Plant-Based Eating for Crohn’s
R eady to up your cooking game? Look no further than virtual cooking classes. After the COVID-19 pandemic caused everything to relocate online, the demand for online cooking courses exploded — prompting many people to find a new love of cooking (and a new level of convenience).
That said, if you have Crohn’s disease, you might be hesitant to sign up for a new cooking class — especially if you’re not sure you can stomach the cuisine. While it’s smart to ask yourself, “Can I eat that?” you don’t want to get into a food rut and be afraid to try any new foods.
With On Trend, you can confidently take some virtual cooking classes with healthy foods and ingredients that are gentle on the gut and full of beneficial nutrients. As with any virtual cooking class, you’ll learn new recipes and techniques to bring restaurant-quality dishes to your own table. You’ll also learn information and tips specific to Crohn’s disease that will help inspire your own creativity in the kitchen. Let’s get cooking!
Meet the Experts
Chef Daniel Green
Daniel Green is an internationally recognized chef and TV personality who specializes in healthy eating and weight loss. An award-winning author of 12 cookbooks and the cohost of Everyday Health’s Condition Kitchen, Green helps people create meals that are low in fat but full of flavor.
Joseph Feuerstein, MD
Dr. Feuerstein is an assistant professor at Columbia University in New York City and the director of integrative medicine at Stamford Health in Connecticut. In his practice, he helps people improve their health by incorporating nutrition and other lifestyle changes into their treatment plans. Feuerstein also cohosts Condition Kitchen with Green.
Tina Aswani Omprakash
Tina has been living with Crohn’s disease since she was 22 years old and is the founder of the blog Own Your Crohn’s. Through her writing, public speaking, and other advocacy work, she helps people who have chronic illnesses or disabilities own their conditions and live fuller, happier lives.
On Trend: Food Tips
An Easy Way to Cook With Less Fat
Trend No. 1: Plant-Based Eating for Crohn’s Disease
T he rise in plant-based eating can be seen almost everywhere, starting with grocery store aisles and restaurant menus featuring more vegetarian options. Celebrities are on board, too: Some famous names linked to plant-based eating include Venus Williams, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Zac Efron, and Olivia Wilde.
Even if you’re not strictly following a vegan or vegetarian diet, you may have tried “Meatless Mondays” or occasionally follow what’s called a flexitarian diet, which allows for some meat in moderation. According to research published in January 2021 in the journal Scientific Reports, reduced meat consumption among flexitarians has led to an unprecedented growth of meat substitutes in the Western market. And some of the newest plant-based alternatives, such as the Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat, are, quite frankly, more like meat than ever.
What do you think about plant-based eating?
So, how does this trend stack up in terms of health? To start, animal products, including beef, pork, poultry with skin, butter, and cheese, contain saturated fat, which is linked to health issues such as heart disease and stroke, according to the American Heart Association. High-fat foods can also be hard to digest, triggering Crohn’s symptoms.
For people with Crohn’s disease, the plant-based trend might be a smart idea for another reason, too: Red meat and processed meats — bacon, hot dogs, salami — are pro-inflammatory, whereas whole plant foods have anti-inflammatory properties, according to Mayo Clinic.
According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, people with Crohn’s disease who have a sensitivity to lactose (a sugar found in dairy) may do better with plant-based milk and cheese alternatives made from soy, almonds, oats, or cashews.
Plant-based eating isn’t without its drawbacks, though, especially for someone with an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) such as Crohn’s. Intestinal inflammation can cause malabsorption, and certain medications along with Crohn’s symptoms, such as diarrhea, may contribute to malnutrition, according to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. This means you may have higher daily requirements for vitamins and minerals or even need to consume more calories to gain weight. Whenever you restrict your diet, it’s important to work with a dietitian to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need.
One possible challenge: “It’s harder to get enough protein,” says Feuerstein. Meat tends to be a primary source of protein in Western diets, so you’ll need to replace it with plant-based sources. Good options include legumes (beans, lentils, peanuts), soy, nuts, and quinoa.
Since many plant-based proteins are also high in fiber, consider how much fiber you can tolerate (especially if you have a stricture, and already have to limit your roughage intake). Blending, mashing, or grinding certain foods may help make them easier to digest.
“I can actually eat these things if I make a mash out of them,” Tina says. “So a cauliflower mash or mashed potatoes. This works really well for me and still allows me to include vegetables.”
Tina also recommends chopping vegetables very finely, peeling any that have fibrous skin, and cooking them very well.
Some other nutrients to make sure you’re getting enough of in a plant-based diet, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, include:
You can learn more about these nutrients and plant-based sources of them in Everyday Health’s On Trend video series.
Plant-Based Recipes From Chef Daniel Green
Avocado on Sweet Potato ‘Toast’
- 3 sweet potatoes, peeled and grated
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 ripe avocados
- 2 scallions, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
- 1/2 lemon, juiced
- Grate the sweet potato onto a paper towel and then squeeze so it absorbs as much liquid from the potato as possible. Put the shredded potato into a bowl and add a tbsp of the oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste and then mix.
