Nutrition for 3 Common Digestive Health Conditions
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Healthy Eating for IBS, IBD (Crohn’s Disease/Colitis) and Celiac Disease


image of a person from the hips to chese in a grey tshirt against a dark blue background. They are clutching their stomach and an red image of the digestive system is projected over their handsAre you struggling with digestive discomfort and seeking support to manage your symptoms?  Have you been recently diagnosed with a digestive health issue and unsure how nutrition can help or what foods will support your digestive system condition?  

There are many digestive health issues that can affect your quality of life and your overall health. As a Digestive Health Dietitian, one of my main areas of practice is the management of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) but I also specialize in all forms of digestive system conditions 

In this article I will explain more about the types of challenges that come with digestive health issues and share the symptoms, risks and some statistics about IBS, IBD (inflammatory bowel disease or Crohn’s / Colitis) and celiac disease. I’ll also look at nutrition for digestive health that can help you manage symptoms.  


Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)


IBS is the most common digestive health issue. It is not a disease, it is a syndrome. While the symptoms of IBS can highly affect your quality of life, the syndrome itself does not increase your health risk. It is the management of the symptoms that can increase health risk. Skipping meals for example to avoid symptoms or not hydrating enough if you have bad persistent diarrhea is what can harm your health.  

According to the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation, “Canada has one of the highest prevalence of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in the world – an estimated 18% vs. 11% globally”.  

The symptoms of IBS include:  

  • Constipation or diarrhea or alternance of both 
  • Pain in the lower abdomen 
  • Excessive gas 
  • Feeling bloated 
  • Abdominal extension 

When unmanaged, IBS can greatly influence your daily life. A Monash University study has shown that people with unmanaged or undiagnosed IBS are missing work more often than people without digestive issues. They are also more prone to avoid social events, to stress more easily when planning a trip and their digestive issues impact their relationships with family and friends.  

Fortunately for 90% of the people living with IBS, the low FODMAP diet can help with managing the symptoms so they can live a better life. This diet consists of a strict elimination phase for up to 8 weeks followed by a reintroduction phase of, on average, 12 weeks, followed by a personalization phase. These 3 phases allow the person to identify foods that trigger IBS symptoms and to build a diet that can prevent them. For the remaining 10%, many strategies can help identify the triggers without involving the low FODMAP diet.  

An experienced Digestive Health Dietitian trained in the low FODMAP diet can help navigating through the journey and help you identify the triggers while allowing some favourite foods and preventing any nutrient deficiency.  


Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)


IBD groups two diseases, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. These two diseases, when not managed properly, can greatly affect general health by causing nutrient deficiency and dehydration due to malabsorption or increased output.  

The Canadian Crohn’s and Colitis association estimates that a little under 1% of Canadians (about 270,000 people) are living with these two diseases. It is estimated that by 2030 the prevalence will increase to about 1% and affect about 400,000 Canadians.  

The symptoms of IBD include:  

  • Severe diarrhea, sometimes accompanied with blood 
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Unintentional weight loss 
  • Abdominal pain and cramping 
  • Extreme fatigue and anemia 
  • Fever 

These two diseases evolve in periods of flare up and remission. During remission, the person usually can adopt a relatively unrestricted diet while limiting any triggers. During flare ups, that can happen suddenly despite adequate compliance to medication and diet, the person needs to adapt their diet and lifestyle to prevent nutrition deficiency, dehydration and unintentional weight loss.  

Digestive Health Dietitian can support a person living with IBD on many levels from help identifying the symptom triggers and prevent the risks to your health during periods of flare up.  


Celiac Disease and Non-celiac Gluten Sensitivity


a dietitian performs a virtual consult with a patient who is a middle aged male. The dietitian has many fruits around her and is writing in a notebook.Celiac disease is a digestive system condition where person cannot tolerate gluten in food. Even if the disease is not an allergy, it needs to be managed the same way since a very small amount of gluten is enough to induce symptoms.  

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a medical condition that involves gluten, but the symptoms or impact on general health are not as significant as with celiac disease. Unfortunately, more research is needed to fully understand the mechanism of non-celiac gluten sensitivity.  

The Canadian Celiac Association estimates about 1% Canadians live with celiac disease and about 3 to 6% of Canadians are living with non-celiac gluten sensitivity.  

When a person with celiac disease eats gluten, the body reacts to it and a change in the intestinal shape occurs limiting nutrient absorption.  

The common symptoms of the celiac disease are: 


  • Severe diarrhea 
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Unintentional weight loss 
  • Abdominal pain and cramping 
  • Extreme fatigue and anemia 
  • Osteoporosis 
  • Liver injuries 
  • Growth retardation (for children with unmanaged celiac disease) 
  • Neurological problems 


A strict glutenfree diet for people with celiac disease is recommended. A Digestive Health Dietitian can help you manage celiac disease by teaching you how to identify gluten in food and to prevent cross contamination. 

Sometimes digestive health issues go undiagnosed. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, we recommend you to contact your Family Physician to get a proper diagnosis.  

The management of these conditions often requires specialized knowledge to ensure symptom management, prevent nutrient deficiencies and prevent restricting the diet more than needed. If you have had a new diagnosis or are experiencing any digestive symptoms, we can help. Contact us today to see how we can support you with your digestive health concerns.   

Looking for more simple meal planning tips and healthy recipes for a healthier lifestyle? Sign up for our weekly newsletter for a healthy recipe of the week (and nutrition articles and videos with a balanced living philosophy to help encourage healthy habits but still save room for your favorites). Our nutrition newsletter is written by the Online / Calgary Nutritionists on our team who each hold a professional Registered Dietitian license to ensure you are getting credible advice.


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