Can The Paleo Diet Treat Crohn’s Disease?

Crohn's Disease | The Paleo Diet

Hello Dr. Cordain,

My husband has had Crohn’s disease for most of his life along with many surgeries. I have been advised to check out The Paleo Diet, but have noticed that it encourages eating leafy greens. Our problem is that he cannot eat any type of leafy greens or roughage, as much as he would love to, it would go right through him and cause him severe stomach pain. I am strongly considering trying this way of life (a lot of which we have already incorporated), but do not want to if its not feasible for my husbands health. Do you have any suggestions to help me along this path? Your response is greatly appreciated!

Thank you,

Katie Jenan

Dr. Cordain’s Response:

Hello Katie,

Many people have had success treating their Crohn’s disease symptoms with The Paleo Diet. Crohn’s disease is the result of autoimmune-based inflammation in the digestive system. The following foods should be avoided by those with Crohn’s disease:

  • All commonly consumed cereal grains, including wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, and rice—note that rice is probably the least damaging grain.
  • All beans and legumes.
  • Potatoes and tomatoes.
  • All pseudo grains, including amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, and chia seeds.

Almost all plant foods contain lectins, but most seem to be benign when it comes to our health, except for lectins in grains, legumes, and a few other foods that may enter our bloodstream and interact with most cells in our bodies, including those in our immune systems. I’ve written extensively about this in my book The Paleo Answer, a good place for you and your husband to start as you adopt the Paleo lifestyle.

If your husband has difficulty consuming leafy greens and other “roughage” he should completely eliminate these foods from his diet until his gut has healed completely. He will still be able to absorb all of the nutrients he needs without consuming vegetables. Many hunter-gatherer groups (Inuit, Inupiat) subsisted on diets with little to no plant matter, and their populations remained healthy and free of modern diseases. It would be beneficial to focus on consuming a diet rich in animal proteins and fats, bone broth, and fermented foods (kefir, sauerkraut, etc.) that will aid in healing the gut. If his system can handle it, fruit should also be consumed in moderation. Eventually, he could experiment with introducing thoroughly steamed or cooked veggies back into his diet if necessary. I wish you the best of luck treating his Crohn’s disease.

Cordially,

Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus

About Loren Cordain, PhD, Professor Emeritus

Loren Cordain, PhD, Professor EmeritusDr. Loren Cordain is Professor Emeritus of the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. His research emphasis over the past 20 years has focused upon the evolutionary and anthropological basis for diet, health and well being in modern humans. Dr. Cordain’s scientific publications have examined the nutritional characteristics of worldwide hunter-gatherer diets as well as the nutrient composition of wild plant and animal foods consumed by foraging humans. He is the world’s leading expert on Paleolithic diets and has lectured extensively on the Paleolithic nutrition worldwide. Dr. Cordain is the author of six popular bestselling books including The Real Paleo Diet Cookbook, The Paleo Diet, The Paleo Answer, and The Paleo Diet Cookbook, summarizing his research findings.

“21” Comments

  1. The woman writing in said her husband cannot tolerate most raw veggies due to inability to digest… goes right through him. And yet, you suggest sauerkraut, which is even harsher on the gut despite being fermented. It is akin to eating raw cabbage. It is erroneous comments such as this that makes me doubt the veracity of your “knowledge.” I have had Crohn’s disease X 45+ years, and in that time have heard, read and tried everything known at the time. Most of the success stories are anecdotal at best, but without any solid scientific research to back the claims. Whatever works for each individual is great, but broad stroke claims about the disease are frustrating. Crohn’s is extremely complex, and everyone is different depending on surgeries and severity of disease. If I went on the Paleo diet I would end up in hospital… too much protein and fiber without the necessary carbs for energy. Also, too much weight loss. I have researched in depth from the early days and to date, there is no known cause or cure for Crohn’s. Many of these diets… from the Specific Carb Diets to the now popular, Paleo, can be helpful for some symptoms, and some people, but also, harmful. I would know having had Crohn’s longer than most commenters have been on the planet. I wish good health for all. A terrible disease.

    • Michele,

      Research on Chron’s and diet is still a relatively new area for scientific exploration. Treating Chron’s tends to require a more individual-focused healing plan. Some have had success using a standard Paleo Diet to treat Chron’s. Others have to incorporate other dietary and lifestyle changes to see success. Thank you for your insight.

