Ulcerative Colitis, or UC, is a chronic condition characterized by the inflammation of the colon (large intestine) and the rectum. It is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) wherein the intestine lining develops sores (ulcers). IBD affects nearly 3 million individuals(1) in the US alone.
Given that UC is an infectious, chronic disease, preventive care can be a vital contributor to long-term disease management. Hence, the condition can be significantly controlled by carefully watching your diet and making specific lifestyle changes.
Causes of Ulcerative Colitis
While the etiology of UC is yet to be concretely known, it is speculated that it is a form of autoimmune disorder that is a result of several factors. Some groups are more at risk of developing UC than others; these include:
- Those aged 45 years or older
- Certain ethnic groups, such as Hispanic and non-Hispanic whites
- Born in North America or Europe
- Those having less than a high school level education and are currently unemployed
- Those living in poverty
Possible causes of ulcerative colitis could be:
- Overactive immune system
- Family history of IBD and genetic constitution
- Lifestyle factors like taking certain medications or consuming a high-fat diet
Did You Know!
Nearly 20% of people suffering from UC have a close family member with the disease.
Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis
Some common symptoms of UC include:
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea or constant fatigue
- Rectal bleeding
- Blood or pus in stools
- Sudden weight loss or loss of appetite
Foods to Avoid with Ulcerative Colitis
Here is a compilation of what not to eat with ulcerative colitis, which could help you maintain good gut health:
1. Whole-Grain Products
Foods that irritate colitis include starchy foods that are high in fiber(2). Since whole-grain flour does not have the germ or bran removed, it contains high amounts of fiber that can aggravate the condition, especially during a UC flare-up.
Thus, you should avoid the following whole-grain foods:
Unless you are gluten intolerant, switch to white bread and pasta that is made using enriched white flour (as enriched flours are fortified with nutrients). Puffed rice cereals, corn flakes, and cream of wheat are also good alternatives as they are low on fiber.
[Read: Diet for Ulcerative Colitis]
2. Brown Rice and Other Whole Grains
Due to the high-fiber endosperm, germ, and bran, the following whole-grain foods can irritate your UC, thereby causing a flare-up:
- Brown rice
- Plain barley
- Wild rice
- Bulgur wheat
Opt for well-cooked white rice instead.
The fibers present in nuts are hard to digest, and hence, those suffering from UC should avoid nuts and nut flours.
The following nuts should be on your “Do Not Eat” list:
- Cashew nuts
- Macadamia nuts
[Read: Nuts and Seeds for Diet]
Seeds are rich in insoluble fibers, which causes bloating, gas, and diarrhea in addition to other effects on your stomach and gut. Hence, avoid the following variety of seeds:
- Flax seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Pine nuts
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
5. Lentils and Beans
Even though lentils, beans, and dried peas are high in protein, they are also high in fiber(3). Further, the indigestible sugars in lentils can cause bloating and excessive gassiness. So you can avoid the following food items:
- All variety of beans (including chickpeas)
- Soybeans and edamame
- Adzuki beans
6. Fibrous Fruits
While fruits are good for your health, high-fiber fruits can cause your UC to flare up. In such a case, you can skip foods that are raw, dried, or have seeds that cannot be removed (for example, berries).
However, you can consume peeled fruits that have their flesh cooked until soft (like applesauce). You can also consume canned fruits that have been packed in water. Further, you may also drink fruit juices (except prune juice) as long as their pulp is strained out.
[Read: Salicylate Free diet Plan]
7. Fibrous Vegetables
Just like fruits, vegetables are also full of insoluble fiber that can irritate your gut. However, you can include certain vegetables that have been peeled and cooked until soft. Further, avoid any vegetables that have seeds (or are seeds, like corn).
It is safe to consume canned vegetables as long as they are skinned. To include vegetables in your diet, you can choose pureed vegetable soups as a safer alternative.
It is common for those suffering from UC to also be lactose intolerant(4). To identify your trigger in the case of dairy, you will have to monitor your symptoms after consumption of dairy and dairy products. If you notice your UC flaring up, you must cut down all types of dairy, which include milk, yogurt, butter, and cheese.
9. Gluten-Rich Foods
Gluten-rich foods are not only colitis foods to avoid, but they are also featured prominently on the “Do Not Eat” list of many individuals struggling with digestive issues. Gluten is a protein that is essentially found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. While it is naturally present in food items like bread and pasta, it is also added to sauces, soups, and condiments.
If you suspect gluten to be a trigger for your UC, you may eliminate it from your diet for at least four weeks to notice a difference.
[Read: Essential Oils for Ulcers]
Ulcerative Colitis-Friendly Meal Plan
Consult a dietitian to outline an ulcerative colitis-friendly meal plan that suits your lifestyle and food preferences. Ideally, people suffering from UC will be advised any one or a combination of the following diet plans:
- High-calorie diet
- Lactose-free diet
- Low-fat diet
- Low-fiber diet/low-residue diet
- Low-salt diet
- Low FODMAP diet
- Gluten-free diet
In addition to the foods that need to be avoided, as mentioned above, you can focus on the following foods instead:
- White bread (without seeds)
- White pasta
- White rice
- Canned, skinned, and cooked fruits and vegetables
- Skinless, tender, soft meats
- Peanut butter and nut butter
- Crackers and cereals prepared from refined white flour
- Olive oil and coconut oil
As long as you do not have any food allergy from the foods listed above, you can create a holistic meal plan that covers your macros.
Now that you know what not to eat with ulcerative colitis, you can use this information as a guide to recovering from the acute symptoms that accompany the condition. To better your chances of remission, try to reintroduce high-fiber foods in your diet gradually. Remember, even though fiber may not be in your favor right now, it is vital for maintaining the health of your colon.
1. Are Tomatoes Bad for Ulcerative Colitis?
Yes! Tomatoes contain seeds and are acidic in nature. Hence, they can irritate your intestinal lining and cause UC flare-up.
2. What Causes You to Get Colitis?
The exact cause of colitis is unknown, but many consider UC to be a result of the combination of an overactive immune system, genetic composition, and external environmental stressors.
While emotional stress does not cause UC, it can trigger or aggravate the condition for those already suffering from it.
3. Is Colitis Cancerous?
While colitis by itself is not cancerous, those suffering from UC are more than twice as likely to develop colorectal cancer. According to a 2001 review, the likelihood of developing colorectal cancer increases with an increase in the duration of living with UC. It was:
- 18 percent after living with UC for 30 years
- 8 percent after 20 years
- 2 percent after 10 years