Is the Raw Food Diet Dangerous for IBS, Crohn’s, & Colitis?

Celery Woman
Everybody’s talking about the raw food diet.  It’s supposed to heal chronic diseases. Could it actually be dangerous?

The answer is: “yes”.  For some people with IBS, Crohn’s, and colitis, raw vegetables can trigger unwanted reactions.  Here’s a step-by-step explanation:

  1. Raw vegetables contain insoluble fiber.
  2. Fiber can be hard to digest for people with IBS/ IBD.
  3. When fiber isn’t digested properly, that can cause symptoms like gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
  4. Gas and bloating are painful, and diarrhea can cause dehydration, weakness, and loss of vital vitamins & minerals.  At its most severe, this can be life-threatening.

It may seem extreme, but I’ve seen quite a few cases where patients had to be hospitalized as a result of these symptoms.  Those lucky enough to avoid hospitalization were simply in acute pain while dealing with what was going on inside of them.  This doesn’t happen to everyone, but these are things we have to watch out for when dealing with digestive disorders.

With flare-ups, the intestines are inflamed, so they are extremely sensitive to roughage. During this sensitive time, fiber can irritate the intestinal lining, causing all the symptoms mentioned above.

During remission, some people can tolerate raw vegetables, and some people can’t.  Everybody is biologically different – finding your triggers is often a process of trial-and-error. Keep a food journal to track your trigger foods. Here are some more tips on how to make vegetables work for you:

  • Cook vegetables to break down some of the fiber and make them more digestible.
  • Avoid gas-producing foods (like beans, onions, and garlic).
  • During flare-ups, avoid foods high in insoluble fiber (like celery, corn, and peppers).
  • During flare-ups, avoid sulfur-containing cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, and cauliflower).
  • During flare-ups, you can eat small amounts of cooked vegetables – just run them through the blender until smooth (use cooked skinless zucchini, carrots, and squash).

So save yourself a lot of trouble, and leave us a comment before embarking on a new diet. We’ve got research galore, professional and personal experience, and we’ll always try to protect you from that innocent-looking celery stick.

23 Responses to “Is the Raw Food Diet Dangerous for IBS, Crohn’s, & Colitis?”

  1. hello..I got a question..how com I can eat a lot of vegetables,I even drink juices from vegetables like carrot..spinach..even cabbage and I’don’t get gas…but when is coming to fruits like grapes or oranges mostly any kind of fruits is disaster…a lot of gas..does insolube fiber is diffrent in fruits….?or mayby fruits contain a lot of sugar..?

  2. Hey there bartek,

    Good question. Everybody is biologically different, so some people with gut conditions can eat fibrous vegetables and some can’t. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to your own personal food reactions, and to keep up with scientific studies and news about digestive conditions.

    As for your reaction to fruit, here’s a post we just published on the very same topic of IBS and fruit sugar. We talk about fructose, which you’ll find a lot of in grapes and oranges. Hopefully, it will shed some light on what you’re experiencing.

    Be well!
    -Galina

  3. is there any vegetable that CANNOT be eaten raw?

  4. Hello,

    I am in the middle of a terrible flare up (after having my mercury fillings replaced four months ago and only getting part-way through chelation before really bad stomach problems began). I cannot tolerate ANY medications, supplements, herbs, etc. (No slippery elm, licorice, marshmallow root, etc). I can only eat chicken stock, chicken, long-cooked carrots and purple organic grape juice. Any time I eat even a well cooked veggie or fruit, I get into a lot of burning pain. Can you suggest what I should do? Should I try just the above diet with some fresh vegetable juices or are those likely to irritate me further. Any ideas of what I should try would be helpful! Thanks, B

  5. Dear Beth,
    I know how you feel. After removing my mercury fillings 19 years ago, I started to have the usual symptoms of colitis flare: abdominal cramps, bloating and severe bloody diarrhea.
    I decided to control my disease with real food rather than medication. So, I started to drink my food: home made chicken stock, gut healing herbal teas, European medicinal clay drink, plain Jell-O and vegetable juices diluted with boiled water. Few weeks later I did 2 tests:
    (1) Food allergy test to see which foods I can tolerate and
    (2) GI Stool Test to detect bacteria, parasites and fungus in my gut. Also, this test can identify which herbs and antibiotics you can tolerate.

    I recommend to avoid drinking grape juice because it contains high levels of fructose, which in your case can trigger diarrhea and intestinal yeast overgrowth.

    Be Well,
    Galina

  6. I went on a raw food diet for 3 days, on the third day I got terrible stomach pains and my bowels totally evacuated including some blood. I am slightly glad my stomach can’t tolerate the diet since it is quite awful, but I’m sure I would have gotten used to it. Perhaps an even balance of raw and cooked food will work for me, who knows?

