Ulcerative Colitis: Building a Meal Plan
Learn to Eat Again with Ulcerative Colitis
When you’re diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (UC), you may wonder what it means for your diet. After all, food is a central part of living. Eating not only provides our bodies with nutrition—it brings people together.
For people with UC, a healthy diet is a balanced diet. Adequate intake of foods from all the food groups is important. These groups include red meat, fish, and poultry; grains, starches, and breads; fruits and vegetables; and healthy fats, including olive oil. Click through this slideshow to learn more about building a healthy diet plan.
The Relationship Between Food and Ulcerative Colitis
Food and UC have a strong connection: The foods you eat did not cause you to develop UC. However, the foods you eat can affect your UC symptoms.
Certain foods may aggravate existing symptoms when you have a flare. During remission, you may be able to return to a normal diet and enjoy foods you typically avoid during a flare. Learning which foods to eat and which foods to avoid may help you eat well, enjoy your meals, and feel well.
It’s Not One-Size-Fits-All
Unfortunately, there is no single diet plan that will work for every person with UC. You need to be mindful of the effects that different foods have on you so you can decide what’s safe to eat and what isn’t. Also, keep in mind that things change—you may develop new problems with foods that once didn’t cause you problems, and you may be able to eat once-problematic foods later.
Small Meals, Not Big
Before you were diagnosed with UC, you may have eaten two or three large meals each day. That’s a lot of work for your intestines to handle. Instead of large meals just a few times a day, try eating five or six smaller meals spaced evenly throughout the day. This gives your bowels time to more freely digest the food you eat, and may reduce symptoms as well.
Count Your Calories
Over time, UC makes calorie absorption difficult. This can lead to malnutrition and weight loss during a flare. If your UC flares typically cause you to experience weight loss, you may need to increase your calorie intake during a flare. This measure can help ensure you receive adequate nutrition.
The same is true for vitamins and minerals. UC makes nutrient absorption difficult, so you may need to take multivitamins or carefully monitor the nutrient level of the foods you eat to ensure you’re ingesting enough vitamins and minerals to meet your body’s daily needs.
Watch Salt and Fat
Some medications used for treatment of UC can cause side effects, such as swelling and bloating, if you eat too much sodium. If you’re using corticosteroid therapy to treat UC, your dietitian may recommend you eat a low-salt diet while using the steroids to prevent or reduce water retention.
Your dietitian may also recommend a low-fat diet, especially during a flare. During this more active phase, greasy, fattening foods can cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Avoiding heavy doses of fat may reduce the risk for these complications.
Cut Back on Dairy
Lactose intolerance can cause diarrhea, gas, and abdominal pain. People who are lactose sensitive or lactose intolerant should avoid milk, milk products, and dairy foods.
If you have to eat foods containing dairy proteins or prefer not to avoid them, taking a lactose enzyme product can help your body break down the milk sugar without causing unwanted side effects. Talk with your doctor to see if these products are right for you.
Figure Out Fiber
Fiber-rich foods, such as grains, vegetables, and fruit, are an important part of a balanced diet. However, they may make symptoms of UC worse for certain patients. They all contain fiber, which adds bulk to stool and can increase the frequency of bowel movements. Additional fiber can aggravate your bowels and make using the restroom more difficult, too.
Changing how you cook your vegetables may make them easier to digest. Instead of eating them raw, try boiling, steaming, or baking them to make them easier to digest.
Start a Food Diary
The best way to know what affects you is to start a food diary. Each day, record your meals, any snacks, and what you drink. Be sure to record any symptoms that follow. Take your diary to your doctor or dietitian, and talk with them about possible connections between the foods you eat and the symptoms you experience. Eliminate foods that seem to cause problems, and see how your body responds. Over time, you’ll isolate the foods that are bothersome for your UC, and you can avoid them altogether.
Create a Plan that Works for You
For people with UC, informed dietary choices can make a big difference. Nutrition takes on special importance because the disease makes calorie and nutrient absorption more difficult. You need the most nutrition out of what you eat, when you eat. Additionally, avoiding trigger foods can potentially make the condition less severe on your body. Your trigger foods can make symptoms worse during flares, and can even keep your body from properly absorbing nutrients from the foods you eat.
For those reasons and more, a well-balanced diet is very important. It can help you prevent triggers and potentially avoid symptoms and complications related to UC.
- Living with UC. (n.d.). Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. Retrieved January 3, 2014, from http://www.ccfa.org/assets/pdfs/living_with_uc_brochure_final.pdf
- UC: Lifestyle and home remedies. (2012, October). Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Retrieved January 3, 2014, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ulcerative-colitis/basics/lifestyle-home-remedies/con-20043763