An ulcer diet is intended to help reduce the pain and irritation that comes from a peptic ulcer, a painful sore on the lining of your stomach, esophagus, or small intestine.
Foods or beverages don’t cause ulcers, nor can they cure them. However, some foods help repair damaged tissue, while others irritate your ulcer and threaten your digestive tract’s natural layer of protection.
Stomach ulcers are open sores that develop within the lining of your stomach.
According to the American College of Gastroenterology, an organization of doctors who specialize in the digestive tract, there is no specific diet a person with ulcers needs to follow. Food choices don’t cause ulcers or make them worse.
Current diet recommendations are now based on research that certain foods may have ingredients that fight against the bacteria Helicobacter pylori, a main cause of ulcers.
Your healthcare provider is far more likely to treat your ulcer with medications instead of diet alone. Adding an ulcer diet to your treatment can help you feel better faster and possibly prevent another ulcer in the future.
The ulcer diet, combined with your healthcare provider’s treatment advice, can bring relief because it can:
- Correct nutritional deficiencies that contribute to your symptoms
- Provide the protein and other nutrients your body needs to heal
- Help you avoid foods that irritate the ulcer
- Help with related conditions like Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, or bacterial infections
Causes and risk factors for ulcersIn the majority of all ulcer cases, the cause of ulcers can be linked to a bacterial infection known as a Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) as well as the chronic use of over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen.
What to eat if you have a stomach ulcer
Since H. pylori bacteria is now known to be an important cause of ulcer formation, scientists are exploring what foods may have a role in fighting against an infection.
In addition to taking the antibiotics and acid-blocking medications recommended by your doctor for your ulcer treatment, eating these foods may also be helpful against the ulcer-causing bacteria:
- bell peppers
- leafy greens, such as kale and spinach
- probiotic-rich foods, such as yogurt, kefir, miso, sauerkraut, and kombucha.
- olive oil and other plant-based oils
- decaffeinated green tea
Why they help
If your stomach ulcer is caused by an H. pylori infection, foods that are rich in antioxidants may be beneficial. They could help protect and activate your immune system and help fight the infection. They may also help protect against stomach cancer.
Foods like blueberries, cherries, and bell peppers are packed with antioxidant power. Leafy greens such as kale and spinach contain calcium and B vitamins.
Broccoli contains sulforaphane, a compound that exhibits anti-H. pylori activity. Some research. shows that the fatty acids contained in olive oil can also help treatan H. pylori infection.
Fermented probiotic foods have shown promise in clinical studiesfor ulcer treatment. These foods, such as miso, sauerkraut, and kimchi, may prevent reinfection.
Turmeric is currently being studied as a potential treatment for ulcers as well.
Garlic, decaffeinated green tea, and licorice round out the list of things you might want to incorporate in your diet.
Supplements may be beneficial
If your stomach ulcer is being treated with an antibiotic, consider taking a probiotic supplement as part of your diet plan. This can help reduce antibiotic-associated symptoms. It may also improve the effectiveness of the antibiotic.
Ask your doctor what probiotic would be best to take with your antibiotic medication. Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces supplements have shown benefits in people with H. pylori ulcers.
Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (taken one hour before meals) and curcumin extracts have shown promise in some ulcer research due to their action against H. pylori.
Shop for deglycyrrhizinated licorice and curcumin extracts.
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Foods to limit when you have acid reflux and an ulcer
Some people who have an ulcer also have acid reflux. In some people, certain foods can relax the lower part of the esophagus, known as the lower esophageal sphincter or LES. A relaxed LES makes it easier for acid to back up into the esophagus and cause heartburn, indigestion, and pain.
Foods that may make acid reflux worse include:
- spicy food
- acidic foods, such as citrus and tomatoes
Overeating and eating within two to three hours before bed may also worsen reflux symptoms.
ConsiderationsOther factors may come into play when using the ulcer diet, and they could affect your overall health.
An ulcer diet should not harm your complete nutritional status. As long as you maintain good variety in your diet, you can still get the nutrients you need from other foods when you stop eating the ones that irritate your ulcer.
If you’re trying to add more polyphenol-rich foods and fiber to your diet, and you cut back on fatty foods, an ulcer diet may be even more nutritious than your regular diet.
PracticalityIt should be fairly easy to stick with an ulcer diet when you’re preparing your own meals at home. It may be harder to stay on track when you’re traveling, attending parties, or celebrating holidays. If you can’t pass up that glass of wine or piece of chocolate cake, make it a small one.
Energy and HealthWith fast food, chips, and alcohol off-limits, you might find that you’re eating healthier, feeling better, and maybe even dropping some weight.
Most ulcers caused by H. pylori are completely treatable. But untreated stomach ulcers can lead to more serious problems, like internal bleeding and stomach cancer.
If you suspect you have an ulcer, don’t ignore it. Speak to your provider, make a plan, and get treatment.
Foods by themselves don’t cause stomach ulcers, and there is more than one possible reason for why you may have them. The foods you choose, though, can make a big difference in how you feel and how quickly they heal. The ulcer diet offers options to improve your overall health and nutrition while reducing your ulcer risk.