  7. Dear Derek,

    You are right: balance of raw and cooked food is the key. In general, sudden introduction of 100% raw diet can produce more harm than good especially if you have problems with your digestive system.
    Although, raw food diet appear simple, it is not “one size fits all” type of a diet. Applied without proper understanding of one’s specific health issues it can produce more harm then good.
    To prove my point, you “got terrible stomach pains and bowels totally evacuated including some blood” just after 3 days on a raw food diet.
    My opinion: the best time to start raw food diet is during summer time. It should be introduced gradually in small amounts and should be tailored for once particular health conditions, geographical location, age and body type.
    Consult licensed healthcare professional if you have any medical issues (especially digestive problems).
    Galina

  8. My Daughters and I have been on a vegan, wheat, glutten, sugar(even fruit) and dairy free diet for just 2 days so far, not 100% Raw but very close. however today we all experience really bad bloating and visiting the rest room too often. any tips on how to ease this discomfort?

  9. Excellent question! I will make a separate blog post on 100% raw diet and bloating/diarrhea problem.

  10. I know that the insoluble fiber is hard to digest for crohn’s but what are your thoughts about juicing these vegetables? Is there something about the veggies besides fiber that can be problematic? I have juiced them and then strained them once again to make sure to eliminate most or all insoluble fiber.

  11. Hayley Benosman May 8, 2010 at 6:25 am

    hello, this is my second week of a really bad bout. I think it started with eating raw carrots and cucumber with my sandwich at lunch times. Really babd burning on my right side which runs a little towards my back. I get constipated so trie some wheatabix although i’m going everyday now still feel bloated and really stressed now. I bought some natural calm me down tablets do you think the will work. Have you got any other ideas on how to get rid of this burning and wind, please.

  12. hi i was just reading your web site and found it intresting about eating raw veg. i suffer from ibs and have thought that raw veg aggrevated it and it looks like i am right. if i eat coleslaw or salad the next day i am in a great deal of pain do you think this is the cause? when my pains are really bad my lower back is very painful is this common?

  13. Dear Julie,
    You are absolutely right: raw vegetables can aggravate your sensitive digestive system, especially raw cabbage, which is the main ingredient in coleslaw. Cruciferous veggies like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower are known to cause gas. Stay away from raw salads!!! In IBS, raw veggies can trigger gas, bloating and indigestion in your gut. Eat cooked, easy to digest vegetables like carrots, squash, zucchini and beets. Also, your observation about abdominal/stomach pain connection to lower back pain. It is very common for stomach pain and lower back pain to accompany each other. When you will heal your gut, your lower back pain magically might go away if is not caused by back injury, pinched nerve, etc. I hope my explanation will help you to resolve your digestive problems. Please let me know how you feel without eating raw veggies.
    If you want to stay informed subscribe to our free newsletter at http://www.knowyourgut.com

    Be Well,
    Galina

  14. Hi Galia
    Thankyou for your advice. I have not eaten any raw veggies and I have had no pain for nearly a fortight now I am keeping my fingers crossed thanks again.
    Julie

  15. i liked all the guestions and answers that were given @iknow that this is going to be very helpful to me thank you so much God bless and take care.

  16. Hi!
    I was diagnosed with IBS about 15 years ago. I got it under control then and it seemed to disappear until a 1 1/2 years ago. It came back after I quit a raw food diet I had been on for a month. No problems during the raw food diet but after I quit the IBS came back. In searching for a way to feel better, I found a diet that eliminated wheat, dairy, and eggs. It also turned out to be vegan and about 80% raw. While I was using that diet, my episodes went from daily to once a week. I’m not sure if that was due to the added fiber in the diet or the elimination of allergens (I’ve tested negative for allergies in the standard tests). Thanks for the great website!

  17. Thank you Mindy for sharing your story! You have made a good choice of eliminating wheat, dairy and eggs (most common allergens) from your diet. Unfortunately, the standard tests are not always accurate in detecting delayed food allergies. That is why combination of elimination diet and advanced food allergy testing should be used to get IBS under control. Plus I recommend IBS Relief Tea and IBS specific probiotics for gut healing.

  18. Hi, I’ve had digestive issues for about 10 years and have been recommended to eat only cooked vegetables. If I eat slowly though in a relaxed environment, my body can easily process a fresh leaf salad as part of a meal. I’m currently intolerant to gluten, dairy, eggs, yeast and most grains though I can tolerate a little steamed rice. I don’t eat raw fruit as it almost gives me a high. What are some simple ways I can incorporate raw foods into my diet? Are there cases when it wouldn’t be of benefit at all?

