Getting the proper nutrition can be difficult if you have Crohn's disease or another inflammatory bowel disease, because these conditions hinder the intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients from food – and this includes fats. While fat is typically viewed as something to avoid, your body needs it to stay healthy. Why? Fat provides an efficient source of energy for your body, as well as helps to maintain healthy skin and hair. Plus, essential vitamins like A, D, E, and K need fat to be absorbed into the bloodstream.
Here’s a rundown of the different types of fat and their sources, as well as why or why not you should include them in your Crohn's diet.
Eat Plenty Of… Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats
Why: Research increasingly shows that eating these types of fats can lower the risk of heart disease. Effects include lowering levels of bad cholesterol in the body, maintaining levels of good cholesterol, and keeping blood pressure in check. Additionally, mono and polyunsaturated fats have been associated with a lower risk of age-related cognitive decline.
Where you’ll find it: Olive oil, avocados, fish, and nuts are all great sources of mono and polyunsaturated fats.
However, nuts can pose a problem for people with irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease. You may find that nut oils or butters don’t interfere with digestion the way whole nuts do, but if you’re unsure how your body will react to nut products, talk to your doctor first to avoid a serious allergic reaction.
Tip: Due to their creamy texture and neutral flavor, avocados can be added to many dishes for an extra dose of healthy fats. Try them mashed on toast, cubed in fruit salad, or as a side to eggs.
Limit Intake Of… Saturated fat
Why: While this type of fat isn’t quite the dietary villain it was made out to be decades ago, it still isn’t great for you. Research suggests that there is little correlation between a diet high in saturated fat and an increased risk of heart disease. The general consensus is that replacing saturated fat with carbohydrates (like was done during the fat-free craze of the 1990s) won’t do any good, but replacing those calories with healthy fats may improve cardiovascular health and help maintain blood sugar levels.
Where you’ll find it: Meat and dairy are the most popular sources of saturated fat, but you’ll also find it in some baked goods, fried or fast foods, eggs, and some types of candy.
Tip: Swap out the high-fat animal products you use most often for healthier options, like substituting turkey burgers for beef. By targeting the foods you eat most often, you’ll make a bigger, more sustainable impact on your health.
Avoid… Trans fat
Why: Trans fat both increases your levels of bad cholesterol and decrease levels of good cholesterol. This type of fat is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, inflammation, and insulin resistance. The only upside to trans fat is that it keeps packaged goods fresh longer, and that’s only a benefit to manufacturers.
Where you’ll find it: Many fried foods and store-bought baked goods contain trans fat, so always check the nutritional label when you’re buying these items. Trans fat is also found in smaller amounts in red meat and butter fat, so you should limit your intake of these as well.
Tip: Companies aren’t required to list trans fat on nutritional labels if the product contains less than half a gram. However, you can check the ingredient list for hydrogenated oils, which would indicate at least trace amounts of trans fat.