course, “Ultimate Freedom From Crohn’s and Colitis“, I go over fiber (and TONS of other topics / strategies) in much more detail, so that you know *exactly* what to focus on and what not to. For this short video though, I wanted to give you some practical, take-home points that you could readily implement!

Conclusion

I hope this helps you with your ongoing IBD journey!

Now you know a couple great sources of fiber that you can focus on to help improve your microbiome over time, as well as which fibers to avoid or at least wait to implement until you are at a decent place with your gut symptoms.

Keep in mind, this is just ONE aspect to fiber. There is a LOT more to cover.

If you haven’t yet enrolled in my new FREE mini-course IBD: Get Your Fats Right, you definitely will want to.

In it, I show you exactly why the types of fats that you are consuming can have a major impact on your disease and symptom progression. Most people underestimate just how important of a role fats play in IBD. By “getting your fats right”, you’ll be setting yourself up for some great IBD success!

This is NOT your generic “eat good fats, avoid bad fats”.

There is critical information in this course that you haven’t heard anywhere else.

And it’s free, so check it out now!

Warmly,

Dr. Sean

References:

  1. Hallert C, Kaldma M, Petersson BG. Ispaghula husk may relieve gastrointestinal symptoms in ulcerative colitis in remission. Scand J Gastroenterol. 1991 Jul;26(7):747-50. doi: 10.3109/00365529108998594. PMID: 1654592.
  2. Wong C, Harris PJ, Ferguson LR. Potential Benefits of Dietary Fibre Intervention in Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Int J Mol Sci. 2016;17(6):919. Published 2016 Jun 14. doi:10.3390/ijms17060919
  3. Fernández-Bañares F, Hinojosa J, Sánchez-Lombraña JL, Navarro E, Martínez-Salmerón JF, García-Pugés A, González-Huix F, Riera J, González-Lara V, Domínguez-Abascal F, Giné JJ, Moles J, Gomollón F, Gassull MA. Randomized clinical trial of Plantago ovata seeds (dietary fiber) as compared with mesalamine in maintaining remission in ulcerative colitis. Spanish Group for the Study of Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis (GETECCU). Am J Gastroenterol. 1999 Feb;94(2):427-33. doi: 10.1111/j.1572-0241.1999.872_a.x. PMID: 10022641.
  4. Żyła E, Dziendzikowska K, Gajewska M, Wilczak J, Harasym J, Gromadzka-Ostrowska J. Beneficial Effects of Oat Beta-Glucan Dietary Supplementation in Colitis Depend on its Molecular Weight. Molecules. 2019;24(19):3591. Published 2019 Oct 5. doi:10.3390/molecules24193591
  5. Heaton KW, Thornton JR, Emmett PM. Treatment of Crohn’s disease with an unrefined-carbohydrate, fibre-rich diet. Br Med J. 1979 Sep 29;2(6193):764-6. doi: 10.1136/bmj.2.6193.764. PMID: 519185; PMCID: PMC1596427.
  6. Liu Z, Lin X, Huang G, Zhang W, Rao P, Ni L. Prebiotic effects of almonds and almond skins on intestinal microbiota in healthy adult humans. Anaerobe. 2014 Apr;26:1-6. doi: 10.1016/j.anaerobe.2013.11.007. Epub 2013 Dec 3. PMID: 24315808.

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