Ulcerative colitis, also known as UC, is an inflammatory bowel disease and one type of autoimmune disorders that are prevalent today. It is similar to Crohn’s disease, but UC only affects the colon, not the entire digestive tract. A patient with UC develops tiny open sores, or ulcers, that produce mucous in the digestive tract that lead to nutrient loss due to frequent emptying of the colon. This leads to inflammation and triggers what a UC patient refers to as a flare.
During flare-ups, patients can suffer from abdominal pain, fever, bloody stools, weight loss, and chronic fatigue. This can cause uncomfortable social situations, not to mention struggles with learning how to eat with UC. The first part of the puzzle is to reduce the amount of irritating and inflammatory foods in the diet. These foods may include dairy, meat, cheese, eggs, refined foods, fast foods, processed foods, and any known allergen a patient may have such as wheat, soy, gluten, etc. Some especially fiber-rich foods like beans and bran should also be avoided.
Though some animal-based foods may be eaten by patients with UC, a plant-based diet is also 100 percent possible too. Extremely high fiber foods such as bran, beans and legumes might not be possible, but there are still many options a person can choose from to eat a healthy diet.
Here are some ideas:
1. Eat Enough Iron
Iron is important to fight anemia that can happen due to nutrient loss during a flare. Some iron-rich plant-based foods that are easier to digest than beans are: spinach (you may need to cook it), artichokes, raisins, and kale. Other good options include blackstrap molasses, cashews, potatoes, and quinoa. If you tolerate seeds (some patients may if they’re further down the road to recovery), then choose pumpkin seeds and chia seeds that are both rich in iron.
2. Limit Fat Intake at Each Meal
Fat is important for nutrient absorption, but too much at each meal can lead to frequent bathroom trips. Try to eat no more than a couple tablespoons at the most, or find the level that works for you. Nut and seed butters may be easier to digest than whole nuts and seeds or oils, though some people don’t tolerate them at all. A couple exceptions are hemp seeds and coconut meat, which are two fats that are very easily digested that provide quality nutrients in place of large amounts of meat, eggs, butter, and cheese that some people with UC may be eating.
3. Stay Hydrated
Many people with UC are not able to eat whole meals in the beginning and are put on meal replacement smoothies and protein shakes to help them get their nutrients and to prevent dehydration. Dehydration can lead to fatigue and further nutrient loss, so be sure you consume enough water and nutrient-dense smoothies. If you can use a plant-based protein powder (pea and hemp are usually easy to digest), then those may also be easier than forms like whey, sprouted grains or sprouted bean-based protein powders. Be sure to add in soft fruits like melons, bananas, papaya, pineapple, pureed fruit like applesauce or pumpkin, and some greens to your smoothies if you can handle them. Vegetable broth can also help provide nutrients that you might miss from being able to eat whole meals in the beginning. It can also lower inflammation and provides a soothing, rejuvenating effect.
4. Try Fermented Foods
Coconut yogurt and kimchi are very beneficial foods for the digestive tract that can also help heal and restore the gut. They are also usually very tolerable for most people with UC and provide other nutrients like magnesium, potassium, and vitamin C. These nutrients supply the body with what it needs to stay healthy, energized and they improve immunity. Another option is to take a probiotic supplement by a trusted brand.
5. Find Your Fiber Tolerance
A plant-based diet can be a struggle for those with UC because often a low residue diet is highly recommended. Since most plant-based foods are rich in fiber, it can be a challenge to find a happy level of fiber that keeps you healthy without causing a flare. Some doable tips are to peel all your fruits and vegetables, cook veggies before eating them, eat more soup, and consume lower fiber grains like wild rice, rolled oats and quinoa flakes in place of wheat, bran cereals, steel cut oats and whole quinoa seeds. Citrus fruits, and starchy, soft foods like sweet potatoes and bananas are also very easy to digest and healing to the gut since they lower inflammation. You can also try pureed sources of fats (like coconut butter, almond butter or just plain avocados) in place of nuts and seeds that your body has to work harder to break down since they are richer in fiber per serving. Eating smaller meals throughout the day in place of large ones can also help prevent too much strain on your system at once.
It’s also recommended that a person with UC gets enough sleep, regular activity each day and try to maintain a healthy social life as much as possible. This will improve spirits, overall health and help one cope with the disorder over the long haul too. The same diet and lifestyle won’t work for every UC patient, but these five tips above are all great places to start if you have UC and want to eat a plant-based diet.
If you have any experience with eating a plant-based diet while dealing with ulcerative colitis, we’d love to hear your tips!
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