Treating Ulcerative Colitis

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Best and Worst Foods for Ulcerative Colitis

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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African American father and young son cooking together in kitchen
  • Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease that can affect your appetite and the way your body absorbs nutrients. Certain foods seem to trigger uncomfortable symptoms, at least in some individuals. Diet is an important factor in the management of this chronic disease, but there’s no one-size-fits-all ulcerative colitis diet. The best and worst foods for ulcerative colitis may depend on whether or not you’re experiencing an ulcerative colitis flare. It will take time and experimentation to figure out which foods you can tolerate and which you should avoid.

  • 1
    Avoid: Dairy Products
    pitcher of milk pouring into glass on table

    For many people with ulcerative colitis, drinking milk or eating ice cream triggers increased diarrhea, abdominal pain and gas. If you experience increased symptoms after eating or drinking dairy products, try cutting back on or eliminating dairy from your diet, at least temporarily. Some people with ulcerative colitis are lactose intolerant, which means they lack the enzyme necessary to digest milk sugar. Taking a lactase pill (available over the counter) before eating dairy products may allow you to eat your favorite dairy foods without adverse symptoms.

  • 2
    Avoid: High-Fiber Fruits and Vegetables
    broccoli and cauliflower

    Too much fiber can worsen the symptoms of ulcerative colitis. The body can’t digest fiber, so it eliminates it via bowel movements. In people with ulcerative colitis, high fiber intake may cause increased abdominal pain, cramping and bowel movements. During flare-ups, you may need to avoid high-fiber foods altogether, including broccoli, cauliflower, apples and leafy greens. In periods of remission, you can try adding some of these foods back into your diet. Note: Peeled and cooked fruits and veggies are easier for the body to digest than raw produce.

  • 3
    Add: Bananas
    Laughing girls eating bananas outdoors

    Bananas are a low-fiber, easily digestible, highly nutritious fruit. Most people with ulcerative colitis can comfortably eat bananas even during a flare. Other well-tolerated, low-fiber fruits include cantaloupe and honeydew melon. During a flare-up, these fruits can be an important source of vitamins, minerals and hydration. Frequent loose stools can cause dehydration and low potassium levels. Bananas and cantaloupe are particularly high in potassium and can help replenish the body.

  • 4
    Add: Salmon and Tuna
    tuna salad in a bowl

    Many people with ulcerative colitis have a hard time tolerating high-fat foods. Fatty foods can trigger increased abdominal pain and gas, so many people with ulcerative colitis avoid fatty cuts of meat and focus on lean sources of protein, such as poultry, instead.

    Salmon and tuna are exceptions to the rule. These fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, a type of fat that may reduce inflammation. Mackerel, herring and sardines also contain omega-3 fatty acids. Eating these fish during ulcerative colitis flares may calm your symptoms.

  • 5
    Avoid: Alcohol
    Bottles of Liquor at a Bar

    It’s not a good idea to drink alcoholic beverages during a flare. Beer, wine and mixed drinks contain alcohol and sugar, and both ingredients can stimulate the intestine and cause diarrhea. During a flare-up, water, decaf tea, and tomato juice are better beverage options.

    During periods of remission, you may be able to enjoy drinks with your friends. Pay attention to the signals your body is sending you and stop if you experience increased symptoms.

  • 6
    Add: Hard Cheeses
    parmesan cheese and knife on cutting board

    Cheddar, Parmesan and other hard cheeses are low in lactose, the milk sugar that causes abdominal pain and bloating in people who are lactose intolerant. You may be able to comfortably eat cheddar and Parmesan cheese, even if you have to avoid most other dairy products. Try adding these cheeses to egg dishes, sandwiches and salads.

    Cheese is a good source of calcium, a mineral that helps build strong bones. Adequate calcium intake is essential for people who take ulcerative colitis medication that can weaken the bones.

  • 7
    Avoid: Soda

    Carbonated, sugary beverages can be particularly troublesome for people with ulcerative colitis. The carbonation can irritate the colon and cause increased gas. Excess sugar can cause diarrhea. And caffeine, a common ingredient in many popular sodas, is a stimulant that speeds up the action of the digestive tract and can cause increased abdominal cramping and diarrhea. During remission, you may be able to drink soda, but during flares, it’s probably best to pass.

  • 8
    Avoid: Nuts and Seeds
    granola bar

    Nuts (including peanuts and tree nuts such as almonds and walnuts) and seeds (such as sunflower seeds) are high in fiber, which can increase bowel movements, abdominal cramping, and gas. If the nuts or seeds are completely ground up, as in smooth peanut butter, you may be able to eat them without any problem. During an ulcerative colitis flare, though, even tiny fruit seeds, such as those found on strawberries or raspberries, can worsen symptoms.

  • 9
    Add: Yogurt
    Yogurt with fresh blueberry

    Fermented foods, including yogurt, sauerkraut, miso and kefir, contain probiotics, so-called “good” bacteria that contribute to digestive health. Some studies have found that probiotics may help people with ulcerative colitis remain in remission, so you may want to consider adding these foods to your diet.

    Check ingredient labels, though. Some brands of yogurt and kefir are high in sugar, and excess sugar is known to cause diarrhea. Opt for low-sugar varieties instead.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 May 9
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