Ulcerative Colitis: Find Your Trigger Foods

Which foods cause problems for your ulcerative colitis (UC)? The answer is different for everyone.

To figure out what makes you feel worse, do some detective work. For several weeks, keep a diary of what you eat and when you have flares. Then look for patterns. Avoid things that seem to cause cramps or a trip to the bathroom. See if your symptoms get better or go away.

Talk to your doctor about what you notice. Your goal should be to eat as many types of healthy foods as you can, so your diet is as balanced as possible.

Problem Foods

Many people with UC have trouble with the same items. You may want to cut these out for a while and see if your symptoms ease up:

  • High-fiber fare like bran, nuts, seeds, and popcorn
  • Fatty, greasy items and sauces
  • Dairy products
  • Alcohol

Better Choices

Just because an item is on your problem list doesn't mean you have to give it up. You have choices.

Try a switch from full-fat to low-fat dairy. Or tweak your cooking method so you bake or broil meats instead of frying them. You can also bake or stew vegetables rather than eating them raw or lightly cooked.

You can also swap out items in the main food groups.

Grains

Common problem foods:

  • Whole-grain breads, bagels, rolls, crackers, cereals, and pasta
  • Brown or wild rice

Better choices:

  • Products made from white or refined flour
  • White rice

Vegetables and Fruits

Common problem foods:

  • Vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts
  • Leafy greens, including mustard, turnip, and collard greens, and spinach
  • Most raw fruits
  • Raisins and other dried fruits
  • Canned cherries and berries

Better choices:

  • Well-cooked vegetables without seeds
  • Ripe bananas, peeled apples, and melons
  • Soft canned fruits without added sugar

Meat and Protein

Common problem foods:

  • Fried meats, such as sausage and bacon
  • Luncheon meats, like bologna and salami
  • Hot dogs
  • Dried beans, peas, and nuts

Better choices:

  • Tender, well-cooked meats and poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs

Milk Products

Common problem foods:

  • Whole milk
  • Half-and-half
  • Sour cream

Better choices:

  • Buttermilk
  • Evaporated milk
  • Low-fat or skim milk
  • Powdered milk

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Other Dairy Products

Common problem foods:

  • Full-fat cheese, ice cream, and frozen custard
  • Yogurt with berries or nuts

Better choices:

  • Low-fat or nondairy cheese and ice cream
  • Sherbet
  • Smooth yogurt with live, active cultures and without nuts or berries

Drinks and Sweets

Common problem choices:

  • Sweet fruit juices, sodas, or other drinks made with sugar or corn syrup
  • Caffeinated and carbonated drinks
  • Alcohol
  • Sugarless gums and candies

Better choices:

  • Water
  • Decaf coffee, tea, and sugar-free soft drinks
  • Rehydration beverages, like sports drinks or things used to prevent dehydration in people with stomach viruses, diarrhea, etc.

Can’t Handle Lactose?

If you're lactose intolerant, you’ll want to limit or cut out dairy foods that cause problems. You can try lactose-free versions of those foods.

Also try other calcium sources, like fortified soy milk, almond milk, or other products that have calcium added to them. Canned salmon and leafy greens also give you calcium.

Check with your doctor to make sure you get enough of this important mineral in your diet.

What to Eat After Surgery

If you have an operation for your UC, your doctor will ask you to stick to a soft, bland diet while your body heals. Gradually, you can start to eat foods with more fiber.

Depending on the kind of surgery you have, you might be able to eat anything after you've recovered, even things that caused problems when your UC was active.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on October 25, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

Bret A. Lashner, MD, director, Center for Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Department of Gastroenterology, Cleveland Clinic, Ohio.

MedlinePlus: "Ulcerative Colitis,” “Mouth Sores.”

Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA): "Diet and Nutrition," "About Ulcerative Colitis & Proctitis."

St. John Health System: "Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis Nutrition Therapy."

Patricia L. Roberts, MD, professor of surgery, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston; colorectal surgeon, Lahey Clinic, Burlington, MA.

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