10 Key Nutrition Tips For Ulcerative Colitis

by Jennifer Mitchell Wilson B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

Putting together a meal when you have ulcerative colitis (UC) can feel like tip-toeing through a minefield. Because UC harms your body’s ability to absorb nutrients, you have to juggle avoiding trigger foods with making sure you’re getting enough vitamins and minerals. To help you stay on track, we’ve pulled together these 10 nutrition tips for a UC-friendly diet.

Buddha bowl.
iStock

Variety in your diet is key

The temptation for people with UC or other digestive health conditions is to eat a bland diet, which is often low in nutritional value. While this can be helpful during a bad flare, you should otherwise strive for a varied diet high in vitamins and minerals including lots of whole, colorful foods. Take care to note which particular foods aggravate flares and consider a food journal to more thoroughly narrow it down.

Healthy meal.
iStock

Eat well and often with UC

UC also hinders the body's ability to absorb calories, resulting in low body weight and malnutrition in some people. That’s why high-calorie and high-protein diets are key. Many people will eat three meals a day, plus two or three healthy snacks, to stay nourished. Be sure to include some protein and healthy fat along with the carbs you eat during your meal.

Spoonful of supplements.
iStock

Supplements

While it is always preferable to get essential vitamins and minerals from food, some people may not be able to tolerate some foods that are high in one particular nutrient. If nutrient gaps exist, you may need to add nutritional supplements. For example, many people with UC need to supplement iron in their diets due to their increased risk of anemia.

Pouring cream into coffee.
iStock

Common foods to avoid

While each person's particular food sensitivities will differ, there are a few foods that are more likely to cause issues for people with UC than others, including:

  • High-fiber foods (whole grains and raw fruits or veggies).
  • Dairy products.
  • High-fat foods.
  • Caffeine.
  • Carbonated drinks.
  • Alcohol.
Man drinking water.
iStock

Stay hydrated

Everyone needs to stay hydrated, but it’s especially important for people who have UC or another form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Aim for at least half your body weight in ounces of water per day. This will help avoid dehydration, kidney problems, gallstones, and myriad other issues UC can trigger.

Yogurt with fruit and nuts.
iStock

Eat foods rich in probiotics

While we are not exactly sure how probiotics affect UC, we do know that maintaining healthy gut bacteria is key for those with IBD. Yogurt is one of the most common probiotic rich foods, but be sure to look for live and active cultures on the label. Keifer, kombucha, and other fermented foods are also good sources of probiotics.

Woman tracking her meals with an app.
iStock

Pay attention to sensitivity changes

As you get to know your condition and how you need to eat, keep in mind that food sensitivities can change over time. A food diary or UC management app will be very helpful in helping you and your doctor discern which foods cause you problems and under what circumstances.

Fibrous foods.
iStock

Get the facts on fiber

While most Americans, and those without a UC flare-up, should aim to eat at least 25 grams of fiber per day, those recommendations change for people with an active UC flare. The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America recommends completely avoiding fiber when you are in a flare-up because it can exacerbate loose stools, gas, and pain.

Woman describing stomach pain to doctor.
iStock

Use a registered dietitian

A registered dietitian (RD) can help you plan meals that will provide the right amount of nutrients while allowing your gut to heal. They can help you set and obtain positive nutrition goals, determine if you need supplements, and maintain a weight that is healthy for you. All of these things will help keep your body functioning at it best.

Support group
iStock

Get support for your UC diet changes

If you can find a local support group, or even one online, it can help you keep your resolutions to change your eating habits. The benefits of being part of a group also include the ability to share new recipes or discuss what foods worked and what didn’t with someone else who understands your condition.

Man eating a salad.
iStock

A healthy diet is a must for UC management

If you’re struggling to manage your diet with UC, don’t hesitate to use resources like apps, food diaries, and health professionals to help. These tips can also help you when you’re dining out at a restaurant with UC. Remember: A healthy diet with high-quality nutrition is essential for someone with UC to maintain good health and allow the body to heal from flare-ups.

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson
Meet Our Writer
Jennifer Mitchell Wilson

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson is a dietitian and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.