Many people with ulcerative colitis (UC) find that making dietary changes can help them manage their symptoms. Although there is no evidence that the paleo diet improves symptoms in people with UC, some research indicates that a similar diet called the autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet could be beneficial.

The above information comes from a 2017 study in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases and a 2013 review article in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

UC is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes damage and bleeding in the colon. It can lead to various digestive issues, and research has looked at how different diets affect the symptoms.

The paleo diet has recently surged in popularity, and some people recommend it for those with UC. However, there is currently no evidence that it improves UC symptoms.

Instead, some researchers believe that a diet known as the AIP diet, which shares similarities with the paleo diet, may be a good option for people with IBD.

Read more to learn about how the paleo diet affects people with UC, what other diets these individuals can try, and more.

A paleo meal of asparagus, mushrooms, and chicken. Dietary changes may improve symptoms for some people with ulcerative colitis.Share on Pinterest
Cameron Whitman/Stocksy

Dietary changes may improve certain symptoms for some people with UC. However, the effects of the diet on UC symptoms vary from person to person, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Although some people with UC have reported benefits from adopting the paleo diet, there is currently no evidence to suggest that this style of eating can improve UC symptoms.

The paleo diet focuses on eating the foods that human ancestors consumed in the Paleolithic period. In general, it focuses on avoiding processed foods, such as simple carbohydrates and refined sugars.

Certain aspects of the diet, such as the elimination of dairy products, may be beneficial for some people. But other aspects, such as its restrictive guidelines, may be detrimental.

Some research even suggests that a strict paleo diet may be harmful. The authors of a 2021 study argue that high fat diets can increase a person’s risk of UC. Their research showed that a low fat diet reduced inflammation in the gut.

People with UC wanting to try a paleo-style diet may prefer the AIP diet. This diet is similar to the paleo diet, but it is a short-term elimination diet. A person follows it by eliminating many foods initially and then adding them back in one food group at a time.

A small 2017 study found that the AIP diet could reduce inflammation in people with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, but more research is necessary to prove how effective it is in managing symptoms.

This study consisted of elimination and maintenance stages. During the elimination stage, which lasted 6 weeks, the participants gradually eliminated paleo-unfriendly foods, such as legumes, grains, dairy, coffee, eggs, alcohol, nuts, seeds, and processed sugars.

They continued to avoid these prohibited foods for the 5-week-long maintenance stage. After the maintenance phase, the participants slowly reintroduced the food groups, assessing how each one affected their symptoms.

This approach can help people identify which foods trigger their symptoms. However, although elimination diets can be beneficial for people with IBD, they can also be overly restrictive and cause nutritional deficiencies. People interested in trying an elimination diet should contact a doctor or registered dietitian for guidance.

There are currently no studies looking at how the paleo diet may benefit people with UC.

According to more general research, though, the potential benefits of the diet include:

  • Reduced inflammation: Eliminating certain foods, such as grains and dairy, may reduce inflammation in some people. However, the evidence supporting this claim is mixed, and some research indicates that a diet high in saturated fats could increase inflammation.
  • Weight management: The paleo diet eliminates many high calorie processed foods, which may help a person lose weight. However, the restrictive nature of the diet may make it unsustainable for many people. If losing body weight is a person’s goal, a balanced diet with a reasonable calorie deficit may be a more sustainable option.
  • Blood glucose control: Limited research suggests that a paleo diet may promote better insulin sensitivity, which can help control blood sugar.

The risks of the paleo diet include:

  • Compliance: Some people may find it difficult to stick to the paleo diet. As it is so restrictive, the diet can make it hard to eat family meals or enjoy social gatherings. For some people, a restrictive diet reduces quality of life.
  • Disordered eating: Restrictive diets can trigger irregular eating behaviors in some people, especially those with a history of disordered eating habits.
  • Nutritional deficits: Avoiding dairy products may increase the risk of calcium and vitamin D deficiency.
  • Nonnutritious eating: The paleo diet encourages the consumption of high levels of saturated fat, which can be harmful to heart health.
  • Reducing carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are not inherently harmful, yet the paleo diet significantly restricts them. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are all good sources of carbs and fiber, which are an important part of a balanced diet.
  • Adverse effects on gut bacteria: Research shows that while nutritious, higher fiber carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, and veggies, can feed the “good” bacteria in the gut, diets low in fiber and high in saturated fat tend to feed the “bad” bacteria.

Anyone with UC who is thinking about making dietary changes may consider the AIP diet or one of the following:

  • Dairy-free: Many people with UC have, or develop, lactose intolerance. Eliminating dairy products may help with symptoms such as bloating, gas, and gastrointestinal discomfort.
  • Gluten-free: Gluten is a protein present in wheat-based products, including bread and flour. Research on gluten-free diets in UC is limited, and there is no evidence showing that it improves symptoms. However, anecdotally, some people with UC say that it offers symptom relief.
  • Specific carbohydrate diet (SCD): Popular among people with IBD, this diet eliminates certain carbs, including dairy, wheat, fiber, and some sugars. Although some people say that it improves their symptoms, the participants in a 2021 study found adhering to the diet difficult.
  • Mediterranean diet: This diet focuses on plant-based foods, whole grains, low fat proteins, and unsaturated fats. Research suggests that it is easier to implement than the SCD, and other studies have linked it to some symptom improvement in people with UC.

Learn more about diet for people with UC.

Drastic changes in a person’s diet can affect their overall health and quality of life.

Therefore, before making any significant changes, it is important to talk with a doctor or registered dietitian. They can help a person make safe and effective dietary changes, while ensuring that they are meeting their nutritional needs.

Dietary changes can help people with UC manage their symptoms, but there is no one-size-fits-all diet.

Although some people with UC have success with the paleo diet, there is no evidence to prove its efficacy. It can also be restrictive, potentially making it hard to follow and leading to nutritional deficiencies.

People with UC should contact a doctor or dietitian before making significant dietary changes, including trying an elimination diet.