After J-pouch surgery, you should slowly reintroduce solid foods into your diet as your digestive tract heals. Over time, most people can eat a variety of foods, but some foods may still cause symptoms.

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Ileal pouch-anal anastomosis (IPAA) surgery is also known as J-pouch surgery. People with ulcerative colitis (UC) may have this surgery when medications haven’t helped manage the condition.

J-pouch surgery typically involves two or three separate surgical procedures.

In the first surgery, a surgeon will remove your colon, also known as the large intestine, and your rectum. Then, to create a new rectum, the surgeon will form the lower part of your small intestine into a J-shape and reattach it to the anal opening. This allows stool to pass through the anus as usual.

During the first surgery, a temporary opening in the abdominal wall, called an ileostomy, is created for eliminating waste. After about 3 months, when healing is complete, a second procedure is performed to close the ileostomy, allowing you to once again pass stool through the anus.

The term “J-pouch” comes from the shape of the new rectum. UC affects only the colon and rectum. That’s why the removal of these body parts is considered a cure for UC.

Over time, many people with a J-pouch can eat a fairly standard diet. Yet you may find that certain foods still cause some digestive symptoms.

As you heal after surgery, you should be able to gradually increase the texture and variety of foods in your diet.

Read on for more information on eating after J-pouch surgery.

Your digestive system will need to rest after surgery. At first, you may be able to have only clear fluids. You’ll gradually introduce more liquid foods and then solid foods into your diet as your body is able to tolerate them.

What’s safe to eat or drink

After surgery, you’ll start with a clear fluids diet. This allows your body to get some nutrients while letting your digestive system rest and heal.

A clear fluids diet includes:

  • gelatin
  • sports drinks
  • clear juices without pulp, such as apple juice
  • tea
  • broth
  • ice pops

After a few days, many people can transition to a full fluids diet. This includes everything that is part of a clear fluids diet, plus:

  • milk
  • yogurt
  • nutritional supplement drinks
  • puddings
  • fully pureed soups

A full fluids diet offers a bit more variety and texture. But it’s still easy for your digestive system to handle.

Once you can tolerate a full fluids diet, you’ll transition to a low fiber diet. This is also known as a low residue diet.

A low fiber diet adds more solid foods to your diet without adding bulk. It includes a variety of foods that your body can still digest easily.

A low residue diet includes the foods and drinks in a full fluids diet, plus:

  • well-cooked vegetables without any skin or seeds
  • soft fruit without skin or seeds
  • soft starchy foods like white bread, white rice, and white pasta
  • soft and well-cooked meats, poultry, and fish
  • milk, cheese, and yogurt, as well as nondairy alternatives
  • smooth or creamy nut butter
  • eggs

Foods to avoid

Your digestive system needs time to heal and adjust to life without a colon. During this time, some foods can cause irritation or other digestive symptoms.

It’s advised that you avoid any foods high in fiber for the 1–2 months following surgery. High fiber foods create more work for your digestive system.

Foods that are high in fiber — and harder to digest — include:

  • whole grains and bran
  • the skin or seeds of fruits and vegetables
  • raw vegetables or tough fruits
  • nuts and seeds
  • beans and lentils

Some people also find that spicy foods or those high in fat irritate their digestive system. Caffeine and alcohol can also cause irritation.

In the weeks and months after surgery, your J-pouch will stretch. This allows it to hold more stool, reducing the frequency of your bowel movements. Your stool will also become firmer over time.

After the J-pouch has healed, many people find they’re able to eat a variety of foods, including:

  • fruits and vegetables (though cooked vegetables may be more easily tolerated than raw)
  • both refined and whole grain products
  • milk, cheese, and yogurt, as well as nondairy alternatives
  • meats, poultry, and fish
  • meat alternatives, including soy
  • eggs, creamy nut butter, and beans

Getting enough fluid is important so you can stay hydrated. You may find your body handles fluids better between meals. When you drink fluids with meals, it can speed up digestion and cause loose stools.

If you have ongoing diarrhea, eating more of these foods can help firm up your stools and reduce frequency:

  • cheese and plain yogurt
  • oatmeal
  • white starchy foods, such as white bread, white rice, potatoes, pretzels, and crackers
  • bananas and applesauce
  • creamy peanut butter or other smooth nut butter

The ultimate goal is for you to be able to eat a variety of foods, though your digestive system may still have a hard time handling some foods well.

If you still have digestive symptoms, it could be helpful to keep a food and symptom journal. You may find some patterns.

It’s also a good idea to introduce new foods gradually and monitor for any symptoms or side effects.

If your symptoms don’t improve after making adjustments, are affecting your quality of life, or are causing serious discomfort, it’s best to talk with a healthcare professional.

There’s no single diet that works for everyone with a J-pouch. Making dietary changes can be helpful if you’re having any ongoing symptoms.

For example, dietary changes can help if you’re experiencing excess gas, diarrhea, or anal irritation.

Keep in mind that it may take a while to figure out what works best for you. If your symptoms don’t improve or seem to get worse after even you make some changes to your diet, it would help to talk with your surgery care team or a dietitian, if you have access to one.

