All about Indigestion, heartburn, and food for ulcer relief. Almost everyone in the world has had an upset stomach at some point or another. You know you aren’t feeling well when you’re feeling like food might be the last thing you want to eat. There are different types of treatments for ulcers depending on the symptoms and type of ulcer.
Food and drink don’t cause peptic ulcers, nor can they cure them. However, following an ulcer diet can help reduce the pain and irritation associated with these sores on the lining of the stomach, esophagus, or small intestine.
Some choices, like berries and grapes, help repair damaged tissue. Others, like alcohol, irritate ulcers and threaten the digestive tract’s natural layer of protection.
This article looks at the ulcer diet, including the best foods to choose, the ones to avoid, and some tips on how to make the ulcer diet work best for you.
What Is an Ulcer Diet?
An ulcer diet is an eating plan designed to bring relief from peptic ulcer symptoms, prevent flares, and prevent more ulcers from developing in the future.
It is designed to:
- Correct nutritional deficiencies that contribute to your symptoms
- Provide the protein and other nutrients your body needs to heal
- Help you avoid foods that irritate the ulcer
- Help with related conditions like Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, or bacterial infections
An ulcer diet should be followed along with any other treatment recommendations from your healthcare provider.
Many peptic ulcers are caused by long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which can damage your digestive tract lining. Others are caused by a bacterial infection known as Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). An ulcer diet adds foods with antibacterial effects and compounds that boost healing in both cases.
A 2021 review of medicinal plants published in the Journal of Drug Delivery & Therapeutics looked at a range of natural remedies including polyphenols. Polyphenols are a type of antioxidant found in many plant foods that can be used to manage peptic ulcers.
Some polyphenols help to heal stomach lining ulcers faster, while others have antibacterial effects and help kill H. pylori. Polyphenols in green tea may calm inflammation and help to strengthen the tissue that lines the stomach.
Foods to Eat and Avoid When You Have an Ulcer
Choose These Foods
- Lean meats like skinless poultry and lean beef
- Fish and seafood
- Whole soy foods like tofu or tempeh
- Fermented dairy foods like kefir or yogurt
- Healthy fats like olive oil, avocados, and nuts
- Whole and cracked grains
- Green tea
- Herbs and spices (mild; fresh or dried)
Avoid These Foods
- Coffee (regular, decaf)
- Caffeinated foods and drinks
- Milk or cream
- Fatty meats
- Fried or high-fat foods
- Heavily spiced foods
- Salty foods
- Citrus fruits and juices
- Tomatoes/tomato products
Fruits: Any fresh or frozen fruits contain helpful fiber and antioxidants. Berries, apples, grapes, and pomegranates are among the best choices for healing polyphenols. If citrus fruits or juices like orange or grapefruit trigger reflux, avoid them.
Vegetables: Leafy greens, bright red and orange vegetables, and cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, cauliflower, and kale) are packed with vitamins and antioxidants that are especially good for your overall health and healing. Avoid spicy peppers and tomatoes, or products made with them, if they give you reflux. Limit raw vegetables because they are harder to digest.
Lean proteins: Skinless poultry, lean beef like sirloin or tenderloin, fish, eggs, tofu, tempeh, dry beans, and peas are excellent sources of low-fat protein. Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines provide omega-3 fats, which can reduce inflammation and may be helpful in preventing another ulcer.
Fermented dairy: Products like kefir and Greek yogurt provide probiotics (helpful bacteria) along with protein, so they’re good choices.
Breads and grains: Whole grain breads, and whole or cracked grains like oats, quinoa, farro, millet, or sorghum, are good sources of fiber to include in your diet.
Herbs and spices: Hot, spicy foods are usually avoided on an ulcer diet, but a review of studies on food and H. pylori found that some spices added for flavor also help kill the bacteria.2 You can freely use most mild herbs and spices because they’re sources of antioxidants. Best bets include turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, and garlic, which have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Honey: For a sweetener, try to use honey instead of sugar. There’s evidence that some types of honey, including a rare oregano honey grown in Greece, kill H. pylori and other bacteria.
