Over the years, my relationship with food has ebbed and flowed into all types of places. Growing up, I couldn’t get enough of sugary treats, in my teens it was grease topped with microwavable deliciousness, throughout college it was massive portions of healthy-ish cafeteria foods, and now it is a strict, plant-based diet. Until I was diagnosed, I had no regard for the food I was putting into my body and, frankly, I didn’t care. If it tasted good, I ate it.
With an extremely active metabolism, I was always trying to find food and satisfy my endless cravings. Wake up, eat. Go to school, eat. Come home, eat. Get ready for bed, eat. Sleep, get some of that shredded cheese and peanut butter from the fridge quick then go back to bed. Repeat. It was not until I learned more about the real impact food has on our bodies that I decided to implement some changes.
Once I diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, everything changed. I began a series of trial and error that led me to figure out certain dietary needs and trigger foods to allow me to deal with my symptoms. It sucks to turn away a fresh, meat lovers, double stuffed pizza but, man, does it feel good to not have your insides be on fire as a result of it. Instead, I learned how to cook meals that were made with fresh, sustainable ingredients that would nourish and heal my body in all of the ways a pizza ever could. I now have a better idea of the foods that work and don’t work well with my system which is a HUGE win in my book:
Foods That Hurt Me
- Dairy can be a huge symptom trigger for some and usually leads to some nasty inflammation for sensitive UC guts. If you are lactose intolerant, definitely don’t consume dairy or you will be farting all the time haha.
- Meats, especially fatty, red meats, can often make symptoms worse by triggering gas, cramping, and potentially contributing to a flare. Farewell, Bacon, I knew you well…
- Sugar often leads to inflammation and can be destructive during a flare. In most IBD colons, it can cause diarrhea, bloating, and gas which just makes the whole experience of eating a cupcake way less fun.
- Gluten can be a trigger for certain people with a gluten sensitivity. Mainly found in wheat, barley, rye, and some oats, gluten is a sticky protein that is difficult to digest if your body is not genetically equipped to break it down. This often irritates the whole digestive operation and contributes to inflammation.
- Caffeine can speed up the transit time in the colon, leading to more frequent trips to the bathroom. Mainly I avoid coffee and energy drinks but tolerate tea quite well 🙂
- Chocolate [sigh] contains both caffeine AND sugar which both can cause some irritating cramping, more frequent bowel movements, and induces more sadness when you actually eat it than when you crave it.
- Carbonated beverages can irritate the digestive tract and cause gas (who would’ve guessed?). Like sodas and beers, many of them contain sugar, caffeine, or artificial sweeteners, which can also be IBD triggers for some people. Just sugar in general is a bit rough on everything.
- Popcorn is not completely digested by the small intestine and can trigger diarrhea when it is improperly digested. This often leads to a quick trip to the porcelain throne! As a frequent movie-goer, this one is especially tough to resist.
- Spicy foods, hot sauces, and pepper can cause diarrhea in many people, and definitely worsen symptoms of IBD warriors. I have never really been much of a “spicy foods” enthusiast anyways but it is still something I try to keep in mind when dining out and cooking.
- Alcohol can sometimes trigger diarrhea. I just avoid it all entirely.
Foods That Heal Me
- Vegetables are important in general healthy eating and are a great source of many nutrient like potassium, fiber, folic acid, and vitamins A, E and C. Fully cooked, seedless, skinless vegetables are easily digested but, if you can tolerate it, my favorites are potatoes, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, as well as just about anything that goes in a hearty minestrone soup!
- Soy-based protein is an incredible alternative to animal protein found in products such as tofu or tempeh (smokey tempeh tastes the best to me!). Often containing equal or greater amounts of protein per serving as animal counterparts, soy-based protein is more easily digestible and absorb by sensitive IBD tracts. Other good sources of non-animal proteins include legumes and whole grains.
- Probiotics are absolutely essential “good” bacteria that live in your digestive tract to help you metabolize and absorb nutrients. Usually found in yogurts, kefir, sauerkraut, and miso, probiotics aid in digestion and can even help you maintain balance or remission.
- Avocados are my go-to source of healthy fats and extra protein. Because they are nearly 70% water, they are easily digested, delicious, and usually go with just about anything!
- omega-3 fatty acids are vital in helping reduce inflammation during a flare and may even help you to stay in remission. You can acquire them through some types of fish but I choose to consume them through flax seeds and walnuts. During a flare, it may be wise to not consume whole nuts and ground or blend them to reduce irritation.
- Juice and smoothies are a great way to drink your calories and help you maintain good nutrition because they are generally well-tolerated in digestion. Many different types of fruit have wonderful healing properties and are packed full of essential vitamins and minerals. Cram your favorites in a blender and get yourself feeling great!
- Lactose Free Dairy like almond milk, yogurt, and hard cheese (cheddar, parmesan) because this Wisconsin Native needs his cheese!
- Instant oatmeal contains refined grains and also contains soluble fiber that your body can use immediately. The best thing to have for breakfast with fruits and walnuts (if you can tolerate it).
- Refined grains like Gluten-free bread, pasta, rice, and oatmeal are a good way to get your carbohydrates and tend to be high in many nutrients, including fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, and manganese.
- Low-fiber fruits like cantaloupe, honeydew melon, Bananas, and cooked fruits are easily digestible with readily absorbed vitamins and minerals
Why It Matters
You are what you eat. Your body quite literally metabolizes the molecules that make up your food and uses it in your body. Why not put some healthy stuff in the tank? It is a lot easier said than done, believe me, but it is all the more worth it when you feel the results. Everything you eat is either broken down and consumed by your body or eliminated as waste. If you think about it, the food you eat is either going to heal or hurt your body in the long run. With a few thousand years of evolution to back it up, your body is pretty amazing at making it work with whatever you throw down the hatch. However, it is important to remember that every bite is a choice and there is power in that choice. You will reap the consequences and the rewards of what you choose to eat.
Stay Hungry, My Friends,