  19. Dear Isabelle,
    The simplest way I know on how to incorporate raw foods in your diet is to eat blended salads (salads chopped up to small pieces on a blender) and drink cream of vegetable soups. And chew, chew, chew each bite of your food for at least 50 times. At the times of the flare of your digestive condition you should stay away from raw salads. For more information on digestive issues you can subscribe to our free newsletter at http://www.knowyourgut.com

  20. PLEASE READ–I have ulcerative proctitis and arthritis–two seemingly conflicting diseases in the food world when it comes to dietary plans!!!

    This was incredibly informative…thanks for sharing. I will explain to you what I have experienced.

    Last year, I went cooked vegan. I ate a very high fiber diet and one night, after eating a large amount of beans, I ended up having to go to the emergency room. I continued eating my diet (very high-fiber because I was/am trying to get healthy for another huge health reason), getting sick and lethargic, having bleeding from you know where, and just not having good experiences. I ended up going back to eating the unhealthy vegan diet, where I was able to have semi-normal digestion, but still experienced some symptoms and on top of that, my ARTHRITIS was flaring up like CRAZY from all the inflammatory, easy to digest foods, whereas before, I was hardly feeling pain. Ugh :( I’ve got one disease that seems to want me to eat one type of foods, and another that wants the opposite. SEEMS, that is.

    I have in the last two weeks, given up any type of grain and any type of nut, and guess what–my arthritis pain is GONE. It’s never been this pain-free for this consecutive number of days–every day has been less and less pain, rather than being a victim of the randomness of my inflamed joints. I simply do not want to give up this fruit and vegetable based diet–it’s helping my arthritic pain go away and making it easier for me to live my life a lot less miserably. I’ve been cooking and peeling fruits and vegetables in order to eat them, and although I’m finding myself still having some constipation and proctitis symptoms from the fiber, I am less miserable than before.

    Then I researched about juicing. Raw fruits and vegetables–but without the fiber. I’ll let you guys know how I’m doing in a while, but I’ve heard of miraculous results and I don’t see how it could hurt. I just want to share this information because raw fruits and veggies are so beneficial to many people’s health–I am experiencing it. Unfortunately, with ulcerative proctitis, it is making my journey a bit more complicated. I just know juicing could potentially help and all I want to do is spread the message. Take care, all.

  21. Hi.
    I have been suffering from a combination of IBS-C and parasites (blastocystis) for the last 10 months. I went on an elimination diet to establish what I could tolerate (mostly steamed and pureed veggies, chicken, fish, soups, blended fruit drinks, oats, quinoa, rice, beans) while avoiding, wheat, dairy, eggs, sugars, stimulants etc. The antibiotic treatment I took did not eradicate the parasites and I am fearful of doing it again so am trying to use an herbal cleanse. I had a colonic recently and was advised to go raw. I tried but still had constipation and discomfort after 2 days. My feeling is to return to what I was doing and perhaps try to incorporate some more raw veggies and fruits into blender drinks. The problem with fruit (I have read) is that parasites are rather fond of it as well as starches so perhaps they should be avoided? I might add that I am skeletally thin, having lost more than 30 pounds and worry about not getting enough nutrients. I realize that some of that is due partly to the parasites who are eating all the good food that should be nourishing me! Any advice?

  22. Dear Lyza,
    Thank you for sharing your story. Quite often individuals with gut issues like proctitis, colitis and IBS suffer from arthritis due to leaky gut syndrome, food intolerances and abnormal intestinal flora. My advise to people who are trying to eat high fiber diet is PLEASE ADD HIGH FIBER FOODS TO YOUR DIET SLOWLY and skip eating huge amount of beans. Too much fiber in a short period of time can result in gas and bloating.
    So, how can you eat a healthy diet full of fiber without getting sick?
    The answer is simple:
    1. Peel your vegetables and make soup. By peeling your veggies and cooking it in water your decrease the amount of insoluble fiber, which makes veggies easy to digest.
    2. And for fruits – peel your fruits and make a smoothie. Easy to digest!
    3. And to minimize bean problem– cook them with seaweed and make a bean dip or hummus.
    Be smart with your fiber; learn how to use it properly. For more information please subscribe to our free newsletter at http://www.knowyourgut.com
    Galina

  23. Hi,
    I was diagnosed with crohns about a year ago. and no matter what i do i seem to get progressively worse.
    i’ve been hospitalized twice and am on my 3rd long course of steroids.

    Is there anything positive food wise i can do for my belly whilst on the steroid? i’m also taking a lot of other meds to.

    i’m pretty much afraid of eating, for what ever i do eat just goes straight through, i end up staying in bed for days with exhaustion, unable to complete my studies or earn any money.

    Jess x

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