What to Avoid
Alcohol: All alcohol is a stomach irritant and will delay healing. Avoid wine, beer, and spirits.
Caffeine: You should cut back or stop drinking coffee, tea, and caffeinated sodas. They can increase stomach acid production.
Milk: There was a time when milk was used in treating ulcers, but research has found that it increases stomach acid. It’s best to avoid it.
Certain meats: Skip any highly seasoned meats, lunch meats, sausages, and fried or fatty meats and proteins.
High-fat foods: Try to avoid large amounts of added fats, which can increase stomach acid and trigger reflux. You may need to avoid gravy, cream soups, and salad dressings, but healthy fats on the list are OK.
Spicy foods: You may want to skip anything that is “hot,” such as chili peppers, horseradish, black pepper, and sauces and condiments that contain them.
Salty foods: Researchers have found that salty foods may promote the growth of H. pylori. Pickles, olives, and other brined or fermented vegetables are high in salt and linked to a higher risk of H. pylori ulcers.
Chocolate: Chocolate can increase stomach acid production, and some people find that it triggers reflux symptoms.
How the Ulcer Diet Works
An ulcer diet promotes healing and reduces irritation to the stomach lining and the duodenum, the first part of the small intestine that attaches to the stomach. It also limits excess acid production, which can aggravate an ulcer.
There are no strict rules about which foods to eat, but try to add as many foods as you can from the best choices list above. Definitely avoid foods that make you feel worse or that trigger acid production and reflux.
Eating enough protein is also important. While your ulcer is healing, aim for about 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of your body weight. That means about 3 ounces per day for a 140-pound woman, and 4 ounces per day for a 200-pound man.
The rest of your calories should come from a balanced diet that includes whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. More fiber may lower the risk of ulcers, but one Korean study found that high-fiber diets lowered the risk of peptic ulcer disease in women but not men. It’s a good idea to ask your healthcare provider about fiber intake.
You should stay on an ulcer diet until your healthcare provider tells you your ulcer is completely healed, and then go back to your normal way of eating.
But if you feel better while on the diet or you have risk factors for ulcers, like smoking, this way of eating may be worth continuing—even if in a modified way.
Causes and risk factors for ulcers
In the majority of all ulcer cases, the cause of ulcers can be linked to a bacterial infection known as a Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) as well as the chronic use of over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen.
What to eat if you have a stomach ulcer
Since H. pylori bacteria is now known to be an important cause of ulcer formation, scientists are exploring what foods may have a role in fighting against an infection.
In addition to taking the antibiotics and acid-blocking medications recommended by your doctor for your ulcer treatment, eating these foods may also be helpful against the ulcer-causing bacteria:
- bell peppers
- leafy greens, such as kale and spinach
- probiotic-rich foods, such as yogurt, kefir, miso, sauerkraut, and kombucha.
- olive oil and other plant-based oils
- decaffeinated green tea
Why they help
If your stomach ulcer is caused by an H. pylori infection, foods that are rich in antioxidants may be beneficial. They could help protect and activate your immune system and help fight the infection. They may also help protect against stomach cancer.
Foods like blueberries, cherries, and bell peppers are packed with antioxidant power. Leafy greens such as kale and spinach contain calcium and B vitamins.
Broccoli contains sulforaphane, a compound that exhibits anti-H. pylori activity. Some researchTrusted Source shows that the fatty acids contained in olive oil can also help treat trusted Source an H. pylori infection.
Fermented probiotic foods have shown promise in clinical studies trusted Source for ulcer treatment. These foods, such as miso, sauerkraut, and kimchi, may prevent reinfection.
Turmeric is currently being studied as a potential treatment for ulcers as well.
