Interstitial cystitis is a chronic condition that is estimated to affect around nearly 3% of women and 2% of men in the United States (
People living with interstitial cystitis may consider it a painful and uncomfortable issue to deal with, as there is no single treatment or cure currently available (
Therefore, many people turn to alternative treatments to ease symptoms of interstitial cystitis, including following an interstitial cystitis diet.
This article will take an in-depth look at how diet can affect interstitial cystitis, how an interstitial cystitis diet works, and the potential benefits and downsides associated with it.
Interstitial cystitis is a chronic condition characterized by frequent urges to urinate and bladder or pelvic pain, pressure, and discomfort (
Some research has found that certain foods may worsen symptoms of interstitial cystitis by altering the pH or potassium content of urine or activating pain receptors in the bladder (
Therefore, you can consider making adjustments to your diet that may help manage pelvic pain, urinary urgency, and the frequency of urination (3).
However, certain foods may impact symptoms of interstitial cystitis differently for some people, meaning that it may take some trial and error to determine what works for you (4).
Therefore, it’s recommended to try an elimination diet for 1-2 weeks, which involves eliminating all foods that are possible triggers from your diet and slowly reintroducing them one at a time to evaluate which may cause symptoms for you (4).
According to the Urology Care Foundation, using a food journal and adding one food back into your diet per day can help identify which ingredients your body can tolerate versus which ingredients may trigger bladder symptoms (4).
Certain foods may worsen symptoms of interstitial cystitis. Eliminating potential trigger foods from your diet and slowly reintroducing them individually can help you identify which foods may worsen symptoms for you.
The interstitial cystitis diet involves eliminating certain trigger foods from your diet for 1-2 weeks and reintroducing them slowly over time.
Foods to eat
Though certain foods may affect symptoms differently for different people, some are considered less likely to trigger pain or discomfort than others.
Here are a few foods that are considered less bothersome, according to the Interstitial Cystitis Association of America (5):
- Fruits: bananas, apricots, blueberries, dates, melons, prunes, pears, raisins
- Vegetables: avocados, asparagus, broccoli, beets, eggplant, peas, mushrooms, spinach
- Grains: oats, rice
- Proteins: beef, lamb, pork, poultry, fish, eggs
- Nuts: walnuts, almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, pistachios
- Nut butters: peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, sunflower butter
- Dairy: low-fat and whole milk, mild cheeses
- Herbs and spices: rosemary, garlic, basil, oregano, thyme
- Beverages: water, grain-based coffee substitutes
Foods to avoid
Some foods are more likely to worsen symptoms of interstitial cystitis, including tomatoes, citrus fruits, coffee, and chocolate (4).
On an interstitial cystitis diet, you should eliminate these foods from your diet for 1–2 weeks and add them back in gradually to determine which you are able to tolerate.
Here are some foods you might need to limit or avoid (5):
- Fruits: oranges, grapefruits, lemons, pineapples, strawberries
- Vegetables: tomatoes and tomato products, pickles, chili peppers, sauerkraut
- Processed sandwich meats: bologna, ham, salami, cold cuts
- Soy foods: tofu, tempeh, edamame, soy beans
- Dairy products: yogurt
- Chocolates: chocolate bars, chips, and candies
- Condiments: chili, horseradish, salad dressings, soy sauce, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup
- Beverages: alcohol, coffee, tea, carbonated drinks, juices (including orange, grapefruit, cranberry, and pineapple juice)
- Food additives: monosodium glutamate (MSG), artificial sweeteners
In addition to the ingredients listed above, you may also want to limit or avoid spicy foods, pizza, and certain types of cuisines — such as Thai, Indian, or Mexican food — to evaluate how these foods affect your symptoms.
Some foods are more likely to trigger symptoms of interstitial cystitis than others. Eliminating the foods listed above and slowly reintroducing them into your diet can help identify which ingredients you may be more sensitive to.
According to one review, consuming certain foods or beverages that may worsen interstitial cystitis could cause symptoms within just 2-4 hours (
Therefore, following an interstitial cystitis diet could be beneficial for alleviating symptoms like bladder or pelvic pain and discomfort.
One study found that removing several common trigger foods from the diet — including soy, tomatoes, spicy foods, and citrus — was able to alleviate symptoms of interstitial cystitis after three months. This elimination diet still proved effective at least one year later (
Additionally, a study in 2,101 people with interstitial cystitis found that around 45% of those who had tried dietary modifications reported that it controlled their symptoms “pretty well,” making it one of the most effective complementary treatments available (
Another older study had similar findings, reporting that approximately 90% of people surveyed indicated that consuming certain foods or beverages exacerbated symptoms of interstitial cystitis (
While these results suggest that an interstitial cystitis diet could be beneficial for some people, more research is needed on its long-term effectiveness.
Some studies show that certain foods often exacerbate symptoms of interstitial cystitis. One study also found that removing common trigger foods from the diet was effective at reducing symptoms after three months.
The interstitial cystitis diet may be difficult to follow for some people, depending on what your current diet looks like.
It also eliminates many nutrient-dense foods, including citrus fruits, tomatoes, soy products, and fermented vegetables.
Some people may also have to avoid soy-based protein sources like tofu, tempeh, and edamame, which may make it more challenging for vegans and vegetarians to meet their nutritional needs.
However, keep in mind that these foods are only temporarily eliminated from your diet and may be able to be reintroduced, depending on whether or not they worsen symptoms for you.
Additionally, note that dietary modifications may not control symptoms completely for everyone and other lifestyle changes, such as managing stress levels or regular physical therapy, may also be beneficial (4).
In some cases, other methods of treatment might also be recommended by your healthcare provider, such as prescription medications, neuromodulation therapy, injections, or even surgery (4).
The interstitial cystitis diet temporarily eliminates many nutrient-dense foods and may be difficult to follow. Additionally, dietary modifications may not be effective for everyone and other treatment methods may be necessary.
Here is a three-day sample menu with some simple meals and snacks you can enjoy on an interstitial cystitis diet:
- Breakfast: oatmeal with bananas, nut butter, and blueberries
- Lunch: grilled chicken with brown rice and broccoli
- Dinner: tuna salad sandwich
- Snack: sliced apple with peanut butter
- Breakfast: avocado toast with hard-boiled egg
- Lunch: baked salmon with rice and asparagus
- Dinner: stuffed bell peppers with ground beef
- Snack: handful of almonds with cheese
- Breakfast: omelette with mushrooms and spinach
- Lunch: wrap with cream cheese, chicken, avocado, and spinach
- Dinner: pork chops with mashed potatoes and green beans
- Snack: celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins
The sample meal plan outlined above provides some ideas for foods you can eat on an interstitial cystitis diet.
The interstitial cystitis diet is an elimination diet that can help you identify foods and beverages that may worsen symptoms for you.
For many people, avoiding foods that trigger symptoms can be an easy, effective, and non-invasive way to reduce pain and discomfort caused by interstitial cystitis.
However, keep in mind that dietary modifications may not work for everyone and other treatment methods may also be required to help provide long-lasting relief from symptoms.
Just one thing
Try this today: Elimination diets are often used to manage a variety of conditions, including interstitial cystitis. For more details on how an elimination diet works and some tips to get started, check out this article.