Ulcers are open sores that develop in the lining of your stomach, esophagus, or small intestine. They can cause pain, discomfort, and bleeding. Ulcers can be caused by a bacterial infection called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) or by long-term use of anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen.
While food and drink do not cause ulcers or make them worse, some foods can help heal your ulcers and prevent them from coming back. Other foods can irritate your ulcers and make your symptoms worse. Here are some tips on what to eat and what to avoid if you have ulcer problems.
What to Eat
You should eat a balanced diet that provides enough protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to help your body heal and fight infection. Some foods that are especially good for ulcer patients are:
Fruits: Fruits are rich in fiber and antioxidants that can help protect and repair your stomach lining. Berries, apples, grapes, and pomegranates are some of the best fruits for ulcers because they contain polyphenols, which are compounds that have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects. Polyphenols can also help kill H. pylori bacteria, which is a common cause of ulcers.
Vegetables: Vegetables are also high in fiber and antioxidants that can benefit your ulcer healing. Some vegetables that are particularly helpful are cauliflower, cabbage, radishes, carrots, broccoli, and leafy greens. These vegetables contain sulforaphane, which is a substance that can inhibit the growth of H. pylori bacteria. They also contain vitamin C, which can boost your immune system and help heal your ulcers faster.
Legumes: Legumes are a good source of plant-based protein, which is important for tissue repair and wound healing. Legumes also contain prebiotics, which are types of fiber that feed the good bacteria in your gut and help balance your digestive system. Some examples of legumes are beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas, and soybeans.
Lean meats: Lean meats like skinless poultry and lean beef provide animal-based protein, which is also essential for ulcer healing. However, you should avoid fatty meats like bacon, sausage, or ham because they can increase the production of stomach acid and irritate your ulcers.
Fish and seafood: Fish and seafood are another great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which are healthy fats that have anti-inflammatory properties. Omega-3s can also help protect your stomach lining from damage and reduce the risk of bleeding from ulcers. Some examples of fish and seafood that are good for ulcers are salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, shrimp, and oysters.
Eggs: Eggs are a complete protein source that contains all the essential amino acids your body needs to heal. Eggs also contain choline, which is a nutrient that can help regulate the nervous system and reduce stress levels. Stress can worsen ulcer symptoms by increasing stomach acid production and lowering your immunity.
Whole soy foods: Whole soy foods like tofu or tempeh are another option for plant-based protein that can benefit ulcer patients. Soy foods also contain isoflavones, which are phytoestrogens that can modulate hormone levels and reduce inflammation in the body. Soy foods can also help lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure, which can improve your cardiovascular health.
Fermented dairy foods: Fermented dairy foods like kefir or yogurt contain probiotics, which are live bacteria that can improve your gut health and fight against H. pylori infection. Probiotics can also help restore the balance of your stomach acid and protect your stomach lining from damage. Fermented dairy foods also provide calcium, which is a mineral that can help strengthen your bones and teeth.
Healthy fats: Healthy fats like olive oil, avocados, and nuts can help lubricate your stomach lining and prevent it from drying out and cracking. Healthy fats also provide energy and essential fatty acids that support your overall health and well-being. Olive oil in particular has been shown to have antibacterial effects against H. pylori bacteria and may help eradicate it from your stomach.
Green tea: Green tea is a beverage that contains polyphenols that can help fight inflammation and infection in your stomach. Green tea also contains catechins, which are compounds that can inhibit the growth of H. pylori bacteria and prevent it from attaching to your stomach lining. Green tea may also help reduce the risk of stomach cancer, which is associated with chronic ulcer disease.
Herbs and spices: Herbs and spices can add flavor and variety to your diet without irritating your ulcers. Some herbs and spices that have healing properties for ulcers are turmeric, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, and licorice. Turmeric contains curcumin, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agent that can help heal ulcers and prevent them from recurring. Garlic has antibacterial effects against H. pylori bacteria and may help eliminate it from your stomach. Ginger can help soothe nausea and vomiting, which are common symptoms of ulcers. Cinnamon can help regulate blood sugar levels and lower cholesterol levels, which can improve your metabolic health. Licorice can help coat your stomach lining and protect it from acid erosion.
