The current general interest in the use of food choice or diet in maintaining good health and in preventing and treating disease also applies to patients with IBD, who often follow poor or nutritionally challenging dietary plans. Unfortunately, dietary advice plays only a minor part in published guidelines for management of IBD, which sends a message that diet is not of great importance. However, a considerable evidence base supports a focused and serious attention to nutrition and diet in patients with IBD. In this Review, a step-wise approach in the evaluation and management of these patients is proposed. First, dietary intake and eating habits as well as current nutritional state should be documented, and corrective measures instituted. Secondly, dietary strategies as primary or adjunctive therapy for the reduction of inflammation and/or prevention of relapse of IBD should be seriously contemplated. Thirdly, use of diet to improve symptoms or lessen the effects of complications should be considered. Finally, dietary advice regarding disease prevention should be discussed when relevant. An increasing need exists for applying improved methodologies into establishing the value of current and new ways of using food choice as a therapeutic and preventive tool in IBD.