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.