    • I am right there with you, Michelle. I was diagnose at age 18 and now at 53 have been dealing with Crohn’s for a very long time. I, too, cannot handle many leafy, raw veggies, but have found that if I take some and mix it with fruit and yogurt and almond milk and juice to blend into a smoothie with my NutriBullet mixer that I can tolerate it and that I actually feel better when I drink them than when I do not. Green smoothies are now a daily staple and the diarrhea has gone from 6-8 times a day down to none or maybe once a day. I feel human again, LOL!

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  5. I’ve had crohn’s for the past 18 years. Controlled most of the time through the usual therapeutics but with some moderate to severe flares. For the past year, I’ve experienced a serious flare that would not go into remission. I went on paleo about ten weeks ago and it has been fantastic. My symptoms were noticeably better within the first two weeks and dramatically better by the fourth week. The symptoms have not completely resolved but they are very mild and manageable at this point. Out of frustration, I quit all of the therapeutics and so far, I’m stable on diet alone. I had experimented with paleo three years ago and great results then as well but had drifted off it over the past year and half. Based on my most recent experience, I’m convinced that diet is first line treatment for crohn’s.

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  8. I’m just starting out Paleo with my daughter who is experiencing bad times right now with Crohn’s/UC. She’s been eating a lot of leafy greens and having a rough time. What other veggies does she need to keep away from?
    Are Apples bad? Dinners consist of protein, veggies and a little fruit.
    I’m scared she’s making her condition worse. I’m doing fantastic, however I don’t have UC/Crohn’s. This is scary times.
    I have the Whole30 book and getting a recipe book this coming Monday by an author who experienced UC/Crohn’s.
    To all who have UC/Crohn’s, please post some advice or tips. Thank you!!!!

    • I like to keep the bulk of my meals as meats and if I have fruits or veggies I stay away from varieties with seeds or a thick skin as those are harder to digest and can increase inflammation. Sweet potatoes are a life saver for me because I can get loads of nutrients and still enjoy them without consequences. I find that veggies do better for me when steamed also rather than raw. The thing I find most helpful to keep in mind is your body knows itself better than you, so listen to it. If leafy greens make things intolerable, move on bc it will not get better.

    • Everyone with Crohn’s is different. If she is in a severe flareup, it would be best to start with an elimination diet, slowly introducing the least harmful foods to see how they react to her body.

      I can eat mushy vegetables (pureed soups, mmmm), rices (Arborio, Jasmine, Basmati and white. Brown is bad!) and less fatty meats (if you are going Paleo and are getting Grass Fed, this will not be an issue – grain fed meats get fatty).

      Fruits are few and far between for me, as my issue revolves around sugars (even the good kind …Wah!)

      I use a mizture of those three “food groups” to create delicious and filling meals every day.

      A great example of why you should try the elimination diet: I have found that Milk products do not harm me (in small quantities – I’m of Scottish decent) and I have never met another person with Crohns who can tolerate it.

      Most importantly – avoid processed foods. They may be easy, but they are never worth it.

      • I have a very moderate Crohan disease and I have started my Paleo about a month ago. I do not suffer from any pain and all blood test are fine. The only way the doctors figure out I have Crohan is with colonoscopy.
        All my life I was lactose intolerance and after a few weeks of no grains (I do eat a little bit of rice and potato but not every day) I could eat dairy products with no problem. I lost weight (about 5 KG) but that’s not always a good thing with Crohan. So the only thing I can say that improved is: I have no rashes I sometimes had before.
        How can I check if the diet actually works except for colonoscopy?

      • Hey Abby,
        I like your advice, it is very similar to my diet.
        I can tolerate Milk products as well! I wonder cause I have a little Scottish heritage as well. That is so interesting!
        I love bread and cheeses! I never eat processed food, I avoid beef and eat a lot of chicken.
        My diet is a little different because I have a J-Pouch and fistulating Crohn’s disease. I avoid sugars and veggies that cause gas. When I have a flare up I eliminate a lot of foods until I feel better enough to start them again.
        It is nice to see someone else with a similar life style.
        Kim.

    • I have had Crohn’s for 35 years and have found that drinking green smoothies (mixing greens and veggies with fruit with yogurt, almond milk, and juice), blending into a smoothie and drinking is much easier on my guts to handle. I also eat chicken, fish (tilapia is a favorite), tuna, salmon, pork, and only a bit of red meat occasionally as well. I feel much, much better!

