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Protein- Pros and Cons of Different Types

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Having IBD makes us question what to eat for our condition and in particular, what protein sources are beneficial for us to have.  There are times during our IBD when higher protein needs are warranted depending on inflammation and surgery. 

In today’s post, we will be breaking down different protein sources and why we recommend consuming or limiting the intake of these specific protein sources.


Some common sources of poultry include chicken, eggs, turkey, and others.  These foods may be commonly seen in our standard North American diet and also in certain therapeutic diets for IBD including the Crohn’s disease exclusion diet (CDED) and the specific carbohydrate diet (SCD). 

While these can be great protein sources, especially if in a flare or having a hard time tolerating certain foods, they are not on the top of our list to recommend or consume frequently. We will further explore in our next library post on why that is. 

  • Pros- High biological value, well-utilized protein. Generally well tolerated with symptoms. IOIBD guidelines are supportive of using poultry in moderate amounts.
  • Cons- Large amounts especially with combined with low diversity of color and fiber in the diet tend to be not as favorable to gut health and the microbiome.


Examples of legumes include a variety of beans, lentils, soybeans (tofu/edamame), peanuts, and peas.  Some of these plant-protein sources tend to have a high biological value (HBV) since they contain good sources of fiber thereby promoting a healthy gut microbiota.  

High biological value (HBV) protein sources tend to contain all of the essential amino acids (building blocks of protein) to be utilized by the body with ease.  HBV protein sources determine the quality of the protein source and help our bodies to function properly.  Most of the time these sources are found in animal-based foods; however, plant-based foods including soybeans and quinoa are HBV sources.

Studies have shown that legumes in combination with other plant-based foods like vegetables, whole grains, and fruits can help improve biological value.

  • Pros- Can have higher biological value when combined with grains. Legumes tend to have a positive impact on the microbiome and can help promote butyrate production which can help with lowering inflammation.
  • Cons- Beans can trigger symptoms often in IBD so we recommend tools to improve tolerance with beans.

Meat/Processed meats

Examples of red meat include steak, pork, lamb, and so forth.  Examples of processed meats include deli meat (turkey/chicken/ham), salami, bacon, and others. What we know about meat is that it takes longer to digest and can actually increase a person’s risk of developing IBD (1).  The dietary guidelines from the International Organization for the Study of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IOIBD) suggest reducing the intake of red meat and processed meats in patients with ulcerative colitis (2). 

  • Pros- High biological value, well-utilized protein.
  • Cons- Processed meats and red meats are associated with increased risk for colon cancer, development of IBD and IBD flare-ups (inflammation type).


Fish can be another excellent source of protein to incorporate into your diet, especially for those with IBD. Fish also has high biological value – meaning it is utilized easily by the body. Salmon, halibut, cod, and mackerel are types of fish that we often recommend having.  Salmon, in particular, contains a good source of omega-3 fatty acids which has been shown to lower inflammation in the intestines and help maintain clinical remission (3). 

  • Pros- High biological value, well utilized protein. Omega 3 rich varieties of fish can help with inflammation reduction. Omega 3 rich types of fish tend to have a positive impact on the microbiome.
  • Cons- Not everyone is a fan of fish, it can also be costly depending on how it is purchased

Key Takeaways

There are many different sources of protein whether it be animal-based or plant-based.  Regarding IBD, plant-based sources including tofu, edamame, legumes, and others tend to provide our intestinal tract with beneficial properties that have been shown to alleviate intestinal inflammation over time.  

Although we like to lean more towards a plant-focused approach, Mediterranean-style diets which do include lean poultry and eggs may also be an appropriate option. The IOIBD guidelines also associate moderate amounts of both to be appropriate in IBD.

In our practice, we focus on including a more of a plant-based and omega-3-rich style of eating however we always individualize recommendations based on where someone is at and what their goals are. Medical nutrition therapy for IBD should always be individualized and fit your needs. 


  1. Dong C, Chan SSM, Jantchou P, Racine A, Oldenburg B, Weiderpass E, Heath AK, Tong TYN, Tjønneland A, Kyrø C, Bueno de Mesquita B, Kaaks R, Katzke VA, Bergman MM, Boeing H, Palli D, Masala G, Tumino R, Sacerdote C, Colorado-Yohar SM, Sánchez MJ, Grip O, Lindgren S, Luben R, Huybrechts I, Gunter MJ, Mahamat-Saleh Y, Boutron-Ruault MC, Carbonnel F. Meat Intake Is Associated with a Higher Risk of Ulcerative Colitis in a Large European Prospective Cohort Studyø. J Crohns Colitis. 2022 Aug 30;16(8):1187-1196. doi: 10.1093/ecco-jcc/jjac054. PMID: 35396592; PMCID: PMC10020974.
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