Ulcerative Colitis Diet: What to Eat During a Flare

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  • Avoiding common trigger foods can help reduce UC symptoms during a flare.
  • When you start to feel better, introduce new foods gradually to avoid aggravating symptoms.
  • Talk with your doctor or a dietitian to see if switching to an IBD diet could help your flares.

Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes the lining of the colon to become inflamed or develop tiny open sores, or ulcers.

Symptoms of the disease can make it challenging to choose what you eat and drink, especially during a flare. That’s when you may experience worsening symptoms, such as diarrhea, urgent bowel movements, and nausea.

To make matters more complicated, certain foods can also trigger flares. These foods can vary from person to person.

Making certain changes to your diet can help you manage flares and reduce symptoms.

Keep reading to learn more about what to eat during a UC flare, along with the best diets for IBD.

Eating during a flare-up

During a UC flare, you may need to eliminate certain foods from your diet. Working with a doctor or dietitian to adjust your diet can help you avoid nutrient deficiency.

Start by cutting out foods you know trigger your symptoms. These can vary from person to person.

According to the , common trigger foods for UC include:

  • whole nuts or whole grains
  • fruits with skin and seeds
  • raw cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli and cauliflower)
  • lactose (found in dairy)
  • non-absorbable sugars (often in fruit juices and ice cream)
  • candy, pastries, and other sugary foods
  • caffeinated drinks
  • alcohol
  • spicy foods

You may also find it helpful to steer clear of greasy or fried foods, which can worsen symptoms, per the .

Throughout a flare, it’s also important to make sure you’re still getting the right amount of nutrients.

Inflammation, diarrhea, vomiting, and other symptoms can make it difficult for your body to absorb nutrients, potentially leading to deficiencies.

Focusing on nutrient-rich foods that don’t tend to worsen UC symptoms may help you get the recommended amounts of vitamins and nutrients.

Here are some foods that may be easier to tolerate during a UC flare:

  • low fiber fruits (like bananas, honeydew melon, and cooked fruits)
  • lean protein (such as seafood, chicken, eggs, and firm tofu)
  • refined grains (including oatmeal, white rice, and sourdough bread)
  • cooked vegetables without seeds or skins (such as asparagus tips, potatoes, and cucumbers)
  • homemade protein shakes

It’s also important to stay hydrated during a UC flare. Keeping a full water bottle by your side may help you remember to drink enough.

You may also want to use a straw and sip slowly. This helps prevent swallowing air, which can contribute to increased gas.

Food preparation and meal planning

Food preparation and meal planning can be helpful tools when you’re coping with a UC flare.

Eating four to six mini meals, rather than three large meals, daily can be helpful for people with UC. That can be a lot to whip up when you’re managing severe symptoms, so consider preparing meals in advance with foods that you know you tolerate well.

Here are some meal prep tips for UC flares:

  • Buy ingredients in bulk. That can help you save money and have all the right ingredients on hand for preparing many meals at once.
  • Cook in batches. This involves cooking larger quantities of food than you might usually make for yourself, then storing extra food to eat at a later time.
  • Pre-portion your meals. Dividing larger batches of food into meal-size portions, then storing them in the fridge or freezer, makes it easy to reheat and eat.
  • Use a slow cooker. Slow cookers offer a hands-off approach to cooking, giving you the chance to focus on more involved tasks for your meal prep.
  • Mix up your menu. Eating the same meals over and over again can become boring. Incorporate new recipes so you continue to enjoy the meals you’ve prepared in advance.

Eating in remission

When you’re in remission, you’re not experiencing symptoms of UC. At that time, you might want to go back to eating all your favorite foods, but it’s often better to introduce new foods gradually.

Stay hydrated and restore your electrolytes by drinking lots of water, tomato juice, and broth. Some people also choose to sip on rehydration solutions.

As you diversify your meals, try to get plenty of nutrients. Lean protein, fresh produce, fermented foods, and ingredients with lots of calcium can help you stay healthy.

Best IBD diets to follow

Certain diets can help some people with IBD keep their symptoms at bay. However, there’s no evidence that any one diet prevents or cures IBD, and some diets may not work for everyone.

Here are a few diets to consider:

  • Carbohydrate exclusion diets. These meal plans limit or exclude grains, fibers, and certain sugars, which may contribute to UC flares in some people.
  • Mediterranean diet. This diet focuses on fiber and plant-based foods, olive oil, low fat dairy, herbs, and a moderate amount lean protein, which may benefit UC.
  • Low fiber diet. This diet excludes leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, popcorn, whole grains, and raw fruits with peels, all of which contain fiber that could worsen cramping and bowel movements during UC flares.
  • Low FODMAP diet. This diet cuts back on specific groups of sugar that aren’t absorbed well by GI tracts, such as fructose, lactose, and sugar polyols. It recommends limiting the amount of chickpeas, garlic, leeks, artichokes, and certain other foods you eat.
  • Gluten-free diet. A gluten-free diet cuts out gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye food products that may serve as a trigger to certain individuals who have UC.

Before trying a new diet, it can be helpful to work with a dietitian or doctor to make sure it’s safe for you.

The takeaway

Adjusting your diet during a UC flare can help tame symptoms. You may find it helpful to avoid common trigger foods, such as caffeinated drinks, whole grains, dairy, and sweets.

When you’re feeling better, introduce new foods gradually and try to stay hydrated.

There are a number of IBD diets that can also be helpful in reducing symptoms of UC. Talk with your doctor or a dietitian about whether a new meal plan could be useful for you.