Best Diet for Ulcerative Colitis

Erin Coleman, R.D., L.D.
Doctor comforting her patient; © Katarzyna Bialasiewicz | Dreamstime.com

If you suffer from ulcerative colitis, which is a chronic inflammatory disease in your digestive tract, you may want to consider changing your diet to ease symptoms. While making adjustments to your diet isn't a cure for ulcerative colitis, it can make you feel more comfortable during flare-ups.

What Should I Eat and Drink?

It's generally best to stick with water (or diluted drinks) and low-fiber, non-fatty foods when you have ulcerative colitis -- especially during flare-ups. MedlinePlus suggests drinking small amounts of water often throughout the day. Steer clear of symptom-causing foods when you're having intestinal flare-ups, recommends the NIDDK.

Foods to Include

  • Healthy protein foods: fish, shrimp, lean ground turkey, chicken, eggs, tofu, and smooth nut butters
  • Dairy foods (as tolerated) or lactose-free products: soymilk, lactose-free milk, low-fat cow's milk if tolerated, reduced-fat cheeses, plain non-fat Greek yogurt, and low-fat cottage cheese
  • Cooked or peeled fruits: watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, bananas, and applesauce
  • Cooked or peeled vegetables: cooked asparagus, well-cooked spinach, peeled and cooked potatoes, and pureed vegetable soup
  • Lower fiber grains: potato bread, sourdough bread, French bread, oatmeal bread, flour tortillas, pita bread, and white rice
  • Oatmeal (because it's low in insoluble fiber, according to Chron's and Colitis Foundation of America)
  • Healthy fats (in moderation): avocadoes, smooth nut butters, and plant-based oils
  • Drinks: water, low-sugar sports drinks, and fruit juice diluted with water

Foods to Avoid

  • Raw vegetables: Avoid veggies with skin, and gas-producing vegetables like Brussels spouts and broccoli
  • High-fiber fruits: Avoid fruits like oranges, apples with skins, and raisins.
  • Whole grains: Avoid fibrous whole grains like brown rice, corn, quinoa, and whole wheat.
  • Legumes: Avoid peas, beans like kidney and navy beans, chickpeas, lentils, and other legumes.
  • Popcorn: Avoid popcorn in all its forms, as it is quite high in fiber.
  • Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds are fibrous. Avoid seeds like sesame, sunflower, flax, chia, and pumpkin seeds, and avoid nuts like cashews, almonds, walnuts, pecans, and pistachios.
  • Gluten: Avoid grains that contain gluten if you're sensitive. Those grains include wheat, rye, and barley.
  • Milk products: If you're lactose intolerant, then dairy products can cause flare-ups, so it's best to avoid them.
  • Fatty, fried, or processed meats: These include steak, bacon, sausage, pork, bologna, and other high-fat meats.
  • Any fried or greasy foods: Avoid foods such as French fries, donuts, potato chips, and other deep fried foods.
  • Butter and margarine (in excess): Limit butter or margarine to a few tablespoons per day.
  • Heavy cream: Skip heavy cream altogether. If you like creamer in your coffee, try skim milk if you're not sensitive to lactose or a low-fat non-dairy creamer.
  • Creamy sauces and dressings: Sauces like Alfredo sauce and bechamel and dressings like mayonnaise or Ranch dressing should be avoided.
  • Alcoholic drinks: Skip the alcoholic beverages, including wine and beer.
  • Caffeinated beverages: Avoid energy drinks, coffee, and caffeinated tea. Try, instead, herbal tea.
  • Carbonated drinks: Soda and other carbonated beverages may cause flare-ups, so it's important you avoid them.

Sample Meal Plan

A sample day of eating might appear as follows:

Breakfast (portion sizes will vary based on your daily caloric needs)

  • Cooked oatmeal flavored with cinnamon
  • Scrambled egg substitute
  • Cubed cantaloupe

Snack

  • Plain non-fat Greek yogurt
  • Watermelon

Lunch

  • Potato bread
  • Tuna salad made with low-fat mayonnaise
  • Lettuce
  • Reduced-fat cheese

Snack

  • Oatmeal bread
  • Smooth nut butter

Dinner

  • Grilled salmon
  • Cooked white rice
  • Well-cooked spinach or asparagus

Avoid Large Meals

Instead of eating two or three larger meals, aim for five to six small meals spaced out evenly throughout the day, suggests Mayo Clinic and NIDDK. Doing so not only helps you avoid overeating and being hungry, it could help control unpleasant symptoms.

Use Caution With Dairy Foods and Gluten

While dairy foods are packed with nutrients, such as protein and calcium, adding such foods to your diet can worsen symptoms of ulcerative colitis if you're lactose intolerant. If you're not lactose intolerant, dairy foods might not be problematic for you. If dairy foods worsen symptoms like diarrhea, bloating, gas, and abdominal pain, talk with your doctor or dietitian about using a lactase supplement like Lactaid -- or choose lactose-free milk products or soymilk.

Some people with ulcerative colitis are also sensitive to gluten, found in wheat, rye, and barley products, according to the Chron's and Colitis Foundation of America. If this is the case for you, gluten might cause diarrhea and abdominal bloating.

Consider a Multivitamin Supplement

Since your diet is somewhat limited when you have ulcerative colitis flare-ups, and your body may not be absorbing nutrients properly, talk with your health care provider about taking a multivitamin supplement. Doing so helps ensure your body meets daily nutritional needs.

Bottom Line

While there's no one diet that fits everyone with ulcerative colitis, cutting certain foods from your diet often helps alleviate unpleasant symptoms, especially during flare-ups. Keeping a food diary and checking in with your doctor or dietitian regularly is a good way to manage symptoms of gas, bloating, abdominal discomfort, and diarrhea related to ulcerative colitis.

Best Diet for Ulcerative Colitis