What is ulcerative colitis?
Ulcerative colitis is a chronic condition in which your colon and rectum are often inflamed. The best diet for someone with ulcerative colitis is one that includes lean protein, low-fiber fruit, refined grains, cooked vegetables, probiotic-rich foods and calcium-rich foods.
Ulcerative colitis is a chronic condition in which your colon and rectum are often inflamed. The swelling can lead to small tears in the lining of the colon and rectum, which may bleed or produce pus. The condition can lead to significant stomach discomfort.
You can reduce the symptoms of ulcerative colitis by paying attention to your diet. Certain foods may trigger inflammation and lead to painful flare-ups. Choosing foods that don’t irritate your system can help you avoid discomfort.
If you have ulcerative colitis, your colon and rectum are prone to irritation and inflammation. The colon is the part of your large intestine, also called the bowel, and the rectum. Your rectum is where stool is stored before you go to the bathroom.
The inflammation of the tissue in your bowel leads to open sores inside the lining of the intestine. Those sores can bleed or produce pus or mucus. You may notice pain or irritation from the inflammation and sores.
It’s not clear what causes ulcerative colitis. Some experts think it may be an autoimmune problem. Normally, your immune system fights off infections. With ulcerative colitis, your immune system mistakenly attacks the tissue in your bowel.
Other experts believe that chronic imbalance in your gut bacteria might be the cause. Your gut normally should host certain “good bacteria” to assist digestive functions. If the good bacteria are missing or are only present in low numbers, you may have a flare-up of ulcerative colitis.
Ulcerative colitis symptoms
The symptoms of ulcerative colitis may come and go. During flare-ups of the condition, you will notice symptoms including:
Since ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory condition, it can lead to swelling and discomfort in other areas of the body. During a flare-up, you may notice additional symptoms, such as:
In a severe flare-up, you may notice shortness of breath, fever, or a fast or irregular heartbeat. You should seek immediate medical attention if you notice those symptoms.
Managing ulcerative colitis with diet
Dietary changes are among the best ways to control ulcerative colitis. The food you eat can affect the tissue inside your digestive system and trigger inflammation. Avoid trigger foods and replace them with foods that are easier to digest to reduce the chances of a flare-up.
Foods that are less likely to trigger ulcerative colitis symptoms
Foods that are generally easily tolerated include:
- Lean protein (meat, fish, eggs, tofu).
- Low-fiber fruit.
- Refined grains (potatoes, white rice, white flour, pasta).
- Cooked vegetables if they are skinless and seedless.
- Calcium-rich foods such as yogurt, collard greens, certain dairy products.
- Food with probiotics such as kimchi, miso, and sauerkraut.
Foods more like to trigger ulcerative colitis symptoms
Foods that are more likely to cause a flare-up of symptoms include:
- Insoluble fiber (fruit with the skin, seeds, cruciferous vegetables).
- Lactose (found in many dairy products).
- High-sugar foods.
- High-fat foods.
- Spicy foods.
- Caffeinated drinks.
Other diet considerations
Keep a food log
Ulcerative colitis affects everyone differently. You may find there are specific foods that affect you whenever you eat them. Keep a food log to track what you have eaten and note how you feel after eating them. That information can help you decide which foods you should and shouldn’t eat in the future.
If you try new foods, you should only try one at a time. That lets you isolate that particular food as a possible reason for new symptoms. You may want to wait a few days before adding more new foods to your diet.
Be aware of your need for vitamins and minerals despite the limits on your diet. If you cut too many items out of your diet, you risk missing nutrients you need for good health.
Your doctor can help you assess what you are eating to see if it provides balanced nutrition. You may also need blood tests to check the levels of certain nutrients in your body. If you are missing important vitamins or minerals, your doctor may suggest supplements to replace them.
You might find that eating small, frequent meals helps prevent flare-ups. Some doctors suggest eating 5-6 small meals instead of 3 larger meals.
People with ulcerative colitis should be sure to drink plenty of fluids. Frequent bowel movements or episodes of diarrhea can lead to dehydration. Drinking plenty of water or other low-sugar, non-caffeinated beverages will prevent you from losing too much fluid.
Medication for ulcerative colitis
If diet alone doesn’t control your symptoms, your doctor may suggest medication. Some medications address inflammation so your bowel can heal. Other medications help you stay in remission when your ulcerative colitis is under control.
Aminosalicylates: These anti-inflammatory drugs treat mild or moderate ulcerative colitis or help extend remission.
Corticosteroids: Steroids provide short-term help for moderate to severe ulcerative colitis.
Immunosuppressants: These treat people with moderate to severe ulcerative colitis and help them stay in remission. Immunosuppressants can also treat severe ulcerative colitis in people who are hospitalized.
Biologics: These drugs are derived from naturally occurring chemicals. They treat people with moderate to severe ulcerative colitis and help them stay in remission.
If you have ulcerative colitis, ask your doctor what treatments will work best for you.
Medically Reviewed on 11/30/2021
Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation: “What Should I Eat?”
National Health Service: “Causes: Ulcerative colitis.” “Living with Ulcerative colitis.” “Overview: Ulcerative colitis.”
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Treatment for Ulcerative Colitis.”