- Form the shredded potato into four rounds.
- Heat a large nonstick pan on medium to high heat. Add the remaining oil. Fry the potato rounds for about 3–4 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Set aside on a dry paper towel to absorb any excess oil.
- Mix the avocado, parsley, and lemon juice until it looks like guacamole and then spread on the potato cakes.
Meatless Black Bean Burger
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 2 cups mixed mushrooms
- 2 ripe avocados, mashed
- 1/8 cup vegetable broth
- 2 scallions, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp fresh basil leaves
- 2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1/8 cup almond flour
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 15-oz can black beans, drained
- 8 portobello mushroom caps
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Add 1 tbsp of the oil to a nonstick pan (preferably a grill pan) and sauté or grill the mushrooms over medium-to-high heat for 4 minutes per side. You will need to do this in a couple of batches. Set aside.
- Blend the avocado with the broth. Stir in the scallions and set aside.
- In a large food processor, blend the mushrooms with the seasonings, flour, beans, and remaining olive oil until chunky. (Do not puree.)
- Shape the mixture into four burgers and place on a greased baking tray. Bake for 15 minutes.
- Heap a spoonful of the avocado mix on each burger.
- Serve on portobello “buns.”
Trend No. 2: Globally Inspired Comfort Food
Do a quick search of the hottest food trends in 2023, and you’ll see nostalgic or ancestral eating (eating foods that remind of us of home) popping up on plenty of lists, including those from Better Homes & Gardens, Food Network, and Delish. These types of comfort foods are tied to our emotions, bringing familiarity and feelings of safety and, of course, comfort — something many of us are looking for these days.
For Americans, comfort food often brings to mind favorites like mac ’n’ cheese, pizza, oven-baked casseroles, and even chocolate chip cookies, which are all high-fat foods that may trigger Crohn’s symptoms.
“In general, comfort foods are going to be high in carbs and high in fat,” explains Feuerstein. “What these recipes are trying to do is give you food that is comforting but healthy, especially if you’re living with Crohn’s.”
Everyone’s comfort foods are different. For instance, you might be thinking of a special meal your parents or grandparents cooked when you were a kid, or a common Chinese, Indian, or Italian dish.
“As a South Asian American, I think of all sorts of other foods from the Far East as well as from different parts of Asia,” says Tina. “I’m excited that we’re talking about ethnic cuisine and how to integrate that into a Crohn’s disease–type diet.”
What all comfort foods tend to have in common is that they’re warm, hearty, home-cooked meals that help you escape with every savory bite.
Everyday Health took that traditional comfort food and combined it with another form of escape: virtual travel. Internationally and regionally inspired dishes — poke bowls, dumplings, ramen, pho, kimchi, hummus, tacos, BBQ — were already gaining popularity over the past few years. Now, many people have been looking for ways to bring global experiences into their homes. Here, virtual cooking meets virtual travel as chef Daniel Green takes you around the world to try comfort foods from Thailand and Great Britain.
Not only do these recipes provide good-for-you nutrition, but they’ve also been tailored to a Crohn’s diet so they are easy to digest and can be adjusted to your own needs and tastes — and hopefully push you a little out of your comfort zone.
“I can still get tons of flavor, and it feels like I can eat just like everybody else can,” says Tina. “So there’s no FOMO.”
Global Comfort Food Recipes From Chef Daniel Green
Thai Chicken Curry
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into quarters
- 1 tsp Thai red curry paste*
- 1-inch piece fresh ginger, grated
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1 13.5-oz can coconut milk
- 1 cup carrots, finely sliced
- Handful cilantro, chopped
- Olive oil
- In a large saucepan, heat a little olive oil. Add the chicken and cook for a few minutes on each side.
- Add the curry paste, ginger, and garlic. Cook for 1 minute.
- Add half of the coconut milk. Cover and simmer on low for about 6 minutes.
- Add the remaining coconut milk and simmer uncovered for another 2–3 minutes.
- Add the carrots, cover, and cook for a few minutes.
- Remove from the heat. Garnish with the cilantro and serve.
*For a milder curry, use half the amount of curry paste and substitute the other half with a stalk or two of fresh lemongrass (lightly pounded to release the oils) and some Thai basil leaves. Remove the lemongrass before serving.
Chocolate Chia Pudding
- 1 cup cocoa powder
- 2 cups warm water, divided
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 1/3 cup chia seeds
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 tbsp coconut oil, warmed to a liquid
- Fresh mint or banana slices, for garnish
- In a blender, mix the cocoa powder with 1 cup of the warm water until blended.
- Add the remaining water, maple syrup, chia seeds, and vanilla. Blend until smooth.
- Drizzle in coconut oil while slowly blending, so it emulsifies.
- Place the pudding mixture in four ramekins and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
- Serve with fresh mint or banana.