Garlic, decaffeinated green tea, and licorice round out the list of things you might want to incorporate in your diet.
Supplements may be beneficial
If your stomach ulcer is being treated with an antibiotic, consider taking a probiotic supplement as part of your diet plan. This can help reduce antibiotic-associated symptoms. It may also improve the effectiveness of the antibiotic.
Ask your doctor what probiotic would be best to take with your antibiotic medication. Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces supplements have shown benefits in people with H. pylori ulcers.
Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (taken one hour before meals) and curcumin extracts have shown promise in some ulcer research due to their action against H. pylori.
Shop for deglycyrrhizinated licorice and curcumin extracts.
Foods to limit when you have acid reflux and an ulcer
Some people who have an ulcer also have acid reflux. In some people, certain foods can relax the lower part of the esophagus, known as the lower esophageal sphincter or LES. A relaxed LES makes it easier for acid to back up into the esophagus and cause heartburn, indigestion, and pain.
Foods that may make acid reflux worse include:
- spicy food
- acidic foods, such as citrus and tomatoes
Overeating and eating within two to three hours before bed may also worsen reflux symptoms.
Treatment options for ulcers
Ulcers caused by H. pylori will most likely need to be treated with antibiotics. Strict adherence to your treatment plan and close follow-up with your doctor are the best ways to make sure your treatments are effective and your ulcers are healing.
You will also be prescribed a medication that temporarily keeps your stomach from making or secreting as much acid as it normally would. This medication may be a proton pump inhibitor or H2 blocker.
Why Change My Diet?
There are so many benefits to changing your diet if you suffer from stomach ulcers that it would be foolish not to. When you follow a diet that primates healthy stomach and gut health you will:
- Obtain the protein and nutrients that your body needs to repair itself.
- Help you to remove all foods that are aggravating the small intestine and stomach lining.
- It can help to minimize or control the symptoms of related conditions like bacterial infections, Crohn’s disease, or celiac. These can aggravate ulcer symptoms.
- Help to fill in any contributing nutritional deficiencies.
Certain foods help to repair the gastrointestinal lining that erodes form long term use of anti-inflammatory drugs or bacterial infection.
Fruits and Vegetables
There are many fruits and vegetables you can indulge in while trying to keep your gut healthy. Cauliflower, cabbage, radishes, carrots, broccoli, and leafy greens all help to prevent aggravating symptoms. Common fruits that are good for healing stomach ulcers are apples, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, cherries, and bell peppers.
Studies have shown that these foods carry polyphenols that help either heal the stomach lining faster or kill bacteria such as H. pylori. Although these foods may not be a cure-all they are necessary if you want to help heal your body. The body has a natural way of healing itself, even more so when we do right by it and fuel it with living food.
Other Helpful Foods
It is good to have a variety of foods in your diet like green tea, licorice, turmeric, and garlic. Foods that are rich in probiotics like yogurt, miso, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and other fermented dairy products have vital good bacteria for the gastrointestinal lining.
Some say you shouldn’t eat spicy food but some spices are known to actually kill bacteria. Stay away from spices that add heat and opt for spices that add flavor. Honey is also known to help kill bacteria in the lining of the stomach, choose local raw honey or manuka honey for maximum benefits.
Foods to Avoid
There are actually more foods you can enjoy than foods you cannot, but just so we cover all the bases we need to mention it. Alcohol, caffeine, fruit juices, milk, and cream are drinks you need to steer clear from. Fried foods, fatty foods, citrus fruits, salty foods, and chocolate will aggravate stomach ulcer symptoms.
Best: Foods With Probiotics
Foods like yogurt, miso, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, and tempeh are rich in “good” bacteria called probiotics. They may help ulcers by fighting an H. pylori infection or by helping treatments work better.
Best: Fiber-Rich Foods
Apples, pears, oatmeal, and other foods that are high in fiber are good for ulcers in two ways. Fiber can lower the amount of acid in your stomach while easing bloating and pain. Research has also shown that a diet rich in fiber may help prevent ulcers.
