Since you have ulcerative colitis (UC), it’s worth your while to pay attention to what you eat. Foods don’t cause the disease, but some can set off your flares.
How can you keep away from those triggers but still get the nutrients you need? That’s where a diet plan can be a huge help.
Track the Good and the Bad
There’s no single diet that will help everyone with UC. The condition can also change over time, so your plan will need to be flexible, too. The key is to find what works for you.
To stay organized, keep a food diary. Use your smartphone or a small notebook to record what you eat and drink and how they make you feel, both good and bad. It takes a bit of time and patience, but it will help you track your condition and fine-tune your diet plan.
When you prepare your meals, don’t forget that a well-balanced diet gives you enough protein, whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
You might not be able to eat everything in the grocery store or on the menus at the restaurants you like. But try to focus on the ones that you can enjoy without triggering your symptoms. Some simple tweaks in your meal prep can make it easier to eat some foods, like steaming veggies or switching to low-fat dairy.
Some people follow a low-residue diet or low-fiber diet every so often, getting about 10-15 grams of fiber a day. That can help you go to the bathroom less often.
Watch out for items that can be troublemakers if you have UC, including:
- Carbonated drinks
- Dairy products, if you’re lactose intolerant
- Dried beans, peas, and legumes
- Dried fruits
- Foods that have sulfur or sulfate
- Foods high in fiber
- Nuts and crunchy nut butters
- Products that have sorbitol (sugar-free gum and candies)
- Raw fruits and vegetables
- Refined sugar
- Spicy foods
What Else Helps?
Your doctor and a dietitian are great resources to help you figure out what foods work best for you. Keep them in the loop on how you feel and what you eat. They can answer your questions and help you get the nutrition you need.
If you can’t eat a balanced diet, you might need to take supplements like calcium, folic acid, and vitamin B12. Ask your doctor if they should be part of your plan.
You may find that you do better with smaller meals throughout the day instead of three big ones. When you make your diet plan, think about foods that you can carry with you for healthy snacks.
Foods That May Fight UC
Some research shows that certain nutrients may help fight the irritation and swelling in your gut caused by UC. Scientists have studied how linoleic acid (found in foods such as walnuts, olive oil, egg yolks, and coconut oil) affects people with the condition. Although everyone needs this “good” fat, don’t overdo it, since there is some evidence it may play a role in inflammation if you get too much.
Other studies show that an omega-3 fatty acid called EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) may fight inflammation. This is another “good” fat that blocks certain chemicals in your body called leukotrienes. Fish oil is a good source of EPA. In some studies, folks with UC saw some benefits when they took high doses. Many people, though, didn’t like the fishy taste. There is also some evidence that adding fish oil to aminosalicylates (meds called 5-ASA) may be helpful, but this isn’t proven. DHA is another omega-3 found in fish oil that can fight inflammation and is used by some people with UC.
Some research also shows that yogurt with gut-healthy bacteria, called probiotics, eases inflammation. Scientists are still studying how they may help people with UC and similar conditions. Some people also believe that a diet low in FODMAPs — a type of highly-fermentable carbs found in meats, fruits, dairy, and lots of other foods — may help ease UC symptoms. But the evidence is unclear if it does. And without close monitoring, any diet that restricts certain foods may lead to poor nutrition and other problems.