What is Ulcerative Colitis?
Ulcerative Colitis is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease which disturbs the digestive tract, resulting in significant damage to the large intestine. Foods do not cure or cause Ulcerative Colitis, but they can trigger symptoms. Also, neither Crohn’s disease nor ulcerative colitis is related to food allergies. According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America: “People with IBD may think they are allergic to foods because they associate the symptoms of IBD with eating.”
Just like with the Low Fodmap Diet, keep a food journal to document everything you eat and drink on a daily basis. You may know someone who has UC and does not experience symptoms after eating a certain food that happens to cause you utter pain. Keeping a food diary will help your healthcare professional to determine the most suitable foods for your individual needs. For instance, I have IBS, and though cucumbers are allowed on the Low Fodmap Diet, they cause me trouble, but that’s not the case for everyone else. When it comes to digestive issues we are all different, however taking certain tried and true precautions may help you.
Foods & Drinks to Avoid for Ulcerative Colitis
- Alcohol – Drinking alcohol can out you at risk for flaring or a relapse in the form of a severe and acute attack. Some health professionals suggest limiting alcohol intake during social situations and completely avoiding it at home.
- Caffeine in coffee, tea, soft drinks, and energy drinks can stimulate the colon to contract which promotes more bowel movements. Also be aware of energy drinks made with the stimulant guarana.
- Carbonated drinks – caffeine, sugar and artificial sweeteners can increase gas and the carbonation can cause cramping –ouch. I wish everyone would just give up soda – it’s the worst drink on the planet!
- Milk or milks products – not everyone with UC has trouble, but take note in your diary if you experience symptoms. If you do have trouble it could be because you cannot properly digest lactose, the sugar present in milk and other milk products. Make an appointment to get a lactose tolerance test.
- Onions are difficult to digest as they contain a natural type of sugar called fructose that causes gas – yet they can be found in so many foods! Read menus and labels carefully so you can avoid this stinky culprit!
- Beans & Legumes – try smaller portions. Another example – instead of eating whole chickpeas, try a little hummus.
- Raw fruits and vegetables might bother you, so try steaming, baking or stewing them.
- Cruciferous vegetables can cause gas, bloating and cramping for most with UC (cauliflower, cabbage, garden cress, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts).
- Whole seeds and tiny seeds (found in strawberries and raspberries) can cause problems. Ground flaxseed and tamari (sesame seed paste) might be a better option.
- Dried fruits have moderate amounts of sulfate (and are dense in sugar). The more sulfate you ingest, the more of it’s available for colon bacteria to make sulfide gases.
- Corn and mushrooms (as well as broccoli and cabbage) are often times avoided during a flare up as they cannot be completed digested and can cause irritation in the gut as well as diarrhea.
- Fatty meats – stick to leaner meats or ground up meat and remember to chew everything slowly and thoroughly. Tough meats like steaks can be very hard on the GI tract.
- Whole nuts or crunchy nut butters as well as popcorn can cause irritation (and literally get caught) during digestion and bowel movements. Stick to smooth nut butters.
- Rich foods (condiments, sauces) like carbonara sauce, Alfredo sauce, gravies, heavy desserts or mayonnaise can trigger symptoms.
- Chocolate has both caffeine and sugar which can irritate the gut. Try consuming one small square of dark chocolate (has less sugar) to keep your insides relaxed.
- Sugar alcohols found in sugar-free sweets and candies (like sorbitol or anything ending in ‘ol’) can cause gas, diarrhea, cramping -you name it!
Foods to Help Prevent Ulcerative Colitis Flare-ups
- Bread, cereal, and whole grains
- Fruits and vegetables not listed above
- Lean meat, fish, and poultry (remember no tough meat like steaks)
- Low-fat dairy products (consider getting the lactose tolerance test)
- Healthy fats such as cold pressed, unrefined vegetable oils
- Have your blood levels checked to ensure you are not deficient in folate, potassium, vitamin D, B Vitamins, calcium or iron.
- Try some Curcumin, a substance in Turmeric spice – According to the University of Maryland Medical Center: “Turmeric may help people with ulcerative colitis stay in remission. In one double-blind, placebo-controlled study, people whose ulcerative colitis was in remission took either curcumin or placebo, along with conventional medical treatment, for 6 months. Those who took curcumin had a relapse rate much lower than those who took placebo.”
- Remember to eat slowly and have smaller meals and drink plenty of water.
- When you eat the right foods and avoid the wrong foods for ulcerative colitis, make sure you are taking enough of the nutritional supplements you need if you’re unable to eat a balanced diet due to certain food group restrictions. An example would be to make sure to get enough calcium if you have lactose intolerance.
- Vitamins, minerals, fish, fish oils and the right amount or type of fiber are key to helping you succeed.
- A Certified Nutritional Consultant can help you with a food and supplement plan.
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Sources: The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America; Frank W. Jackson, M.D. Jackson Siegelbaum Gastroenterology (on sulfate); Healthline Ulcerative Colitis and Alcohol by Michael Sapko reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA; Turmeric | University of Maryland Medical Center;