If you suffer from ulcerative colitis, you know that food is a factor—not in causing a flare-up, but in aggravating symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal cramping, and loss of appetite. However, with a little trial and error, you can determine the foods that best work for you when you're experiencing a flare.

Red Light Foods

"There isn't any evidence that what you eat is related to inflammatory bowel disease, but certain foods can indeed aggravate symptoms—especially during a flare-up," says Amit Bhan, M.D. a gastroenterologist at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

Generally, Bhan tells his patients with a colitis flare to limit dairy products because people with ulcerative colitis tend to be lactose intolerant. (But if that's not the case for you, go ahead and enjoy dairy)

Fiber can also be problematic. Fresh fruits and whole grains can cause gas and bloating and make symptoms worse for those with colitis. Dr. Bhan suggests slowly re-introducing fiber into the diet after a flare unless you're still feeling uncomfortable.

Also avoid cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, and beans. These vegetables contain a substance called raffinose which can cause more abdominal distention in a person with colitis and make the flare and other symptoms worse, explains Bhan.

Green Light Foods

When you're having an episode, you have to be vigilant about keeping up with caloric intake, says Bhan. "The body is expending a lot of energy during a flare. You have to ensure proper nutritional intake to help healing processes in the body and boost its immune system."

If you're able to eat, don't eat large meals, advises Bhan. Eat small meals and you'll most likely feel more comfortable.

The other thing that's important—and you should check with your doctor first—is to have a liquid diet for a day or so, or smaller, frequent meals to put your bowel at rest. If your doctor thinks it's safe for you to treat a flare at home, Bhan advises you to consume lots of liquids—soups or other foods that don't require a lot of energy expenditure to digest. "When you eat solid food, you stimulate more gut contraction and movement and motility," explains Bhan. Fluids like soup require less motility so they allow the bowel to rest.

As you get better, you can introduce a soft diet and then a regular diet, in concert with advice from your physician.

The Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America advises you to strive for a well-rounded diet. Choose protein, carbohydrate, and fat sources, and avoid foods such as nuts, corn hulls, and raw vegetables while the colon is inflamed. Here, are some options that may help you get through a flare. (Keep in mind that everyone is different and you may not be able to tolerate certain foods. Tailor your daily diet during a flare accordingly.)


Yogurt with sliced banana
Plain cereal (avoid high-fiber or high-sugar cereals)
Herbal or decaffeinated tea


Broth-based soups
Smooth peanut butter
White bread
White crackers
Baked potato (without the skin)
Gatorade® or Crystal Light (diluted with water)


Broiled or steamed fish (salmon, halibut, flounder, swordfish, or Pollack)
Lean meat or poultry
Refined pastas
Cooked vegetables
Use canola and olive oils when cooking


Fruit smoothie
Canned fruit




Amit Bhan, M.D., Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit

Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America