If you've been diagnosed with interstitial cystitis (IC) or have been battling bladder symptoms, it can be tough to know what to eat. You may feel paralyzed by conflicting advice on how to manage your diet. Or perhaps you eat only the same foods for fear that others may trigger painful symptoms.
If this sounds like you, take heart. You can help control your condition by taking control of your diet. A few simple changes can help you avoid flare-ups, feel your best, and improve your overall health.
Know your friendly foods
Every person with IC is unique. And different foods can affect people in different ways. But there are a number of foods that almost all people with IC can tolerate well. These bladder-friendly foods typically can be eaten without fear of triggering symptoms. They include everything from milk and oat cereal to chicken, green beans, bread, and watermelon.
It's important to know these go-to foods. If you've been recently diagnosed with IC or think you may have a sensitive bladder, try to eat only bladder-friendly fare until your symptoms are under control. Keep a stock at home for easy meals. Just be sure to keep it simple. A lean cut of meat may be tolerable, but topping it with barbeque sauce, spices, or ketchup may not.
The Interstitial Cystitis Network provides a good list of well-tolerated foods, as well as foods to try with caution and those to avoid.
Be aware of beverages
When it comes to IC, what you drink may be just as important as what you eat. Don't sabotage your bladder-friendly diet with unfriendly drinks, such as regular and decaffeinated coffee, regular and green teas, colas, alcohol, and cranberry juice. Also try to avoid beverages with artificial sweeteners, which can trigger symptoms. Make sure to drink plenty of water.
Expand your meal plan
Once you're comfortable with your weekly grocery list, begin to explore what other foods you may be able to tolerate well. Expanding your menu will give you a variety of tastes and offer greater nutrition. Remember to try small amounts of new foods, and make sure you're symptom-free for a few days before adding another. Keep a detailed food diary to track your successes and create worry-free meal plans.
Avoid processed foods
Processed or premade foods can be loaded with preservatives, artificial flavorings, and artificial vitamins—hidden triggers that can cause IC flares. Plus, some can wreak havoc on your waistline and your heart. Try to avoid this type of food whenever possible. Examples include rice mixes, packaged baked goods, and hot dogs.
When you can, take time to prepare your own meals. That way, you'll know all the ingredients that go into your food. For example, make your own chicken soup instead of buying salt-heavy canned soup. Invest in a bread maker and bake your own loaves without the preservatives. Not only will fresh, homemade foods help you feel better, they'll taste better, too.
What about the rest of your body?
Following a diet that's good for your bladder can help keep IC symptoms at bay. But don't forget to feed the health of your whole body as well. Fortunately, most vegetables are well tolerated by people with IC. But fruits are a different story. Because many fruits are highly acidic, people with IC often lose out on these nutritional all-stars.
To get all the nutrients you need, eat as many fruits as possible that don't irritate your bladder. Pears, blueberries, and watermelon may be good choices. Look to a wide variety of vegetables to boost your nutrient intake, including vitamin C. Choose vegetables with bright colors, such as sweet potatoes, broccoli, carrots, and zucchini.
Bottom line? It isn't always easy to modify your diet. But by making some changes, you can take control of your condition and feel better in the long term. Click here for more substitutes for your favorite "forbidden" foods and drinks.