Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, is an anaerobic bacterium that can grow within the body and cause severe diarrhea, nausea, loss of appetite and other gastrointestinal problems. This most commonly occurs when a person is on long-term antibiotics that kill the body's natural bacteria that help fight off infections. Though C. diff can be treated with antibiotics, it can take two to three weeks to alleviate symptoms. In the meantime, nutritional interventions can be used to help manage the symptoms.
Fat is difficult to digest, so high fat or greasy foods should be avoided when experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms due to C. diff. If the body has trouble digesting and absorbing large amounts of fat that have been eaten, it will quickly be excreted as waste and may contribute to diarrhea.
Patients with C. diff often experience lactose intolerance, which can make diarrhea and stomach pain worse. Avoid milk and cheese until gastrointestinal symptoms have resolved. Aged cheeses, such as Parmesan, and yogurts may be better tolerated, as the active cultures in them help to break down the lactose.
Foods that cause gas and bloating can make the symptoms of C. diff worse. Avoiding foods like cabbage, onions, cauliflower, beans, broccoli and whole grain breads can help keep symptoms under control. While these foods are the most common cause-causing foods, the ability to tolerate these and other foods may vary from person to person.
Sugar-Free and Fat-Free Foods
To replace the sugar and fat in these foods, sugar alcohols and fat substitutes are used. Sugar alcohols have been shown to cause bloating and diarrhea, and in large amounts they are thought to have a laxative effect. Foods with fat substitutes, such as Olestra or Olean, have been found to have the same effect because it contributes to malabsorption in the intestine.
Caffeine and Spicy Foods
Foods and drinks with caffeine, as well as spicy foods, may contribute to the symptoms of C. diff. Large amounts of spice can be irritating to the gastrointestinal system, hindering its recovery. Caffeine is considered a diuretic, which means that it pulls water into the intestine. This excess water loss can lead to diarrhea and dehydration.
- CDC: Clostridium difficile Infection
- National Digestive Diseases International Clearinghouse: Diarrhea
- SLUCare The Physicians of Saint Louis University: Diarrhea
- Yale-New Haven Hospital: Sugar Alcohol
- "Circulation"; American Heart Association Scientific Statement Fat and Fat Substitutes; Judith Wylie-Rosett, EdD, RD; 2002