What to Avoid
You should avoid foods and drinks that can worsen your ulcer symptoms or delay your healing process. Some foods and drinks that you should limit or avoid if you have ulcer problems are:
Alcohol: Alcohol can irritate your stomach lining and increase the production of stomach acid, which can aggravate your ulcers and cause bleeding. Alcohol can also interfere with the absorption of nutrients and medications that you need for ulcer treatment. Alcohol can also impair your liver function and weaken your immune system, which can make you more susceptible to infection and complications from ulcers.
Coffee: Coffee (regular or decaf) can stimulate the secretion of stomach acid and pepsin, which are digestive enzymes that can damage your stomach lining and worsen your ulcer symptoms. Coffee can also affect the motility of your digestive tract and cause diarrhea or constipation, which can disrupt your bowel movements and affect your gut health. Coffee can also increase your blood pressure and heart rate, which can stress your cardiovascular system and affect your ulcer healing.
Caffeinated foods and drinks: Caffeinated foods and drinks like chocolate, cola, energy drinks, or tea (except green tea) can have similar effects as coffee on your ulcer condition. They can increase the acidity of your stomach and irritate your ulcers. They can also affect your nervous system and cause anxiety, insomnia, or jitteriness, which can worsen your stress levels and affect your ulcer healing.
Milk or cream: Milk or cream may seem soothing for ulcers, but they actually have the opposite effect. Milk or cream can temporarily neutralize some of the stomach acid, but they also stimulate more acid production in response, which can aggravate your ulcers in the long run. Milk or cream also contain lactose, which is a type of sugar that some people have difficulty digesting, especially if they have lactose intolerance or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Lactose intolerance or IBS can cause bloating, gas, cramps, or diarrhea, which can worsen ulcer symptoms and affect gut health.
Fatty meats: Fatty meats like bacon, sausage, or ham are high in saturated fat and cholesterol, which can increase inflammation in the body and affect ulcer healing. Fatty meats also take longer to digest than lean meats, which means they stay longer in the stomach and increase the exposure of the stomach lining to acid erosion. Fatty meats also contain nitrates or nitrites, which are preservatives that may increase the risk of stomach cancer in people with chronic ulcer disease.
Fried or high-fat foods: Fried or high-fat foods like french fries, chips, pizza, or pastries are hard to digest and slow down gastric emptying, which means they keep food longer in the stomach and increase acid secretion. Fried or high-fat foods also contribute to weight gain and obesity, which put pressure on the abdomen and increase the risk of acid reflux into the esophagus (GERD). GERD is a condition where stomach acid flows back into the esophagus and causes heartburn, chest pain, or difficulty swallowing. GERD can damage the esophageal lining and cause esophageal ulcers or cancer over time.
Heavily spiced foods: Heavily spiced foods like chili peppers,curry, or salsa can irritate your ulcers by stimulating the release of histamine, a chemical that causes inflammation in the body. Histamine can increase the sensitivity of nerve endings in the stomach to pain and discomfort. Heavily spiced foods can also trigger acid reflux or GERD, which can damage the esophageal lining as well.
Salty foods: Salty foods like salted nuts, pickles, or canned foods can increase the amount of sodium in your body, which can affect your blood pressure and fluid balance. High blood pressure can put stress on your cardiovascular system and affect your ulcer healing. Fluid retention can cause swelling and bloating in your abdomen, which can worsen ulcer symptoms and increase the risk of acid reflux or GERD. Salty foods can also dehydrate your body and make you thirsty, which can lead you to drink more fluids that may irritate your ulcers.
Citrus fruits and juices: Citrus fruits and juices like oranges, grapefruits, lemons, or limes are high in vitamin C, which is an antioxidant that can help boost your immune system and fight infection. However, citrus fruits and juices are also acidic and can irritate your ulcers by increasing the acidity of your stomach. Citrus fruits and juices can also trigger acid reflux or GERD, which can damage the esophageal lining and cause esophageal ulcers or cancer over time. If you have ulcer problems, you should limit or avoid citrus fruits and juices and choose other sources of vitamin C like strawberries, kiwis, or bell peppers.
