Ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that can strike at any age, though it tends to first appear before you turn 30. About 3 million adults in the United States have IBD, a category that also includes Crohn’s disease.
The main symptoms of UC — pain, diarrhea, and bloody stools — are caused by inflammation and ulcers in the lining of your colon (i.e., large intestine) or rectum. If you’re in pain after you eat, or suffer uncomfortable and embarrassing symptoms, you may be reluctant to consume full and regular meals. One of the most serious complications of UC is malnutrition due to an insufficient intake of calories and micronutrients.
At Colon and Rectal Surgeons of Greater Hartford, our expert team diagnoses and treats UC at their Bloomfield, South Windsor, and Plainville, Connecticut locations. Here they outline some of the adjustments you should make to your diet to keep your gut healthy and pain-free, while reducing your risk for malnutrition and other complications.
Eat small, simple meals
If you have UC, you need to spend extra time planning and preparing healthful meals that don’t trigger a disease flare. Instead of three large meals a day, aim for 4-6 smaller meals.
If you’re traveling or working outside of the home, prepare your meals ahead of time and carry them in small glass containers. Instead of frying foods in oil, prepare them simply by boiling, steaming, poaching, or grilling. If you’re grilling, however, don’t cook to the point of blackening or burning any portion of your meats or vegetables.
Avoid spices, sugars, and other irritants
Our doctors work with you to help you identify foods that are likely to trigger your UC. You can start the process by keeping a food diary, which is just a daily journal of everything you eat from morning to night. Many UC patients find their disease flares if they eat:
- Spicy foods
- Sugary foods
- High-fat foods
- High-glycemic fruits
- Sorbitol, mannitol, and sugar alcohols
- Carbonated drinks
- Cow dairy products (i.e., milk, cheese)
Your doctor may advise going on an elimination diet. You first remove all possible triggering foods from your diet for up to 30 days. If your disease quiets down, you can either stay on the elimination diet or add back each of the possible triggers one at a time to see if you tolerate them.
Think low fiber and well-cooked
While you may have heard that vegetable skins are full of vitamins and that raw is better, if you have UC, you want to eliminate all possible irritants. That means staying away from the fibrous hulls that cover most grains and concentrating on cooked, low-fiber foods that are easy to digest when you’re in the midst of a disease flare.
You may need to be extra careful about eating too much fiber if you recently underwent surgery for UC or have strictures. Some foods you can add to or keep in your diet include:
- Honeydew melon
- Cooked fruits
- Lean meat
- Lean fish
- White-meat poultry
- Peeled and cooked asparagus
- Peeled and cooked squash
- Peeled and cooked potatoes or yams
- White rice
- White rice noodles
Some patients can also tolerate eggs, soy, and tofu. However, others may have a sensitivity to these foods, as well as to vegetables from the nightshade family, such as tomatoes, eggplants, and potatoes.
Add variety when you feel better
Once your gut’s quieted down, you may be able to tolerate whole grains. Your doctor also wants you to consume as many colorful fruits and vegetables as possible when you’re in remission, so you can load up on vitamins and phytonutrients. Try:
Fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi help keep your gut bacteria healthy and happy. Your doctor may also recommend taking prebiotic and probiotic supplements to normalize your gut bacteria.
Everyone needs to drink at least eight cups of water per day, but it’s even more important to stay hydrated when you have UC. Water helps you digest food and keeps your stools soft and healthy. If you have diarrhea, drink extra water to compensate for lost hydration.
Don’t avoid eating because you don’t want the pain of a UC flare. Contact the experts at Colon and Rectal Surgeons of Greater Hartford today for help with an elimination diet or UC treatment. Call our office nearest you or use the online form.