Best Desserts for Ulcerative Colitis

by Megan McMorris Health Writer

If you have ulcerative colitis (UC), you’re already familiar with the eat-this-not-that minefield in your day-to-day. But what if you have a sweet tooth and a grouchy gut? Not a problem, says gastroenterologist Niket Sonpal, M.D., an assistant medical professor at Touro College in New York City. “People with UC think, ‘Oh, I need to stay away from sweet foods,’ but you don’t have to skip desserts if you have UC. Focus on what you can eat, not what you can’t.” With that in mind, here are some sweet-tooth favorites to enjoy when your UC is in remission.

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But First, Here's What to Avoid…

Before we get into the sweet stuff you can enjoy, let’s point out what to skip: Fake sugar. “Sugar substitutes are a problem,” explains Dr. Sonpal. “You can’t digest them, so they actually ferment in your gut and create gas which leads to cramping, bloating, and discomfort.” (As if that’s not a problem already, areweright?) Worried about calories? Just remember, less is more. “It’s better to lower that amount of real sugar you eat and avoid fake sugars than to avoid real sugar,” he adds.

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…And What to Limit

“I don’t like to say that there are forbidden foods, but there are certain foods you should limit if you have ulcerative colitis because they can aggravate symptoms,” says Kate Scarlata, R.D., a Boston-based nutritionist who specializes in digestive health. On that list: Candy bars, ice cream made with emulsifiers (especially lecithin and mono- and diglycerides), commercially made pastries and cakes, and desserts made with corn oil and sunflower oil, “which tend to be less healthy and may increase risk of a UC flare,” she says.

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Go Bananas!

Banana bread has enjoyed a comeback during the pandemic as more people flock to the kitchen. You can keep that oven set to 350 °F, because easy-to-digest bananas are a natural stomach-soother for people with sensitive guts. “Banana bread is really good for those with UC,” says Dr. Sonpal. If you're baking a loaf yourself, throw in some fiber-rich walnuts (but only if your UC is currently in remission) to give your tummy a double-whammy of goodness.

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Be a Smooth Operator

Smoothies are a great sweet treat for after dinner or during the day, and they’re easy to whip up. “My favorite is a combination of lactose-free Greek yogurt, wild blueberries, and pineapple,” says Scarlata. Finish with a splash of unsweetened coconut milk and hit blend. “Some people with UC can’t tolerate lactose, so milks like almond and coconut and oat are great alternatives and add sweetness at the same time,” Dr. Sonpal adds.

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Make a Yogurt Parfait

This breakfast treat can double as dessert with the right mix-ins. “I tell people not to forget how good yogurt tastes when it’s clean, natural, and unsweetened,” says Dr. Sonpal. Start with Greek yogurt and top it with sweet fruits like honeydews, melons, and blueberries. For extra sweetness, add a drizzle of raw honey, which is a stomach-friendly sweetener, he says. Complete this treat with a sprinkle of granola for some gut-friendly fiber, suggests Scarlata.

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Think Outside the Sweet Box

Desserts don’t always have to be sugary—savory concoctions highlighted with sweet notes can make for UC-friendly desserts as well. Dr. Sonpal’s favorite after-dinner indulgence: Roasted chickpeas with honey, cinnamon, salt, pepper, and a dash of sugar. “It tastes like a healthier version of Moose Munch, and it’s great for those with UC because chickpeas contain soluble fiber,” he says. Eat them as finger food straight from a bowl or sprinkle them on vanilla yogurt.

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Build an Energy Bite

What’s that, you ask? “One of my favorite gut-friendly dessert options are energy bites—made with raw oats, nut butter, and maple syrup or honey,” says Scarlata. These small sweets, which pair high-fiber and high-protein ingredients, are ideal for people with UC who do better keeping symptoms at bay when they eat multiple small meals throughout the day. Other gut-friendly (and crave-worthy!) bite options: No Bake Brownie Bites or Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Bites.

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Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Muffins

Anyone who is a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup fan will rejoice with this recipe—proof that you can have your (cup)cake and eat it, too. “I like this recipe of peanut butter muffins with dark chocolate chips for UC symptoms, because it includes oat flour, which is a great fiber-rich whole grain that provides gut health benefits by feeding probiotic microbes, and it has lactose-free milk and adds a dose of magnesium to boot,” says Scarlata. Semi-sweet chocolate chips don’t add much of a nutritional anything, but we won’t tell!

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Did Someone Say Carrot Cake?

Scarlata’s recipe complies with low FODMAP diet guidelines. This UC-friendly version, made with buckwheat flour, freshly grated carrots, shredded coconut, and chopped pecans (topped with cream cheese frosting!) is close enough to the real thing you might not even notice a difference. “The amount of cream cheese per serving is low enough in lactose, but if you are particularly sensitive, use a lactose-free cream cheese to make the frosting,” suggests Scarlata.

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Spoon Up Some Chia Pudding

Turns out, chia seeds are good for more than growing fur on random terracotta animals. Chia seeds also pull double-duty by soothing UC-related inflammation, thanks to their high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and protein. “Chia seeds are a gut-friendly fiber source yielding about 5 grams of fiber per tablespoon,” says Scarlata. “They are also a source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats and magnesium.” Try her maple version of the classic dessert, which whips together coconut milk, chai seeds, vanilla, and maple syrup into a sweet-tooth-satisfying treat.