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    • Christina,
      My husband convinced me to try the juicing when he did as part of his diet plan. It has been a pleasant surprise! I mix baby spinach and kale with fresh and frozen fruit (being sure to stay away from the berries with seeds), and include things like carrots, celery, cucumber, as well as plain Greek yogurt, unsweetened Almond milk, 100% fruit juice, and Aloe Vera juice. I feel soooo much better since I’ve been drinking that for breakfast every day! It is amazing how much better my stomach feels…

  10. Thanks, everyone, for sharing your success stories. I have been battling ulcerative colitis for 12 years and it’s been particularly bad for 2 years. I had no success on the specific carbohydrate diet, which was also extremely limiting. I just finished reading Dr. Cordain’s main paleo book and will start the diet when I return from vacation in a few days. I’m curious of the author’s take on yogurt because I’m worried about eliminating probiotics. However, I do not do well with dairy. What are some other suggestions for probiotics (nondairy, nonsoy). I love sauerkraut but am not sure it contains enough. I would love to take probiotic supplements if anyone can recommend specific strains. (I do believe Gottschall’s claim that probiotics are necessary for those with Crohns and colitis to bring the right balance of good bacteria in the gut). Thanks for your thoughts!

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  14. Dr. Cordain provides excellent advice. Having managed my disease *completely* by diet alone for 5-1/2 years, I would also recommend the following: copious quantities of fermented foods, including yogurt. While the yogurt is not paleo, it provides large quantities of lactic acid bacteria that modulate the growth of other organisms in the gut. This can be very important; see “Breaking the Vicious Cycle” by Gottschall. For another approach (low-carb), see Lutz (“Life Without Bread”). Combining the two- low-carb, zero grains, lots of probiotic yogurt- has worked very, very well for me.

    Lastly, I have one correspondent with CD whose wife insists he eats some amount of greens. He finds relief by turning a salad into a puree’ with a blender. I suspect the small particle size affords better digestion, including exposure to enzymes and digestie processes that cause the vegetable matter to be processed “higher” in the digestive tract, such that “bad” intestinal flora have less of an opportunity to be “fed” these undigested plant parts. Another approach would be to have a very rich salad (lots of egg, ham, fatty dressing) with relatively few greens; chew well. However, this should be attempted only once the diarrhea has ceased, the digestive system has been slowed down (low fiber diet), and the body adjusted to an adequate protein, high-fat diet.

    Good luck.

  15. I had Crohn’s disease [you need to fix the spelling of this in Dr. Cordain’s letter] for almost 20 years and have now been a Paleo diet for almost 3 years. BTW I switched to Paleo, my Crohn’s was mainly manifesting as Acid Reflux disease, but I had previously had 1 surgery and additional hospital stays and was on multiple different medicines over the years.

    Once I made the switch to a Paleo diet, I noticed many immediate benefits (in addition to losing 30+ lbs), including the elimination of acid reflux, bloating, gas, etc. I am off all meds for 3 years now and don’t even see a gastro doctor any more. I especially noticed how bad wheat effected me and avoid it at all costs. It is definitely worth it for your husband to try the Paleo diet. Good luck.

    Daren

    • My husband gained weight in paleo..And i lost weight!Its amazing how things have changed in our life!!We eat real food and our energy is amazing!!He is going to have a check up when we reach 6months to see how things are going on!!

  16. Hello and greatings from Greece my hubby also suffers from
    crohns..For the past 4weeks he has been eating paleo and only spelt bread sticks.No pain,no diarhhia full of energy!!!We still cant believe how his symptons stopped!!

  17. Hi!

    I would attest to this information by Professor Cordain as I have had severe issues with both Crohn’s disease and eczema. I am full Paleo (strict, eliminating milk also) and my life is totally different from how it was.

    In addition to what Cordain wrote I want to add my personal experiences:
    – High carb Paleo stresses my body and thus I get a bad stomach
    – Bad sleep and general stress also have a severe impact
    – Reducing overall stress gives me the ability to consume dairy semi-regularly and even rice (no other grains though)
    – Probiotics (not based on dairy) and L-Glutamine (gluten free) have great positive effects in bad times*

    *bad times is now simply an upset stomach for a day, never lasting more as I switched to strict Paleo

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