Nutritional treatment

Nutritional treatment, such as exclusive enteral nutrition, is the only form of dietary treatment scientifically proven to help people with IBD, in particular, those with CD. Your healthcare team will tell you if they think this will help you.


Some people with IBD may be prescribed exclusive enteral nutrition (a special liquid-only diet), which usually lasts for 2-8 weeks. People on this diet do not need to eat ordinary food or drink because the liquid diet provides them with all necessary nutrients that they need.

Exclusive enteral nutrition is most effective for people with CD, and is rarely used for UC. It is commonly used in children because it can improve growth by providing easily digested nutrients. It can also make it less likely that steroids may be needed, by helping to ‘rest’ the bowel and allow it to heal. Adults are less likely to need exclusive enteral nutrition, but may find it helpful to have supplemental drinks alongside normal food in order to obtain more nutrients – this is also sometimes useful for children.

The drinks used in exclusive enteral nutrition are made up of very small simple easily digested molecules. The type of drink depends on the sizes of the molecules used in them. For example, elemental drinks contain single amino acids (molecules which link together to make up proteins), while polymeric drinks contain whole proteins.

These different types of drinks have been found to be equally effective. You may be able to try them in different flavors to see which you like best. Some people, particularly children, may prefer to have the liquid via a naso-gastric feeding tube through their nose into their stomach - meaning that they do not need to drink the liquid. Some people may gradually reintroduce foods back into their diet once they have been on exclusive enteral nutrition.

For more information see Food diaries and food reintroduction plans.


A few people with Crohn’s may find it impossible to absorb enough nutrients through their small bowel. In this rare situation, it may be necessary to provide nutrients directly into the blood stream.

 A thin intravenous (IV) tube is inserted into a vein in the chest, arm or neck, providing nutrients directly into the blood stream, without using the digestive system.

Some people with IBD may find it helps them to follow a special diet - but if you decide to do this, discuss it carefully with your IBD team. Many diets require supervision from a dietitian - your GP, IBD nurse, or consultant may be able to refer you to an NHS dietitian if one is available, or you may wish to see a private dietitian.