Tomatoes/tomato products: Tomatoes and tomato products like tomato sauce, ketchup, or tomato juice are also acidic and can irritate your ulcers by increasing the acidity of your stomach. Tomatoes and tomato products can also trigger acid reflux or GERD, which can damage the esophageal lining and cause esophageal ulcers or cancer over time. If you have ulcer problems, you should limit or avoid tomatoes and tomato products and choose other sources of lycopene like watermelon, papaya, or guava. Lycopene is a carotenoid that has antioxidant properties and may help protect against stomach cancer.
Chocolate: Chocolate is a delicious treat that many people enjoy, but it may not be the best choice for ulcer patients. Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine, which are stimulants that can increase the secretion of stomach acid and pepsin, which are digestive enzymes that can damage your stomach lining and worsen your ulcer symptoms. Chocolate also contains fat and sugar, which can slow down digestion and increase gastric pressure. Chocolate can also affect your nervous system and cause mood swings, anxiety, or insomnia, which can worsen your stress levels and affect your ulcer healing.
Tips for Following an Ulcer Diet
Following an ulcer diet may seem challenging at first, but it can help you manage your ulcer symptoms and prevent complications from ulcers. Here are some tips to help you follow an ulcer diet successfully:
Eat small and frequent meals: Eating small and frequent meals can help prevent overeating and reduce the pressure on your stomach. Eating small and frequent meals can also help regulate your blood sugar levels and prevent hunger pangs that may tempt you to eat foods that irritate your ulcers. Eating small and frequent meals can also help prevent acid reflux or GERD by keeping food from backing up into the esophagus.
Drink plenty of water: Drinking plenty of water can help keep you hydrated and flush out toxins from your body. Drinking plenty of water can also help dilute stomach acid and prevent it from eroding your stomach lining. Drinking plenty of water can also help prevent constipation by softening stool and easing bowel movements. Constipation can cause straining and increase the pressure on your abdomen, which can worsen ulcer symptoms and increase the risk of bleeding from ulcers.
Avoid smoking: Smoking can harm your health in many ways, including worsening your ulcer condition. Smoking can increase the production of stomach acid and pepsin, which are digestive enzymes that can damage your stomach lining and aggravate your ulcers. Smoking can also impair the blood flow to your stomach, which can delay the healing process and increase the risk of infection and complications from ulcers. Smoking can also weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to H. pylori infection, which is a common cause of ulcers.
Manage stress: Stress can affect your ulcer condition by increasing stomach acid production and lowering your immunity. Stress can also affect your mood, sleep, appetite, and digestion, which can interfere with your ulcer healing. You should try to manage stress by practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or tai chi. You should also try to avoid stressful situations or people as much as possible, and seek professional help if you need it.
Take medications as prescribed: Medications can help treat ulcers by killing H. pylori bacteria, reducing stomach acid production, or protecting the stomach lining from damage. You should take medications as prescribed by your doctor, and follow the instructions carefully. You should not stop taking medications without consulting your doctor first, as this may cause your ulcers to recur or worsen. You should also inform your doctor of any side effects or allergies you may have from medications, and seek medical attention if you experience any severe reactions.
Ulcers are open sores that develop in the lining of your stomach, esophagus, or small intestine.
They can cause pain, discomfort, and bleeding. Ulcers can be caused by a bacterial infection called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) or by long term use of anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen. While food and drink do not cause ulcers or make them worse, some foods can help heal your ulcers and prevent them from coming back. Other foods can irritate your ulcers and make your symptoms worse. You should eat a balanced diet that provides enough protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to help your body heal and fight infection. You should avoid foods and drinks that can worsen your ulcer symptoms or delay your healing process. You should also follow some tips to help you follow an ulcer diet successfully, such as eating small and frequent meals, drinking plenty of water, avoiding smoking, managing stress, and taking medications as prescribed. Following an ulcer diet can help you manage your ulcer symptoms
and prevent complications from ulcers.
Dr. Karuturi Subrahmanyam, MD, FRCP (London), FACP (USA)
Internal Medicine Specialist
Phone : 85000 23456