If 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 also changes 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 a small notebook to write down what you eat and drink and how they make you feel, both good and bad. It takes 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 is high in protein, whole grains, and fresh produce. It can include:
- Meat, fish, or poultry
- Dairy products (if you're not lactose intolerant)
- Breads and cereals
- Fruits and veggies
- Healthy fats like olive and canola oils
You might not be able to eat everything in those groups, but get what you can. 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 when you make a UC diet plan. Keep them in the loop on how you feel and what you eat. They can guide you to healthy choices and make sure 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 in your plan.
Your body may 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
New research shows that certain nutrients may help fight the irritation and swelling in your gut caused by UC. Researchers 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, 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. It blocks certain chemicals in your body called leukotrienes. Fish oil is a good source of EPA. More testing is needed, but in some studies, folks with UC saw some benefits when they took high doses. Other studies show no benefit. And many people didn't like the fishy taste.
Some research also shows that yogurt with "good” bacteria, called probiotics, eases inflammation. Scientists are still studying how these germs may help people with UC and similar conditions.