Ulcerative Colitis Diet: Best and Worst Foods

Medically Reviewed By Jillian Kubala, MS, RD
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Foods that set off ulcerative colitis flare-ups vary and may change over time. But some that may help include low fiber fruits and vegetables, chicken, and sources of omega-3s. Some to avoid include spicy, highly processed foods and gluten. Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that can affect appetite, digestion, and how your body absorbs nutrients.

Tailoring your food choices to your condition may:

  • help you avoid flares
  • help manage flares when they do occur
  • ensure you get enough nutrition. 

This article details the foods to add and avoid for ulcerative colitis flare-ups and remission. It also includes dietary options and an ulcerative colitis diet plan.

Appropriate diets can vary from person to person

There is no one-size-fits-all diet for ulcerative colitis. The foods that trigger a flare-up can vary.

Also, the best and worst foods may depend on whether you’re experiencing an ulcerative colitis flare. 

Foods to include during an ulcerative colitis flare

A plate of cooked salmon filets and lemons alongside a plate of potatoes.
Catherine Falls Commercial/Getty Images

Some foods may act as a trigger for ulcerative colitis symptoms. This can make it difficult to know what to eat and meet nutritional needs.

People with ulcerative colitis may have a higher chance of developing a nutritional deficiency due to:

  • avoiding nutritious but triggering foods
  • difficulty absorbing nutrients
  • diarrhea
  • autoimmune activity in the body

The following foods are high in nutrients and avoid some triggering aspects of other foods.

Low fiber fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables that contain fiber are important to eat. However, insoluble fibers can be hard to digest. Low fiber fruits and vegetables may offer nutrients that are more manageable.

Low fiber fruits include:

  • bananas
  • cooked fruits with little to no added sugar
  • honeydew melon
  • cantaloupe

Vegetable options that may be more tolerable include fully cooked, non-cruciferous vegetables without the skin and seeds, including:

  • cucumbers
  • carrots
  • potatoes and sweet potatoes
  • squash
  • asparagus tips

Refined grains

Refined grains are products that have been milled. This removes the bran and germ of grains, which contain fibers that may be difficult to digest for those with IBD.

Refined grains include:

  • potato bread
  • sourdough bread
  • gluten-free bread, pasta, and rice
  • white bread, pasta, and rice
  • oatmeal

Learn more about the benefits of white rice vs. brown rice.

Lean protein

Lean sources of protein may be more tolerable for people with ulcerative colitis. Lean protein foods can include:

  • lean cuts of meat, such as pork
  • white meat from poultry, such as chicken
  • fish
  • soy
  • tofu
  • eggs

Omega-3s

The International Organization for the Study of Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IOIBD) recommends including sources of omega-3s in the diet. Omega-3s are a fatty acid that contain many nutrients.

Omega-3s are in foods such as:

  • walnuts
  • flaxseed and chia seeds
  • hemp
  • oily fish, for example:
    • tuna
    • salmon
    • mackerel
    • herring

Probiotics

Evidence of probiotics helping those with ulcerative colitis is limited. However, a 2020 review indicates probiotic supplements may help reduce flare-ups of ulcerative colitis.

Also, a 2020 meta-analysis suggests probiotic transplantation may positively affect ulcerative colitis flares and remission without significant side effects.

Talk with a doctor before taking probiotic supplements, as they may not suit everyone.

Fluids

Due to diarrhea, people with ulcerative colitis can become dehydrated. However, the National Health Service (NHS) recommends water as the best option for replenishing fluids.

Learn more about recommended water intake levels.

Supplements

Some people add protein shakes, vitamins, and minerals to supplement their nutrition. Contact a doctor or a licensed dietitian for advice on what supplements may benefit you.

Read more about supplements for ulcerative colitis.

Foods to avoid during an ulcerative colitis flare-up

Though foods that trigger flare-ups vary from person to person, the following foods may contribute to flares:

  • fruits with skin and seeds, and raw green vegetables
  • cruciferous vegetables, also known as “leafy green” vegetables
  • gluten
  • dairy products containing lactose
  • red and processed meat
  • fried, fatty, or greasy foods
  • foods and drinks high in added sugar
  • artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols
  • drinks containing alcohol or caffeine
  • carbonated drinks
  • spicy foods
  • highly processed foods

The IOIBD says processed foods contain ingredients that may be irritating for those with ulcerative colitis, such as:

  • emulsifiers
  • carboxymethylcellulose
  • polysorbate-80
  • carrageenan
  • titanium dioxide
  • sulfites

Some people can include some foods that may be triggering. For example, some people may find hard cheese and lactose-free dairy products tolerable due to their lower lactose contents.

Contact your doctor before changing your diet

Talk with a doctor before making significant diet changes, such as eliminating entire food goods. You want to be sure not to miss important nutrients.

Your doctor or a licensed dietitian can advise on nutritional suggestions.

Other dietary approaches

Research shows that some diets support those with ulcerative colitis and IBD, including:

  • Plant-based diets: Plant-based dietary patterns vary but prioritize foods from plant sources, such as vegetables, nuts, and grains.
  • Mediterranean diets: Mediterranean diets can also vary but focus on including whole and plant-based foods.
  • Low FODMAP diet: A low FODMAP diet is low in fermentable carbohydrates. Researchers suggest this may not reduce IBD but may help alleviate associated symptoms such as pain, bloating, and diarrhea.
  • Anti-inflammatory diets: This approach is similar to other dietary patterns recommended for IBD, including whole and plant-based foods.

However, a 2021 study suggests that more research is needed to confirm the effects and benefits before making dietary recommendations to people with IBD.

Read more about how to follow an anti-inflammatory diet.

Diet during remission

During remission from an ulcerative colitis flare, you may be able to incorporate a wider variety of foods. This can help you to meet your dietary needs to help support your remission and reduce the risk of complications.

For example, you may be able to eat more high fiber foods such as vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds. According to a 2017 review, these foods as part of a Mediterranean diet may have protective effects against IBD.

Others may need to continue the same diet in remission and during a flare-up. The best dietary plans for ulcerative colitis can still vary during remission. Trial and error may help you find what foods best support you and your condition at various times.

Contact a doctor or a registered dietitian for a tailored plan.

How to make an ulcerative colitis diet plan

A record of your diet and symptoms can help your doctor identify the best course of care.

Adding foods one at a time and monitoring your reactions can help you identify foods that cause flare-ups. You may also want to gradually cut out suspect trigger foods to track your condition.

These steps may also help you prepare an ulcerative colitis diet plan:

  • Make a daily meal, snack, and drink plan with a corresponding shopping list.
  • Meet all of your nutritional needs by including varied sources of macronutrients and micronutrients in your meal plan.
  • Cooking in batches and refrigerating or freezing the meals will make following your diet plan easier.
  • Try new ways to enjoy your food. For example, consider flavoring foods with herbs rather than spices if you want to improve flavor but find spices triggering.
  • Ask your doctor or a licensed dietitian about your meal plan. They may advise how to balance your nutrition, food substitutions, and cooking techniques.

Read more about how to meet your macronutrient and micronutrient requirements.

Summary

There is no specific diet plan for ulcerative colitis, and some foods may worsen symptoms. These foods can include high fiber foods, processed foods, and dairy products.

Other foods may help alleviate symptoms and meet your nutritional needs, such as low fiber fruit and vegetables, lean meat and oily fish, and refined grains.

You may be able to tailor your diet plan to your condition by keeping track of your diet and symptoms.

Always contact your doctor before making any significant changes to your diet.

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Medical Reviewer: Jillian Kubala, MS, RD
Last Review Date: 2022 Dec 16
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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