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7 Food Swaps to Celebrate Easter and Passover with IBD

Diet and Nutrition

March 31, 2023

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Photography by Treasures & Travels/Stocksy United

Photography by Treasures & Travels/Stocksy United

by Holly Fowler


Medically Reviewed by:

Imashi Fernando, MS, RDN, CDCES


by Holly Fowler


Medically Reviewed by:

Imashi Fernando, MS, RDN, CDCES


If you live with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, you can still enjoy traditional holiday foods with some easy ingredient substitutions.

I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (UC) when I was 19 years old, and I have been living with it for the past 15 years.

Up until that point, I celebrated every holiday the best way I knew how: by eating so much food! As a kid, I looked forward to each holiday because I knew there would always be certain special foods that I only ate once a year.

Thanksgiving was all about the pies and the sweet potato casserole. Christmas was centered around gingerbread cookies. Easter and Passover have their own special foods steeped in tradition as well.

However, when I was diagnosed with UC, I thought all those foods were behind me and that I had to miss out on all my favorites. Thankfully I was very wrong!

Thanks to the internet and some determination, I discovered ways to swap out ingredients so that I can still celebrate the holidays with amazing food.

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Diet and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

More than half of people with IBD find that certain types of food can exacerbate their symptoms of UC or Crohn’s disease (the other form of IBD).

Some of these common triggers include:

  • fruits and vegetables
  • dairy
  • spicy foods
  • deep-fried foods
  • processed foods
  • nuts and seeds
  • alcohol
  • foods with a high fat content

Of course, many of these trigger foods are part of our most beloved holiday foods. That’s why I love offering substitutions as Easter and Passover approach. Of course, foods high in any kind of fat or sugar should still be considered a special holiday treat and eaten in moderation to avoid triggering a flare.

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1. Cinnamon rolls

Just seeing the words “cinnamon rolls” on the page takes me back to my childhood Easter mornings when I would wake up to the smell of these delectable treats baking in the oven. Is there anything better than that? I loved eating them for breakfast before digging into my Easter basket to see what the Easter bunny brought me.

If you have IBD and dream of eating cinnamon rolls again, I have a few swaps for you:

  • substitute white flour with a gluten-free flour like cassava flour
  • try substituting white sugar with coconut sugar (though some people find both equally inflammatory)

If that’s just not the same, consider eliminating the sweets and going savory for breakfast. You can quickly cook up a hash filled with your favorite protein, roasted potatoes, and veggies — and still enjoy amazing smells.

2. Deviled eggs

Eggs are a quintessential part of both Passover and Easter celebrations.

Kids participate in Easter egg hunts, traditional Easter candy comes in seasonal egg shapes, and meals often are centered around egg dishes. A roasted egg has a prominent place on the Passover Seder plate, reminding us of the cycle of life.

Many people like to take the egg-stravaganza a bit further and enjoy deviled eggs as a spring staple. However, mayonnaise — a primary component of deviled eggs — can be problematic for people living with IBD because it often includes inflammatory ingredients like highly refined soybean oil or canola oil.

In place of regular mayonnaise, I recommend using an organic avocado oil mayonnaise, making your own mayonnaise, or substituting with avocado.

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3. Honey baked ham

While turkey is the Thanksgiving staple, ham is the star of the show on Easter Sunday. More specifically, I have always loved a honey baked ham for this holiday, with just the right amount of sweetness.

However, despite the name, many online recipes for making a “honey baked” ham actually use butter and brown sugar rather than honey, and may not be compatible with managing IBD.

To continue enjoying this mainstay on your Easter table, you can:

  • use honey instead of brown sugar, if you’re not sensitive to high FODMAP foods
  • substitute coconut oil for butter

4. Carrot cake

This traditional dessert isn’t really suitable for many people with IBD, due to the large amounts of flour and sugar typically used. That being said, you can still have your carrot cake and eat it, too — with just a couple swaps:

  • swap out white flour with gluten-free flour
  • substitute coconut sugar for white sugar

Alternatively, you can try something new and equally tasty, like a parfait made with fresh berries, yogurt (nondairy and unsweetened), and a drizzle of honey.

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5. Matzo ball soup

Is there anything more comforting than soup? I love soup any time of year, but especially during the early spring when the weather is still a little chilly and rainy.

Matzo ball soup is such a traditional part of Passover, but the matzo meal — as well as the amount of matzo that is consumed throughout Passover — can be problematic for many living with IBD as it is made from wheat flour.

In place of traditional matzo, I recommend making unleavened bread with almond flour or cassava flour.

Try these swaps to continue enjoying matzo ball soup this spring season:

  • substitute cassava flour for matzo meal (this will make your matzo balls denser in the center, creating a hybrid between “sinkers” and “floaters”)
  • try commercially available gluten-free matzo meal

6. Charoset

Charoset, an important dish at the Passover seder, is a puree traditionally made of apples (and sometimes dates), walnuts, and wine, along with brown sugar and cinnamon. This tasty treat is symbolic of the mortar used when the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt.

But who says you can’t enjoy this, even while living with IBD? Here are a few swaps you can make to enjoy this holiday staple:

  • use grape juice for red wine (make sure the juice has no added sugar)
  • try coconut sugar for brown sugar, or leave out altogether
  • use jicama or rutabaga instead of apples (this is a low FODMAP option)
  • leave out the walnuts (if you struggle with digesting nuts)
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7. Kugel

Sweet noodle kugels may be more common throughout the year, but many people opt for a potato kugel during Passover. While the typical ingredients in this savory casserole can be problematic for people with IBD, this too can be modified.

To make this IBD-friendly, you can substitute:

  • sweet potatoes for white potatoes (if you are sensitive to nightshades)
  • cut out the onions (if you are sensitive to onions)
  • olive oil or coconut oil for vegetable oil

The takeaway

Living with Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis doesn’t mean you have to choose between giving up all your favorite holiday foods or putting up with symptoms. In fact, all it takes is a few simple swaps to safely enjoy tasty treats without any digestive repercussions.

So, enjoy the spring season and all the holiday celebrations that come along with it!

Medically reviewed on March 31, 2023

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About the author

Holly Fowler

Holly Fowler lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their dog, Kona. She loves hiking, trying the latest gluten-free hot spot in town, and working out as much as her ulcerative colitis allows. When she isn’t seeking out gluten-free vegan desserts, you can find her working behind the scenes of her website, Colitiscope Nutrition, and Instagram.

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