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Forum: Autoimmune Diseases and Disorders

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April 24th, 2010, 10:14 PM
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Creating an Ulcerative Colitis Diet Plan
If you have ulcerative colitis, you probably know which foods trigger your symptoms. The good news is there are ways of eating with ulcerative colitis that allow you to avoid the foods that aggravate your bowel condition. In addition, some new research indicates that specific nutrients in some foods may help decrease GI inflammation. That can make it easier to self-manage your illness.

Take WebMD's Ulcerative Colitis Health Check

What Is Ulcerative Colitis?
Ulcerative colitis is a disease that affects the large intestine (the colon) and the rectum. This disease causes inflammation of the colon's inner lining and the rectal wall, which becomes red, swollen, and ulcerated.

Symptoms of ulcerative colitis include cramping, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Some people with ulcerative colitis suffer with poor appetite, fatigue, and anemia. Other people also have joint pain, redness, swelling, and liver problems.

Research suggests that ulcerative colitis may be an autoimmune disease. That means the body may be attacking its own healthy organs and tissues. Contrary to popular belief, neither stress nor specific foods actually cause ulcerative colitis. Yet, as you may have already found out, both stress and certain foods can aggravate GI symptoms.

How Can an Ulcerative Colitis Diet Plan Help?

It's important to self- manage ulcerative colitis with healthy lifestyle habits and a nutrient-rich diet. Paying attention to your nutrition is especially important with GI diseases because the symptoms of diarrhea and bleeding can lead to dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and loss of essential nutrients. That can lead to a host of problems such as fatigue, weakness, and anemia.

What Foods Are Included in an Ulcerative Colitis Diet Plan?
Eating with ulcerative colitis should be based on a well-balanced diet that's high in protein, complex carbohydrates, whole grains, and good fats. Such a diet will provide you with energy and keep you well. Your diet may include meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products (if you don't have lactose intolerance); breads and cereals; fruits and vegetables; and margarine and oils.

If you are a vegetarian with ulcerative colitis, dairy products and plant proteins -- such as soy products -- can provide the nutritional elements found in meat, fish, and poultry.

What Foods Should I Avoid in an Ulcerative Colitis Diet Plan?
According to the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America, diet is not a major factor in the inflammatory process. Some specific foods, however, may affect symptoms of ulcerative colitis and play some role in inflammation.

If you find that certain foods trigger your bowel symptoms, then you may want to avoid these foods to reduce your symptoms and self-manage your illness. For example, some people with ulcerative colitis find that coffee or caffeine exacerbates diarrhea and cramping. Other people complain that raw vegetables or high-fiber foods cause their GI symptoms.

Some people periodically follow a low-residue diet or low-fiber diet, getting about 10-15 grams of fiber a day. That helps reduce the frequency of bowel movements and prolongs intestinal transit time.

Learning to avoid food triggers may give you better control of your disease and allow you greater freedom to enjoy an active life. Despite the fact there is no scientific proof, many people with ulcerative colitis have found that one or more of the following foods can trigger their GI symptoms:
  • alcohol
  • caffeine
  • carbonated beverages
  • dairy products, if lactose intolerant
  • dried beans, peas, and legumes
  • dried fruits, berries, fruits with pulp or seeds
  • foods containing sulfur or sulfate
  • foods high in fiber, including whole-grain products
  • hot sauce, pepper
  • meats
  • nuts, crunchy nut butters
  • popcorn
  • products containing sorbitol (sugar-free gum and candies)
  • raw vegetables
  • refined sugar
  • seeds
  • spicy foods, sauces

How Can I Remember the Foods That Trigger my Ulcerative Colitis Symptoms?
Consider using a food diary that you keep every day. Use a small spiral notebook, and write down all "suspect" foods and beverages that seem to aggravate your ulcerative colitis symptoms.

Being aware of these offending foods and beverages and eliminating them from your diet may help to reduce your GI symptoms. With more control over ulcerative colitis symptoms, you may have more energy. You may also feel more like socializing with friends, exercising, and living a more active life once the fear of cramping or sudden diarrhea is gone.

What Else Is Important With an Ulcerative Colitis Diet?

It's common to lose weight with ulcerative colitis. Many people with ulcerative colitis have nutrient deficiencies when they're first diagnosed. Others develop signs of malnutrition, particularly when they've had severe bouts of diarrhea for weeks to months and lose essential nutrients. In addition, with inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis, your GI tract cannot always absorb the nutrients from the foods you eat. That leaves you anemic and feeling weak.

People with ulcerative colitis may also have low levels of vitamin B12 and folic acid. This can lead to other health problems. That's why it's important to watch your overall health and see your GI doctor frequently to make sure you stay well. Your doctor will assess your overall health and GI symptoms. Sometimes your doctor may run some lab tests and make diet and lifestyle recommendations, if necessary, as well as check your medications.

Along with eating the right foods for ulcerative colitis, be sure to include adequate nutritional supplements if you're unable to eat a balanced diet. For example, if you must avoid dairy products because of lactose intolerance, then talk to your doctor about getting adequate calcium through other foods such as vegetables, sardines with bones, or soy foods. Or get your calcium through supplementation with over-the-counter calcium tablets. In addition, ask your doctor to recommend a daily multivitamin and folic acid supplement.

What Does the Latest Research Show About the Link Between Nutrients and Inflammation?
In some studies, researchers studied the benefit of restricting linoleic acid. Linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid found in foods such as safflower oil, walnuts, olive oil, egg yolks, wheat germ oil, lard, coconut oil, and sesame seed oil. Although everyone needs linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated fat, there is some evidence it may play a role in inflammation if too much is ingested.

Other trials have found supplementation with EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) helpful to inhibit leukotriene activity. Leukotrienes are chemicals that contribute to inflammation. EPA is an omega-3 fatty acid that's found especially in fish oil. In clinical trials, patients benefited from very high doses of fish oil supplements by taking fish oil capsules. Many, however, found the fish taste offensive.

Some scientific trials reported anti-inflammatory benefits when patients with ulcerative colitis ate probiotic yogurts. Probiotic yogurts are available in most supermarket dairy sections.
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