Milk may aggravate the symptoms of ulcerative colitis in some people. They may wish to try alternative types of milk, such as oat or soy. However, people should be mindful of getting enough calcium if they choose to avoid dairy products.

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Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). UC affects approximately 600,000 people in the United States. A person may experience diarrhea, abdominal pain, and urgent and frequent bowel movements.

This article defines UC and explains how someone’s diet can affect their symptoms. In addition, it discusses which types of milk to avoid and consume and provides other dietary tips.

Research recognizes that the microbiome of people with UC is more diverse than those without it. Genetics, diet, and environmental factors influence both the gut microbiome and the causes of UC.

People with UC may experience flares and periods of remission. Doctors typically treat the condition with medication or surgery.

While there is no evidence to suggest that any particular food or diet causes, prevents, or cures IBD, certain foods may cause a person’s symptoms to worsen during a flare.

Learn about the role of gut bacteria in UC here.

Regular dairy milk contains fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAPs). FODMAPs are a group of sugars that a person’s digestive tract may have trouble absorbing.

People may wish to track any reactions to dairy and other food products by keeping a food journal.

The primary sugar in milk is lactose. Some studies suggest that FODMAPs such as lactose may cause pain, bloating, and diarrhea in people with IBD. So avoiding high FODMAP foods may reduce their symptoms.

Some people find they cannot tolerate lactose, especially during a flare, found in dairy foods such as:

  • milk, skimmed and whole
  • soft cheese such as cream cheese
  • yogurt

According to a 2017 review, a low FODMAP diet may benefit people with IBD. However, a person should work closely with a dietitian to determine whether the diet is suitable and helps alleviate symptoms.

Learn more about the low FODMAP diet here.

The following types of milk may be suitable for someone with UC. However, a person should monitor any symptoms when introducing a new type of milk.

Read more about almond, hemp, oat, soy, and cow’s milk.

Getting enough calcium

When avoiding dairy products, a person must ensure they are still getting enough calcium in their diet. They can choose the types of milk that manufacturers have fortified with calcium. They may also wish to try the following food sources of calcium:

It is important to note that some of the above foods can trigger or worsen flares for certain people. A person should monitor for any reactions to these foods.

Learn more about calcium-rich foods that do not contain dairy here.

The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation advises that there is no single diet that works for everyone. Instead, they suggest that someone with UC works with a doctor or dietitian to develop a personalized meal plan that ensures they get adequate nutrients.

When a person is in UC remission, they should eat a balanced diet that includes all the food groups. Some research suggests that consuming an anti-inflammatory diet may benefit people with UC. Anti-inflammatory foods include:

Foods to eat during a flare

People may help avoid worsening symptoms by eating soft, bland foods. These may include:

Additionally, someone may wish to include probiotic foods such as yogurt, kimchi, or sauerkraut. They may also consider taking supplements with their doctor’s approval. A person should speak with a dietitian to determine the best source of probiotics in their diet.

Learn about probiotics for UC here.

Food to avoid during a flare

The following foods and drinks may trigger symptoms during a flare of UC:

Read more about the foods to eat and avoid with UC.

General tips

Additionally, the following tips may help:

  • stay adequately hydrated with water, broth, or a rehydration solution
  • eating meals on a regular schedule
  • having four to six smaller meals a day rather than three larger ones
  • keeping a food journal during a flare to help identify trigger foods
  • using simple cooking techniques such as boiling, grilling, or steaming
  • drinking slowly and avoiding using a straw, which can cause gas

Read more about diet recipes for UC.

Dairy may be a common trigger for symptoms of UC. Avoiding it may help during a flare. Many milk alternatives are available, including oat, soy, and almond milk. Additionally, probiotic drinks such as kefir may help some people.

There is no single diet to help everyone with UC, and people should work with a healthcare professional to explore what is right for them.

The low FODMAP diet may be beneficial for some people. However, any diet that restricts foods needs to be supervised by a dietitian. Eating a balanced, anti-inflammatory diet and avoiding too much sugar, processed foods, and alcohol is beneficial for the digestive system and a person’s overall health.