Food doesn’t cause ulcerative colitis (UC), but the condition can make it harder to eat healthfully. For instance, if spinach makes your symptoms worse, you may be tempted to skip all veggies. But then you would miss out on nutrients. So keep all food groups on your plate. Think balance, not extremes.
Fight Anemia and Fatigue With Iron
Flares wear you out. One reason can be anemia, when your body doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells. If you have long-term, low-level bleeding from your colon’s lining or bloody diarrhea, you may get iron deficiency anemia and need iron supplements. Food sources include lean meats, seafood, spinach, raisins, and fortified breakfast cereals. Egg yolks and artichokes are other options that may be easier on your stomach.
Fill Up on Fluids
Smoothies and meal replacement drinks are good ways to get nutrition if you can’t handle solid foods. They’re also easy ways to add nutrients and calories if it’s hard to keep up your weight. Water and other liquids are also important, because UC makes dehydration more likely.
Explore Your Options
If dairy seems to worsen your symptoms, you may be lactose intolerant. You can try foods that are lower in lactose, such as hard cheeses and yogurt. Using an enzyme product such as Lactaid may help, too. If you need to skip dairy, look for alternatives such as almond milk and soy cheeses that are fortified with calcium and vitamin D. You need those because inflammatory bowel diseases and the treatment can make bone loss more likely.
Go for Probiotics
Looking for natural help for ulcerative colitis indigestion? Try probiotics. You can get these “good" bacteria in yogurt (look for “live, active cultures” on the label). You may especially need them if you have diarrhea or take antibiotics, which zap the helpful germs naturally found in your gut. Not all probiotics may help, so ask your doctor.
Trouble With High-Fiber Foods?
If fiber bothers you during flares, avoid it. You may want to skip nuts and seeds, whole grains, and raw fruits and vegetables for a short while. They’re harder to digest. You may hear this called a “low-residue” diet. It may ease pain, cramps, and other symptoms. But it won’t get rid of inflammation. You can also peel fruits and veggies to cut fiber.
Cook Gassy Foods
Broccoli, cauliflower, and beans cause gas, and they can be hard to digest. They may give you diarrhea and cramps, too. But they’re nutritious, so before you put them on your “No” list, try them well-cooked. That may solve the problem.
Keep Portions Petite
Cramps are common with UC. One strategy is to eat five to six small meals a day. Or eat three smaller meals, plus two or three snacks. When you give your digestive system smaller amounts to work with, you help prevent pain and give your body a steady stream of nutrients.
Keep a Food Journal
Whether you use pen and paper or note it on your phone, record what you eat and how you feel from day to day. Look for foods that seem to make you feel bad. Avoid those items for a while. Then add them back into your diet one at a time to see if they affect you. Spicy and fatty foods and caffeinated, carbonated drinks are common triggers.
Rethink Your Possibilities
UC can limit what you can eat. So get creative. Even foods that seem to be unhealthy, like pizza, can work with a few tweaks. Items that have more than one food group — such as lean protein, low-fat dairy, and vegetables on a slice of veggie pizza — have a lot to offer. Look for ways to make things work within your limits.
Ask a Pro
There’s no magic diet that’s right for everyone with UC. Talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian. They can suggest foods that are easier to digest and good for you. These experts will also check to see if you are low on any key nutrients and make suggestions so you get what you need.
- Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America: “Diet and Nutrition."
- Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health: “Iron: Fact Sheet for Consumers,” “Calcium: Fact Sheet for Consumers” and “Vitamin D: Fact Sheet for Consumers.”
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Ulcerative Colitis.”
- HealthLink BC: “Food Sources of Calcium and Vitamin D."
- Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America: “Managing Flares and Other IBD Symptoms."
- Walter J. Coyle, MD, director, Gastrointestinal Program, Scripps Clinic Medical Center, La Jolla, CA.
- Gastroenterology & Hepatology: “Probiotics in the Management of Ulcerative Colitis.”
- The American Journal of Gastroenterology: “VSL#3 probiotic mixture induces remission in patients with active ulcerative colitis.”