Nutritional drinks may help someone with ulcerative colitis to prevent nutrient deficiencies or malnutrition. In addition, they may be beneficial during a flare of symptoms.

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Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a lifelong inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) with periods of remission and relapse.

People with UC may experience chronic diarrhea. They may also lose their appetite or find it difficult to eat certain foods. As a result, they may develop deficiencies in essential nutrients, which can lead to further health complications.

Nutritional drinks can be a practical and beneficial way to consume the nutrients someone with UC needs to maintain a balanced diet.

This article looks at types of nutritional drinks and what they contain. It discusses how they may benefit someone with UC and why avoiding malnutrition or nutrient deficiencies is essential. Finally, it looks at other food and supplement sources of essential nutrients.

The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation explains that nutritional support therapy is sometimes beneficial to avoid malnutrition. A 2015 research review estimates that 23% of people with IBD in outpatient clinics and 85% in hospitals have nutritional disturbances.

Enteral nutrition involves a person drinking a nutritional supplement or a healthcare professional administering it through a tube in the nostril or a surgical incision in the stomach. Medical professionals may advise that someone receive all or part of their calories through a supplemental formula.

Healthcare professionals also refer to an all-liquid diet as an elemental diet. They may advise someone to consume a liquid diet during a flare of symptoms to help limit further inflammation.

Medical professionals may also recommend an elemental liquid enteral supplement that has all the macronutrients broken down into their simplest components, such as:

  • individual amino acids instead of intact protein
  • specialized triglycerides instead of a complete fat source
  • single sugars instead of a complete carbohydrate source

A person may receive this type of enteral nutrition if they are experiencing a flare of UC.

The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation advises people to check with a healthcare professional before consuming supplemental nutrition in drinks or other forms.

The following are types of nutritional drinks that people may consume to manage their symptoms, along with the potential health benefits of each.

Meal replacement drinks

Meal replacement drinks may contain a range of nutrients to replace a meal. Many types are available, and people should check the ingredients because the quality and dosages of vitamins and minerals that they contain vary greatly.

However, some meal replacement drinks may contain sugars or sweeteners that worsen symptoms or cause gas and bloating. Someone with UC should consult their healthcare team or a dietitian to find out whether a meal replacement drink is suitable for them.

Electrolyte replacement drinks

Experts advise that a good hydration guideline is for a person to drink half their body weight in ounces of water each day.

When someone has diarrhea, they may need to replenish their fluids and electrolytes and aid hydration. Sports drinks that include sodium and potassium may be beneficial if someone tolerates them.

Learn more about electrolyte imbalance and UC.

Protein drinks

Protein powders contain amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. Supplementing amino acids helps people consume the necessary amounts for the health of their bones, muscles, and nervous systems.

Different types of protein powder have different amino acid profiles. Whey protein and pea protein contain a complete range of amino acids. Someone may decide to mix several protein powders in one drink to get a combination of amino acids.

Find out whether whey protein is good for people with UC.

Researchers in a 2017 review concluded that supplementing amino acids and protein could benefit gut healing. They noted that scientists need to undertake more human research. Overall, research suggests that high protein intake from red meat increases the likelihood of relapse of symptoms.

Little research has looked at the effects of protein drinks on UC. One study found that a semi-elemental formula that included whey protein and fats effectively improved the following characteristics in people with active Crohn’s disease, another type of IBD:

  • nutritional status
  • disease activity
  • stool frequency

Researchers need to perform more studies to determine whether these effects also apply to UC.

Nutraceutical drinks

These are drinks and powders containing a range of nutraceuticals that people can mix with a liquid. Nutraceuticals are food and plant substances that may have a therapeutic effect on a disease or health condition.

A 2018 review suggests that the following plant extracts and compounds may be beneficial for IBD:

Much of the available research has involved animals or laboratory tests, and scientists have not yet explored the effects of these extracts in humans with UC.

Additionally, herbal preparations may interact with some medications, so it is essential to check with a healthcare professional before taking them.

Learn more about natural remedies for UC.


A 2022 review reports that fruits and their juices may be beneficial for treating gastrointestinal disorders such as IBD. Fruits may improve the gut bacteria profile and have anti-inflammatory effects. However, scientists need to do more human research to find out more about this.

Someone with UC may not be able to tolerate fresh fruit with skins or peels, especially during a flare, as these fruits contain insoluble fiber. Examples of foods that contain this type of fiber include:

  • raw green vegetables
  • fruits with seeds and skins
  • whole nuts and grains

Some people with UC may be able to eat cooked fruit, but some may not be able to tolerate it at all.

Learn more about soluble vs. insoluble fiber.

Experts advise that people may dilute fruit juices or include products such as applesauce or canned fruit in their diet. A person should work with a dietitian to determine which fruits or juices they can consume.

Find out the best juices to consume with UC.

Probiotics and prebiotics

A 2020 review suggests that probiotics may be a therapeutic option to reduce inflammation in UC. Probiotics may strengthen the gut barrier and the immune response and maintain beneficial gut bacteria.

Meanwhile, prebiotics can help stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. A 2016 review suggests that probiotics and prebiotics could be beneficial in inducing and maintaining remission in UC. However, a lack of studies means that clinicians cannot recommend this at the moment.

Probiotic drinks, powders, and capsules are available, but they contain varying strains of bacteria. Much of the research is on specific supplements, such as VSL#3. A person can speak with a healthcare professional to find out whether this is suitable for them.

Learn more about prebiotics vs. probiotics.

Managing diet and nutrition is essential when someone has UC. IBD can affect someone’s ability to digest and absorb nutrients from food and may lead to severe vitamin and mineral deficiencies or malnutrition.

Some people with UC may need extra help getting the necessary nutrients. Here are some of the possible reasons for this:

  • Severe diarrhea can cause dehydration, which means the body does not have enough fluids and nutrients.
  • Abdominal pain and nausea can reduce appetite, making it difficult to consume enough calories and nutrients.
  • Rectal bleeding from ulcers in the intestines can lead to iron deficiencies and anemia.

The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation explains that inflammation of the large intestine, which occurs in UC, compromises the body’s ability to absorb water and electrolytes.

Signs of malnutrition

Signs that someone may be malnourished include:

  • weight loss
  • fatigue and low energy
  • weakness
  • loss of muscle mass
  • vitamin and mineral deficiencies

To avoid malnutrition, people should ask their healthcare team to test their levels of vitamins and minerals and work with them to identify the foods they can safely eat. In addition, they should avoid eating any foods that make their symptoms worse.

The following are nutrients that a person may be lacking and some foods that contain these nutrients:

The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation also advises that supplementing the above nutrients can benefit people with IBD.

People should keep a food diary and use this to determine potential food triggers and foods that they do not tolerate during a flare of UC.

Various types of nutritional drinks may be beneficial for someone with UC. These include those that replenish protein, vitamins, and minerals, as well as those that contain anti-inflammatory nutraceuticals or probiotics. In addition, people may require electrolyte drinks for dehydration.

Because some ingredients may trigger symptoms and others may interact with medication, a person must check with their healthcare team or a dietitian before taking supplements or consuming nutritional drinks.