If you have Ulcerative Colitis (UC), dietary changes are often the key to managing your condition long term. UC has two stages, active and remission. During periods of active symptoms, it’s important to follow a short-term low fiber diet to allow your gut to heal.
As your symptoms subside, slowly reintroduce high fiber foods back into your diet to ensure you’re receiving adequate nutrition. Adjusting your diet to the stage of your condition can be confusing and difficult to navigate effectively. We recommend working with your doctor and a dietitian to closely monitor how your diet is affecting your UC.
In general, the foods you eat during a flare should be bland, low in fiber and easy to digest. Foods with a lot of spice and flavor can cause irritation in your gut, so we recommend sticking to lightly seasoned foods as much as possible. In addition, fiber, although a necessary component of a healthy diet, is hard to digest. We recommend sticking to low fiber foods to allow your body to heal the inflammation in your gut. Fiber also adds residue to stool, which should be avoided to allow the bowels to rest and heal. This is especially true for insoluble fiber, which does not dissolve, and moves through your GI tract unchanged. Consuming fiber during a flare can increase bloating, gas, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, and may even lead to intestinal blockage.
Each person’s body will heal at a different pace, so the length of time you will need to follow a low-fiber diet differs from person to person. Your dietitian can help you better understand how your body is reacting to the dietary changes you’ve made and when it’s appropriate to reintroduce the foods you’ve eliminated.
Foods to eat for UC are listed below.
Protein for Ulcerative Colitis
Protein is an essential part of every diet. It is a building block within the body and is needed in every cell. Protein helps repairs damaged cells within the body, as well as to create new ones. During and after a UC flare, protein is absolutely required to help your body repair the cells within the colon. Protein is also needed to prevent weight loss during a flare. During a flare, we recommend eating lean protein options, which contain less fat. Higher fat foods can be more difficult to digest and absorb, which makes the body work harder when you consume them. During a flare, the goal is to let the gut rest, and feed it easy to digest foods.
Fish: Salmon, tilapia, flounder, tuna
Shellfish: Shrimp, scallops
Lean cuts of pork
Fruit for Ulcerative Colitis
Fruit is a key piece of a healthy diet. Fruits contain vitamin and minerals, which help the body run smoothly. Fruit also contains fiber, which can present an issue during a flare. Fruits that are high in insoluble fiber, which passes through the GI tract without being absorbed, can cause more irritation in an already stressed gut. Fruit tolerance varies among people with IBD, and choosing low fiber fruits that are easier to digest can help ease symptoms. Removing the skin and seeds can also help reduce fiber content and ease digestion. Cooking fruit or blending into a smoothie can also make it easier to digest.
Cooked fruit- apple sauce
Vegetables for Ulcerative Colitis
Like fruit, vegetables are an important part of a healthy, well-balanced diet. Vegetables also provide the body with a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. However, vegetables are also high in fiber. During a flare, we recommend removing the skin and seeds and cooking vegetables until tender to make these foods more tolerable. We also recommend avoiding cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and cabbage to avoid excess gas production. Keep preparation simple by steaming, boiling, or grilling. Avoid using oil or frying with large amounts of butter/oil.
Grains for Ulcerative Colitis
Grains are a good source of carbohydrates, as well as vitamins and minerals for the body. Whole grains specifically are high in fiber, and while high fiber foods may be perfectly healthy during remission, the fiber is difficult to digest during a flare. Luckily, when grains are refined, the fibrous parts are removed, which makes them much easier for the body to break down. We recommend choosing refined grains when you’re symptomatic because these products may be easier to digest.
Snacks present more opportunities to get beneficial nutrients into the body. Consuming enough calories during a flare can be a challenge, but eating smaller, more frequent meals and/or snacks can help you eat more food in throughout the day.
Try combining some of these foods together for a larger, more well-rounded snack. For example, have a boiled egg and a banana together or avocado mashed on toast.
Final Advice on Foods to Eat for Ulcerative Colitis
Although there are specific foods that tend to be more well-tolerated than others during a UC flare, it’s important to remember that each person is different. The goal is to identify which foods trigger your symptoms and avoid them until you start to feel better. Keeping a log of the foods you are eating and the symptoms you are experiencing can be an extremely insightful tool to use to determine what foods do and don’t work for you.
Food elimination is also meant to be temporary to avoid any long-term nutrient deficiencies. If you’re unsure about how to safely alter your diet based on the stage of your condition, we recommend working with a dietitian.
Read more about how a dietitian can help with UC on our main page!
Kaitlyn Willwerth is a Registered Dietitian at OnPoint Nutrition. Kaitlyn's work focuses on providing individualized health and lifestyle coaching and, most importantly, support. She is a Certified LEAP Therapist and has also completed the Monash University 'Low FODMAP Diet for IBS' online training course for health professionals.