Best: Sweet Potato
It’s high in vitamin A, and there’s evidence that this nutrient can help shrink stomach ulcers and may also play a role in preventing them. Other foods with a good dose of vitamin A include spinach, carrots, cantaloupe, and beef liver.
Best: Red Bell Pepper
It’s rich in vitamin C, which can help protect you from ulcers in a number of ways. For one, vitamin C plays an important role in wound healing. People who don’t get enough are also more likely to get ulcers. Get this nutrient in citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwis, and broccoli, too.
Doctors used to tell people to drink milk to treat their ulcers. That was before better remedies, like acid-blocking drugs, came along. Today we know milk can’t help prevent or relieve an ulcer. In fact, it might actually make things worse by prompting your stomach to make more acid.
If you’re prone to ulcers or have one now, it’s best to limit alcohol or avoid it altogether. Research has shown that booze irritates and can even damage your digestive tract. It can make ulcers worse.
Worst: Fatty Foods
They take longer to digest, which can lead to belly pain and bloating — bad news if you have an ulcer. If they make your stomach feel worse, take a break from them.
Spicy Foods: It Depends
For a long time, doctors thought spicy food was a major cause of ulcers. We now know this isn’t true. Still, some people find that it makes their symptoms worse. Avoid it if it causes you pain.
Citrus Fruits: It Depends
At first, it would seem to make sense that acidic foods like citrus and tomatoes would aggravate ulcers. But there’s no strong evidence that they have any effect on them. Still, we all have unique reactions to foods, so if acidic ones make your ulcer feel worse, skip them.
Chocolate: It Depends
Chocolate has lots of potential health benefits. But it often causes discomfort for some people who have ulcers. If eating chocolate makes you feel worse, wait to indulge until your ulcer has healed.
Caffeine: Ask Your Doctor
The research is mixed on whether caffeine — coffee in particular — makes ulcers feel worse. Yet it’s still common advice to cut it out if you have one. Ask your doctor, but you may not have to give up coffee as long as your symptoms don’t get worse.
f you’re like a lot of people, you probably spend some time every day wondering what to eat. This question can be made more complex if you’re dealing with a digestive health issue, such as stomach ulcers. Finding the best stomach ulcer diet may take a little bit of effort.
Olivia Vaughn, a registered dietitian at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center who specializes in nutrition for gastroenterology, says “stomach or peptic ulcers are open sores on the lining of the stomach that can cause stomach pain or stomach upset,” and can lead to internal bleeding.
Dr. Kaunteya Reddy, a gastroenterologist and medical director at the Redlands Community Hospital in Redlands, California, explains that “the stomach wall is made up of three layers, and a defect in any or all of these layers results in an ulcer.” He compares it to “a sore in your mouth, but instead it’s in the stomach lining.”
As with any wound, you need to be careful how you handle it; eating the right foods can help you control stomach ulcer symptoms and may even promote healing. Dr. Alaa Abousaif, a gastroenterologist and internal medicine specialist with Providence St. Joseph Hospital Orange in California, says that because “an ulcer is an open sore in the stomach, you need to avoid anything that will irritate this.”
In addition, your doctor may recommend making some dietary shifts to alleviate symptoms of stomach ulcers and support healing. But what exactly should be on the menu may end up being something of an individual question based on what tends to trigger symptoms for you.
“There is no specific diet that is recommended by the American Gastroenterological Association or American College of Gastroenterology to promote stomach ulcer healing,” Lerrigo says. “There have been several international studies suggesting certain foods may be helpful, but without larger trials in humans, one cannot definitively say for sure.”
Talk to Your Doctor
If you think you might have a stomach ulcer, it’s important to talk to your health care provider. Most patients start with their primary care doctor, and you may be referred to a gastroenterologist for more specialized care.