Food is good medicine. That’s especially true when you have ulcerative colitis (UC), which is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

You can lose valuable nutrients through UC symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting. So it’s crucial to make sure you consume sufficient nutrition. And some of the best nutrients and micronutrients are found in vegetables.

But certain vegetables are notorious for worsening UC symptoms like bloating, cramps, and diarrhea. You may want to avoid them while you’re in the middle of a flare.

Research shows that eliminating certain foods can help reduce symptoms of flares. Vegetables are often the first food that people with UC eliminate, especially fibrous, starchy ones with skins.

But it’s important not to cut out too many vegetables from your diet. Elimination of foods can sometimes lead to nutritional deficiencies. People with IBD are already at higher risk of deficiencies. Avoiding vegetables altogether can reduce your nutrient stores even more.

Eliminating foods from your diet is best done with the guidance of a dietitian or other medical professional. Doing it yourself can lead to nutrient deficiencies, which can lead to conditions such as bone loss (osteoporosis) and anemia.

According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation (CCF), some of the most common deficiencies that people with IBD have are:

  • calcium
  • iron
  • magnesium
  • vitamins B6, B9, and B12
  • vitamin D
  • zinc

The same diet choices do not work for everyone who has UC. In fact, the best choices for you are those based on your specific condition. But general recommendations can give you a good starting point.

Read on for general recommendations of which vegetables might be OK during a flare, and which ones to try during a remission phase.

It’s important to keep vegetables in your diet when you have UC. The trick is to find ones you like that don’t affect your UC. The following are vegetables recommended by professionals who are familiar with UC.

During a flare

The tendency during a flare is to cut down on almost all vegetables to try to lessen your symptoms. Research warns that while restrictions may help reduce symptoms, you want to be sure you get good nutrition too.

Otherwise, you may place yourself at higher risk of complications from low food intake, which can include:

  • nutrient malabsorption
  • macronutrient or micronutrient deficiencies
  • weight loss
  • osteoporosis

There are a number of ways you can eat vegetables even during a flare. CCF recommends that you cook vegetables rather than eat them raw during a flare.

You’ll take in more nutrients if you steam them until they are very soft, rather than boil them. You can either avoid vegetables with tough skin or peel them.

A juice extractor may be useful to eliminate fiber and make vegetables more digestible. The raw juice provides enzymes, vitamins, and minerals to replenish your nutritional stores.

Vegetable stock is good to use for making soup or adding it to other dishes. You might also add it in for extra nutrients when cooking vegetables.

CCF recommends that during a flare you eat vegetables that are:

  • easy to digest
  • cooked, pureed, or peeled
  • made into vegetable stock, which you can then add to rice or pasta
  • pureed and made into a soup

Here are their suggestions of a few good vegetables to eat during a flare:

  • asparagus tips
  • cucumbers
  • potatoes
  • squash

During remission

During a remission phase, CCF recommends that you gradually add in as many vegetables as you can. Try eating many vegetables of different colors. That way, you get a good variety of nutrients. Remove the peel and seeds if they bother you.

According to the IBD food list maintained by the University of Massachusetts Medical School, almost any vegetable is fit for your plate during the remission phase. As long as it doesn’t trigger symptoms for you, try it out in small amounts first.

There is very little standard dietary advice for what people with UC should eat during remission. Clinicians, health organizations, and especially people with UC often have very different, conflicting ideas.

Research is also conflicted about whether any particular food or diet can really help initiate or sustain a remission. Research shows that people with UC often disagree with their clinicians about the role of diet in UC. As a result, they often view dietary advice as inadequate, and they don’t follow it.

Researchers are calling for larger evidence-based studies of what foods, if any, to recommend during a remission. People with UC must now sort through conflicting recommendations from their clinicians, online resources, and their own experience.

Until there are clear and consistent dietary guidelines for a UC remission diet, it may be best to follow the CCF recommendation to focus on maintaining a diverse and nutrient-rich diet. Since your nutrition stores may be depleted during a flare, remission is the time to stock up.

Some vegetables are harder to digest and may give your GI tract trouble. Vegetables with thick skins and seeds tend to trigger UC symptoms. Read on for suggestions of which vegetables to avoid during a flare, and which ones to turn down during a remission phase.

During a flare

Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower contain insoluble fiber and have tough stalks. They may cause problems with gas and bloating. If gas is a problem for you during a flare, it’s best to avoid vegetables such as:

  • broccoli
  • brussels sprouts
  • cauliflower

Keep a food diary if you often have symptoms after you eat. Write down what you eat and how you feel afterward. Share your food diary with your doctor and dietitian so they can help fine-tune your diet.

