What You Need to Know About Food When You Have Ulcerative Colitis

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Ulcerative colitis is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation and ulcers in the large intestine and rectum. If you've been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, it's essential to learn which foods may trigger your symptoms in order to help manage the disease.

People with ulcerative colitis should make sure to keep a balanced diet.
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Read more: 4 Common Diseases of the Ascending Colon

Best Foods to Eat

The best foods to eat with ulcerative colitis may vary because the disease affects everyone differently. In general, though, "try to eat a balanced diet that includes lean meats, fresh fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and grains," says Nicole Goodrich, RDN, founder and president of Anderson's Nutrition.

"Since ulcerative colitis is such a personalized disease, it is important to listen to your body," Goodrich says. "Take notes on which foods cause symptoms and which foods keep your symptoms away. Staying hydrated is crucial, as well."

Recommendations include:

  • Lean proteins: Lean proteins are an essential part of your diet when dealing with ulcerative colitis. They provide the necessary nutrients and help you maintain weight and muscle mass. Recommended lean proteins that may be tolerated include chicken breast, turkey, lean cuts of pork, fish, soy and eggs, according to the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation.
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables: There are a variety of fruits that are low-fiber, nutrient-rich and well tolerated, such as bananas, melons and cooked fruits such as apples. Avoid eating any fruits that have a skin or seeds. Vegetables should be skinless, seedless and thoroughly cooked, the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation says. Examples include asparagus, carrots, squash and potatoes. It may be best to refrain from raw vegetables and leafy greens since they are high in fiber and can worsen your symptoms.
  • Grains: Enriched or refined grains are typically easier on the digestive tract. Examples of these types of grains include oatmeal, cream of wheat, puffed rice cereal, white pasta and white rice. Whole grains are more difficult to digest and may trigger symptoms.

What to Eat During a Flare-Up

"If a flare-up occurs, eat foods that are easy to digest and gentle on the gastrointestinal tract," Goodrich says. "You should also reduce dairy and switch to processed grains and cooked vegetables."

She suggests the following sample menu during a flare-up: Cream of Wheat for breakfast, chicken noodle soup for lunch and chicken, cooked carrots and mashed potatoes for dinner.

Introducing New Foods During Remission

If you’re in remission from ulcerative colitis, you may want to try introducing new foods as tolerated. However, it's important to make this a gradual process and to listen to your body to determine if you can have more flexibility in your diet.

Foods to Avoid

Certain foods can cause inflammation in the colon and will trigger your symptoms. Mayo Clinic notes that these symptoms can vary and may include diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, blood in your stool, fever, fatigue, weight loss and an urgency to have a bowel movement.

Read more: 3 Ways to Understand Abnormal Bowel Movements

Spicy foods, high-fat foods, fried foods, nuts, alcohol and caffeine are just some of the foods that should be avoided when diagnosed with ulcerative colitis.

"Foods that are gas-producers — such as beans, lentils, broccoli, cauliflower and peppers — should also be avoided," Goodrich says. "Fiber is questionable. While high-fiber foods may help some people, in others they may cause symptoms. It is best to experiment with fiber to see how your body reacts."

Nutritional Supplements May Be Needed

Your doctor may order a blood test to see if you have any nutritional deficiencies due to ulcerative colitis. According to the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation, people who have ulcerative colitis may not be getting the necessary nutrients from a well-balanced diet alone. Therefore, your doctor may recommend vitamin and mineral supplements such as calcium, iron, folic acid, zinc and vitamins D, B12, A, E and K.

Is This an Emergency?

To reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 infections, it is best to call your doctor before leaving the house if you are experiencing a high fever, shortness of breath or another, more serious symptom.
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