There’s no one perfect diet for kids with pediatric ulcerative colitis, but certain food choices and eating tips may help.

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Research suggests that about 10 in every 100,000 kids in the United States and Canada have pediatric ulcerative colitis (UC), a condition that causes ulcers to grow inside the colon.

Though each child is unique, certain dietary choices can reduce symptoms and ease the pain of flares. Here’s how to approach diet if your child has UC.

Learn more about UC in children.

Different kids with UC may respond well to different types of diets. For example, some children may do well on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD). Developed in the 1920s as an eating plan for people with celiac disease, this diet has been shown to induce remission of active inflammation in some people.

Following the SCD involves cutting out grains and grain-based foods, milk, most sugars, some legumes, tubers, and many foods with additives. Acceptable foods include minimally processed meats and beans, low-lactose dairy, fruits, vegetables, most nuts, and honey.

Other children with UC may benefit from a low FODMAP diet. A small 2020 study found that people who followed this diet experienced improvements in several UC symptoms after just 4 weeks. However, the study participants were adults, not children.

A low FODMAP diet limits the consumption of foods high in a certain type of short-chain carbohydrates. Foods that don’t make the cut: wheat, beans, garlic, onions, milk; certain fruits, such as apples, mangoes, and watermelon; and certain vegetables, such as asparagus and leeks.

In general, the most important priority for a child with pediatric UC is maintaining a healthy, balanced diet. This looks like a balance of:

  • protein
  • grains
  • dairy
  • fats
  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • healthy drinks

It’s also advisable to minimize highly processed foods and foods high in fat and added sugars. Encourage your child to eat regular meals and to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, particularly when a flare causes diarrhea.

A flare can be an anxiety-producing time for both kids and parents. To minimize symptoms, it may help for your child to eat small, mild meals. Try limiting foods that could stimulate their digestive system, such as high fiber foods, anything with caffeine, and anything greasy or fried. Also try to avoid any foods that consistently seem to worsen their symptoms.

In children, just as in adults, UC causes ulcers within the colon — the lower part of the digestive tract. This inflammation may result in symptoms such as:

  • abdominal pain
  • diarrhea
  • bloody stool
  • feelings of urgency to have a bowel movement

As these symptoms persist, they can lead to fatigue, weight loss, anemia, and loss of appetite.

Because UC can reduce appetite, it’s sometimes difficult for kids with this condition to get proper nutrition.

When your child is having symptoms, encourage them to eat as much as they are comfortable with. If your child’s appetite is low, talk with their doctor about whether supplementing with a multivitamin or a high calorie nutrition aid, such as a shake, drink, or bar, may be a good choice, especially during a flare.

Depending on your child’s age, there are various strategies that can help them learn to feed themselves well if they have UC. A visit to a pediatric dietitian is an excellent place to start for customized advice about the right diet for kids with UC.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • At mealtimes, young children can use a colored plate with dividers based on the USDA’s MyPlate system of protein, grains, dairy, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Older kids may take ownership of their diet by keeping a food journal to figure out which foods seem to increase or decrease their symptoms.
  • Teens might even use an app such as My IBD Care to track food choices and symptoms.

There is no cure for UC, but a combination of medication, surgery, and lifestyle strategies can make this condition manageable. While it is a lifelong condition, children with UC can grow into adults with full, active lives.

What is the BRAT diet for ulcerative colitis?

BRAT” stands for “bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast.” Over the years, healthcare professionals have sometimes recommended these foods to minimize digestive problems in children. If your child tolerates these foods during a flare, they’re fine to eat, but you can certainly explore other options as well.

How can I help my child with ulcerative colitis?

Besides feeding them a nutritious diet with a balance of protein, carbohydrates, fat, and hydration, be sure to give your child plenty of TLC during a UC flare. Emotional support is an extremely important component of their well-being.

What foods are best for a child with ulcerative colitis?

Each child’s best foods may differ, but you can always start with mild, nourishing choices. For protein, try plain chicken or a white fish. For grains, consider whole wheat bread, rice, or pasta. And for a vegetable side, cooked carrots or zucchini can be easy on the gut.

Finding the best diet for kids with UC may require some trial and error. As much as possible, keep track of which foods your child does well with and which ones seem to worsen their condition.

Consult your child’s doctor to find out whether a special diet, such as low FODMAP or SCD, might be worth a try. One day at a time, you’ll get the hang of the eating pattern that best suits your child.