Nutritional Tips for Children and Teens with Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative colitis symptoms can make good nutrition a challenge for kids with the condition.

Nutrition and Ulcerative Colitis

UC symptoms and the way it changes the large intestine can make good nutrition a challenge for kids with the condition. But there are a lot of ways to make sure they stick with a healthy meal plan. Nutrition therapy will help kids and teens manage symptoms, keep up their height and weight, and have a balanced diet. Everyone's symptoms and diet needs are different, so work with your child's doctor and a nutritionist to create a food plan.

The specific carbohydrate diet (SCD) may help some kids achieve relief from ulcerative colitis.

Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD)

No single meal plan works for everyone with UC, but a few studies have shown that this program can ease symptoms for some kids. The SCD cuts out grains, some dairy, and most sugars. Kids can still eat vegetables, fruit, meat, nuts, and bread baked with nut flour. But not all children will benefit from SCD. Those with milder UC tend to see the biggest change in symptoms. You should try the program only with the guidance of a nutritionist.

Chew food thoroughly and drink liquids slowly to encourage good digestion.

Chew Well and Drink Slowly

Remind your kid to take their time while they eat and to chew their food thoroughly, especially raw, crunchy foods. They should also drink liquids slowly and try not to use a straw -- sucking in too much air could lead to extra gas.

Avoid processed foods, which may cause an ulcerative colitis flare-up.

Avoid Processed Food

Your kids may love sugary or salty treats, but they can cause a UC flare-up. Get rid of as many processed foods from your child's diet as possible, especially junk foods like chips, soda, candy, and cake.

Keep a journal of what your child eats and their symptoms to identify UC triggers.

Track Food and Symptoms

It's important to steer clear of foods that could lead to a flare-up. Keep a journal of what your child eats and how they feel afterward. You can write it in a notebook or use an app designed to help people with UC track meals, symptoms, bowel movements, mood, and more. When or if your child's symptoms get better, you can introduce one new food at a time to see how well they can handle it.

Your child may need vitamin and mineral supplements to get the nutrients their growing bodies need.

Vitamins and Supplements

Kids and teens with UC may need extra help getting key vitamins and minerals, like calcium or vitamin D. Ask a nutritionist if your child should take supplements to get the nutrients their growing bodies need.

Probiotics and prebiotics are beneficial for gut health.

Probiotics and Prebiotics

Research shows the benefits of both probiotics (live yeasts and good bacteria) and prebiotics (special plant fibers) for a healthy gut. Encourage your child to try foods rich in probiotics, such as yogurt, kimchi, miso, sauerkraut, and tempeh. Prebiotics are in many fruits and vegetables. Talk to a nutritionist about which food choices may work for your child.

Hydration is important for a child who has ulcerative colitis.

Stay Hydrated

Be sure your child drinks plenty of fluids -- enough to keep their pee light yellow to clear. Along with water, they can sip broth, tomato juice, or a rehydration solution that has water, electrolytes, and carbohydrates.

It is better to eat four to six small meals per day than three large ones if a child has UC.

Food Prep

Four to six small meals a day are better than three large ones for people with UC. Make meals in advance, and stock your kitchen with foods that your kid likes and won't make their symptoms flare up. Use simple cooking methods, like boiling, grilling, steaming, or poaching.

Let your child participate in making changes to their diet so they feel empowered.

Give Kids an Active Role

Kids with UC may feel they lack control over parts of their lives. Changes to their diet can worsen these feelings and turn into a power struggle between you and your child. Give them a role in their nutrition. They can help plan meals -- you can offer food choices and ask them to help with cooking. Also, include them in meetings with their nutritionist. They can ask questions and learn why they need to eat some foods and avoid others.

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REFERENCES:

  • Dana Dykes, MD, Children's Center for Digestive Healthcare; GI Care for Kids.
  • Benjamin D. Gold, MD, Children's Center for Digestive Healthcare; GI Care for Kids.
  • Seattle Children's: "Ulcerative Colitis," "David L. Suskind, MD."
  • Nutrition in Immune Balance (NiMBAL): "SCD Truisms," "Downloadable Papers," "What is SCD and a nutritionally balanced diet?"
  • American Dietetic Association: "Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis Nutrition Therapy."
  • Crohn's & Colitis Foundation: "What Should I Eat?"
  • The American Journal of Gastroenterology: "Effect of a probiotic preparation (VSL#3) on induction and maintenance of remission in children with ulcerative colitis."
  • KidsHealth: "Ulcerative Colitis," "504 Education Plan."
  • Cleveland Clinic: "Ulcerative Colitis."
  • Government of Canada: "Oral Rehydration Solutions."
  • Mayo Clinic: "Prebiotics, probiotics and your health."
  • Current Opinion in Gastroenterology: "Prebiotics and synbiotics: Dietary strategies for improving gut health."
  • CICRA: "Psychological Issues."
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