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What is an Ileostomy Diet?

By Emma Lloyd
Updated: Mar 03, 2024

An ileostomy is an opening in the abdomen that is constructed during a surgical procedure. A person who has an ileostomy usually will find that making certain dietary modifications can help him or her stay healthy. There is no ileostomy diet that everyone who has this procedure must follow. Even so, most people find that after surgery, following an ileostomy diet that restricts or avoids certain foods, especially those high in fiber, can help prevent digestive problems.

In an ileostomy, the end of the small intestine, called the ileum, is cut and brought to the surface of the skin. When the surgery is completed, the patient has a surgical opening in the skin, just above the groin, that is connected to the ileum. The surgical opening is called a stoma.

When food is eaten by someone with an ileostomy, it passes through the digestive system to the ileum and is collected in an external pouch. The food thus bypasses the remainder of the digestive system, including the large intestine, colon, rectum and anus. This surgery is sometimes used as a treatment for diseases such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, which can require that the colon or a section of large intestine must be removed to preserve the health of the patient.

Following an ileostomy diet is often a matter of trial-and-error, because not everyone with an ileostomy will respond the same way to a given food. In general, however, high-fiber foods must be avoided, as they are difficult to digest. Foods that are capable of blocking the stoma generally should be avoided as well. Other problem foods can cause digestion problems such as loose stool, excess gas and pain.

Foods to avoid include fruit and vegetable skins and seeds, raw vegetables, nuts, popcorn, coconut, corn, salads and dried fruit. All of these foods are high-risk in terms of their potential to block the stoma. Chewing food very thoroughly can help reduce this risk, but some people might find that blockage still occurs.

An ileostomy diet might also include refined breads, cereals and pastas only, in contrast to the general recommendation that whole grain cereals be eaten. This is because the extra fiber in unrefined grains can cause digestion problems or stoma blockage. Meats should be well-cooked and tender, and meats with gristle or other tough connective tissue should be avoided. It also is important to drink plenty of water and other liquids, to aid digestion and prevent dehydration.

In addition to modifying what foods are eaten, an ileostomy diet might also modify how they are eaten. Eating smaller, more frequent meals on a consistent schedule is important to promote regular digestion and stool output. In addition, to reduce the amount of stool produced at night, the smallest meal of the day should be taken in the evening.

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Discussion Comments
By musicshaman — On Nov 18, 2010

My father had been on a colitis diet for years to try and deal with an intermittent inflammation of the bowel, but he eventually had to undergo ileostomy surgery.

Although the whole ileostomy procedure and diet is not the easiest thing in the world, he found that it was really worth it. He was eventually able to have the stoma removed, and afterwards his bowel problems were almost completely cleared up.

So if you are undergoing an ileostomy diet right now, just know that things can get better -- even though it's hard now, you've got a lot of hope, especially after going through the ileostomy surgery.

By StreamFinder — On Nov 18, 2010

Another thing that's good to keep in mind when you are on an ileostomy diet is the whole smell of foods.

It's not the nicest thing in the world to think about, but you really do have to consider these kinds of things after ileostomy surgery.

Foods like garlic, onions, fish, asparagus, and broccoli are unfortunately quite smelly, which isn't a big deal when they're in the bag, since the collection bag is smell-proof, but it can be truly awful when you have to clean it out later.

You also might want to consider including other foods like plain yogurt or buttermilk in your diet, since they are pretty good natural deodorants.

A good rule of thumb is to follow an IBD diet, since both IBD and an ileostomy diet focus on a lot of the same things. If in doubt, just ask your doctor or dietitian -- you really don't have to do this by yourself, and they will be able to tell you the best foods and amounts of those foods for your body.

Best of luck!

By closerfan12 — On Nov 18, 2010

How would you say that a diet for ileostomy patients compares to something like a Crohn's diet?

My mother in law had Crohn's disease, and she had to be on a diet that sounds kind of like this, but she didn't have a colostomy or anything, so its not like she had to worry about blocking a stoma.

Do you know why these two conditions would require the same diet, or specifically why a Crohn's diet would be the same as the one you'd have to follow after an ileostomy surgery?

I'd be really curious to learn more about this topic. Thanks for such an informative article!

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