The Right Diet to Ease Symptoms and Stay Healthy
Looking for an ulcerative colitis diet that’s right for you? The key is to find foods that fuel your body with essential nutrients but don’t aggravate your digestive tract.
“Food affects many people with ulcerative colitis, especially during flare-ups, but culprit foods can vary,” says Marc Schwartz, MD, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of gastroenterology, hepatology, and nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “If and how food affects colon inflammation is not clearly understood.”
Although food won’t cause or cure ulcerative colitis symptoms, it’s certainly a tool you can use to try to manage your symptoms — and working with your doctor or a nutritionist on menu planning can help. A healthy diet should meet your calorie, protein, and micronutrient needs. Start here.
Soothe Symptoms With Salmon
Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty-acids — it’s good for your heart and your colon. Essential fatty acids are thought to ease inflammation, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. That means eating salmon may help counterbalance the inflammation that occurs during an ulcerative colitis flare, says Lisa Cimperman, MS, RDN, LD, a clinical dietitian at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland. Albacore tuna, walnuts, flaxseed oil, and ground flaxseed are other good sources of omega-3s.
Say Yes to Yogurt
Yogurt and other fermented foods, such as kefir, miso, and sauerkraut, contain probiotics. “Probiotics are beneficial bacteria present in fermented foods and within our gut,” Cimperman says, noting that good-for-you gut bacteria are essential for digestion and a healthy immune system. “Eating foods that contain live and active cultures can help maintain optimal levels of good bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract,” she explains. Look for yogurt labels that list live, active cultures. But watch the sugar content: Plain, unsweetened yogurt is your best bet. You can add a little fruit or honey for some sweetness.
Savor Some Squash
All varieties of squash — butternut, spaghetti, acorn, zucchini — are healthy choices. “Squash is high in fiber, as well as the antioxidants beta carotene and vitamin C,” Cimperman says. Fiber helps maintain healthy gut flora, and antioxidants help repair damage done by inflammation. Although you may want to avoid raw squash during a flare-up if fiber worsens your symptoms, squash is well-tolerated by many people with ulcerative colitis, and it’s a very versatile food — you can roast winter squash, then mash the flesh for a side dish or puree it for soup. Shred cooked spaghetti squash with a fork and use the strands as a substitute for noodles. You can also use a vegetable spiralizer to make “noodles.”
Get Excited About Eggs
If you’re having trouble getting enough nutrients in your ulcerative colitis diet, opt for eggs. “Eggs are a great source of protein and are often well tolerated, even during an ulcerative colitis flare,” Cimperman says. Look for eggs that are fortified with omega-3 fatty acids for even more nutritional benefits. Eggs are also rich in B vitamins, which convert food into energy, and the antioxidant selenium. Try them scrambled, make an omelet with veggies, or hard-boil some eggs for a quick, protein-packed snack on the go.
Dig Into Avocados
Avocados are a rich source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. If you are losing weight because of ulcerative colitis, nutrient- and calorie-dense avocados can help you fuel your body in a healthy way. A study published in Advanced Biomedical Research in 2014 found that up to 85 percent of people with inflammatory bowel disease are malnourished — avocados can help fight malnourishment. Mash and spread avocado on a sandwich as a substitute for mayo, or chop and use it to top an omelet or salad.
Olive oil, nuts — especially almonds and walnuts — and nut butters are also important sources of quality-calorie monounsaturated fat, Cimperman says. Grab a handful of nuts as a snack, make a smooth nut butter sandwich, or sprinkle your morning cereal with nuts. One note of caution: If you’re experiencing an ulcerative colitis flare, you may want to limit nuts because their fiber content may worsen symptoms.