During remission

Research shows that if you are in remission from UC, it may not be necessary for you to modify your diet. It is very important that you eat a well-rounded, nutritious diet during remission.

If you are eating a healthy, nutrient-rich diet and are not experiencing flare symptoms, restrictions probably are not necessary.

While it is true that some foods can trigger flares, no substantial research supports the popular idea that dietary restrictions can sustain remission or prevent a relapse.

Nevertheless, research shows that many people with UC make self-imposed dietary restrictions during remission in an attempt to prevent relapse.

But, in fact, such restrictions may contribute to malnutrition and be harmful to your health. If you do eliminate foods during remission, be sure to consult with your dietitian to make sure you are still receiving all the necessary nutrients.

However, restricting one food additive may be helpful. A research review found that a carrageenan-free diet was the only elimination diet that actually did reduce relapse in people with UC who started the trial in remission. Carrageenan is a product extracted from seaweeds and used in gelling, thickening, and stabilizing foods.

A 2017 study found that carrageenan promotes intestinal inflammation and may contribute to a UC relapse. However, other researchers have disputed the results of that study, saying the sample size was too small and the results only marginally significant.

A variety of organizations and individuals recommend many different diets to help UC. Research generally warns against restrictive diets for UC because no one diet works for everyone. Also, very little research supports the idea that one diet by itself helps all people with UC.

However, these special diets may give you some ideas to work into your nutritional program. They all have slightly different takes on which vegetables are best. Look into them and see what works for you:

  • Mediterranean diet
  • low-FODMAP diet
  • specific carbohydrate diet
  • paleo diet
  • gluten-free diet
  • low-residue diet

You’ll find a wrap-up of all these diets here.

Here are a few menu ideas featuring vegetables that are usually well-tolerated by people with UC. Keep in mind that these suggestions are for people who are not currently experiencing a flare.

For breakfast

  • scrambled eggs with avocado, spinach, and low fat cheddar cheese
  • honey-sweetened butternut squash and muffins
  • goat cheese, zucchini, and dill frittata
  • diced butternut squash home fries
  • smoothie with spinach, cucumber, and mint
  • spinach-mango smoothie

For lunch

  • shepherd’s pie with sweet potato topping
  • butternut squash bisque
  • baby spinach salad with roasted pears and goat cheese
  • carrot soup
  • oat risotto with peas and pecorino cheese
  • smoothie with coconut milk, coconut yogurt, bananas, pineapple, and spinach
  • peppers, carrots, and zucchini cut into matchsticks and rolled into sliced turkey
  • canned tuna mixed with mayonnaise and diced peppers on cucumber slices

For dinner

  • sautéed sole with lemon, chickpeas, and baby spinach
  • bell peppers stuffed with a mixture of diced onions, chickpeas, ground turkey, steel-cut oats, feta, and sun-dried tomatoes
  • foil-baked tilapia (or other white fish) with chopped zucchini, cherry tomatoes, red bell pepper, and lemon
  • zucchini lasagna
  • spaghetti squash with tomato sauce
  • spinach-butternut squash pizza
  • stir-fried onion, carrots, celery, asparagus, mushrooms, and baby spinach with chicken or tofu in teriyaki sauce
  • rice noodles with tofu, carrots, green beans, bell pepper, and baby corn in peanut-soy sauce
  • root vegetable mash with turnips, carrots, parsnips, and sweet potatoes

Snacks

  • spinach artichoke yogurt dip
  • mushrooms stuffed with chopped spinach and farmer’s cheese
  • carrot, beet, and celeriac root chips
  • lactose-free yogurt topped with banana slices and nut butter
  • toasted gluten-free bread topped with cottage cheese, squeezed lemon, and sliced cucumbers

How you prepare produce is almost as important as the fruits and vegetables you choose.

Peels and seeds can be hard to digest. You may want to remove them before eating.

The fiber in raw vegetables is good for you, but your body may have trouble breaking it down. Eating too many raw veggies can lead to uncomfortable gas.

Cooking vegetables is generally better for people with UC. The fat in fried foods can be hard for your body to absorb. Grilling, steaming, or boiling your vegetables is less likely to cause symptoms.

You can also drink your vegetables in juice form. It may be easier for your body to digest.

Changing your diet doesn’t mean you have to settle for bland food. Add flavor to your meals with a variety of herbs. Spices are usually easy for people with UC to tolerate, even on flare days.

A balanced diet is important for everyone. Eating nutritious foods is especially critical when you have UC. Ulcerative colitis can affect how well your body absorbs vitamins and minerals.

Some vegetables are more likely to cause UC symptoms than others. The more colorful the vegetables you choose, the more nutrition you’ll get. Try different vegetables and cooking methods to see which ones bother you and which ones you can tolerate.