Foods more likely to cause gas

Some foods can cause excess gas, which may lead to bloating and discomfort. Some foods to avoid if you have a lot of gas include:

  • carbonated drinks
  • milk and milk products
  • broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage (even when cooked)
  • beans and lentils
  • onions (raw or cooked)

A low FODMAP diet may also be helpful with gas and bloating symptoms. FODMAP is an acronym that stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols.

This diet cuts back on a group of sugars that your gastrointestinal (GI) tract may not absorb well. According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, a low FODMAP diet can help improve symptoms. But scientific research doesn’t support its use for reducing inflammation.

Foods that may cause diarrhea

Diarrhea is when stools are very watery and frequent. It occurs when food moves through your digestive system too quickly.

The colon is responsible for reabsorbing extra water from stool. And when you don’t have a large colon, stool tends to be looser.

Diarrhea can also lead to dehydration. This can be dangerous, particularly for a person recovering from surgery and unable to eat a full diet.

Foods that may be more likely to cause diarrhea can include:

  • high fat or fried foods
  • spicy foods
  • high sugar foods and drinks, especially sodas or juices
  • foods and drinks with caffeine, including coffee, teas, chocolate, or energy drinks
  • alcohol

Foods that can cause anal irritation

Anal irritation can occur in people with a J-pouch. Foods more likely to cause anal irritation can include:

  • spicy foods
  • certain raw fruits and vegetables, including oranges, apples, coleslaw, celery, and corn
  • tough foods, such as whole grains, the skin of fruits and vegetables, popcorn, dried fruit, nuts, and seeds
  • foods and drinks with caffeine, including coffee, teas, chocolate, or energy drinks

It can take up to 1 year after J-pouch surgery for your digestive system to heal. This means there will be some trial and error during this time.

Many people find they do best with an easily digestible diet, such as a lower fiber diet, in the first several months.

Doctors typically recommend introducing some new foods gradually. This way, if you get cramping, excess gas, bloating, or diarrhea, it’ll be easier to identify the cause. Chewing your food well can also support healthy digestion with a J-pouch.

How you eat over the long term with a J-pouch can depend on a few things. You may need to adjust your diet if you have digestive symptoms or other health conditions.

Keeping a food and symptom journal can be helpful.

The ultimate goal is for you to eat a variety of foods. Some tips that may help you figure out the eating pattern that works best for you include:

  • Your digestive system may tolerate small meals and snacks better than larger meals.
  • One of the main jobs of your colon is to reabsorb water from your stool. So, when you don’t have a colon, it’s important to drink enough fluids to stay hydrated as your body adapts.
  • You may also want to try drinking beverages with electrolytes, such as sports drinks and coconut water, to prevent electrolyte imbalance.
  • It’s best to consume fluids in between meals, since drinking with meals can speed up digestion and may lead to loose stools.
  • Experiment with different ways of preparing vegetables. You may find that you tolerate softer cooked vegetables better than raw ones.
  • Remember that digestion starts in your mouth. Take small bites and chew your food well to help the rest of your digestive system process it more easily.
  • If you start having more frequent stools or diarrhea, you may want to try going back to a low residue diet and seeing whether your symptoms resolve.
  • If you’re having a lot of digestive symptoms or symptoms that don’t resolve with dietary changes, talk with a member of your surgery care team. You may consider working with a dietitian as well. They can support you in finding a diet that works for you.
  • You may choose to adjust the times when you eat to avoid bowel movements disrupting your sleep.

Supplements can help if you’re not able to get enough nutrients from your diet. If you’re eating a variety of foods, you may not need any supplements.

Talk with your surgery care team to decide whether you need any supplements. Some common supplements used by people with a J-pouch can include:

  • Fiber supplements: If you have ongoing diarrhea, a soluble fiber supplement may help thicken up your stool.
  • Nutritional supplement drinks: If you have trouble eating enough calories, these can add nutrients and calories to your diet.
  • Probiotics: Research is ongoing into the potential benefits of probiotic supplements. Probiotics can help if you have to take antibiotics or have pouchitis. Pouchitis is an infection in the J-pouch that occurs in up to 50% of people who have a J-pouch, usually within 2 years of surgery.
  • Calcium: If you have trouble tolerating dairy products, it may be hard to get enough calcium. Calcium supplements can help ensure you’re getting enough to keep your bones strong.
  • Vitamin D: Vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium, among other benefits. It also helps reduce intestinal inflammation. According to a 2022 study, it’s common for people with ileal pouches to have low levels of vitamin D.

What are the cons of the J-pouch?

Having a J-pouch generally improves the quality of life for people with UC. However, some possible drawbacks may include the possibility of developing pouchitis, an infection of the pouch, and fecal incontinence.

How long will my J-pouch last?

How long your J-pouch lasts can depend on many factors, including your age and your specific diagnosis. But one study from 2017 found that many were still functional 30 years after surgery.

How many times do you go to the bathroom with a J-pouch?

After about 1 year following surgery, most people have about six bowel movements per day and 2 per night, on average.

Many people with UC have an improved quality of life after J-pouch surgery.

After the procedure, you’ll start on a clear fluids diet. You’ll slowly try to introduce more solid foods as your digestive system heals.

Dietary changes can help if you have excess gas, loose stool, or diarrhea. It’s a good idea to make any dietary changes gradually. A food and symptom journal may also help you see any patterns in eating and symptoms.