If you have a condition like ulcerative colitis, you must carefully choose the foods you eat.
Some foods, like dairy milk, can have a negative impact on ulcerative colitis, causing inflammation and painful symptoms.
However, with the proper diet, including non-acidic, plant-based milk like almond milk, you can reduce ulcerative colitis symptoms and improve your quality of life.
Learn more about ulcerative colitis and how drinking almond milk may be an excellent alternative to dairy milk if you have the condition.
Is almond milk good for ulcerative colitis?
Yes, almond milk is good for ulcerative colitis. It's a low-FODMAP food that's low in fiber and carbohydrates, making it easier to digest than dairy.
What is Ulcerative Colitis?
Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a condition that causes ulcers and inflammation in the digestive tract.
It is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that primarily affects the colon, the inner lining of the large intestine.
With UC, the mucosal wall in your colon becomes inflamed.
Superficial erosions in this lining occur, causing pain, bleeding, and other symptoms that can interfere with your daily life.
UC typically develops over time and can lead to life-threatening complications.
About 8% to 14% of those with UC have a family history of the condition. In the U.S., there are about 156 to 291 cases per 100,000 people each year.
UC is the most common IBD condition in the U.S.
Most people with the condition experience mild to moderate symptoms that can be helped with the right diet and medications; however, some severe cases require more serious interventions like surgery.
There are a few different types of UC, according to their location in your body:
- Left-sided colitis - You have inflammation in your rectum through the lower portions of your colon with left-sided colitis. You may experience cramping and pain on the left side, diarrhea, and the urgent need to use the restroom.
- Proctosigmoiditis - Proctosigmoiditis is inflammation in the rectum and lower end of the colon. You may experience similar symptoms to left-sided colitis but are throughout both sides.
- Ulcerative proctitis - Ulcerative proctitis primarily affects the rectum and may result in anal bleeding.
- Pancolitis - Pancolitis affects all areas of the colon and results in fatigue, weight loss, abdominal pain, bloody diarrhea
Check out this video from Mayo Clinic to learn more about ulcerative colitis.
Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis
If you have ulcerative colitis, you may experience some or all of the following symptoms:
- Bloody diarrhea
- Rectal bleeding
- Urgency to defecate
- Abdominal cramping and pain
- Rectal pain
- Can't defecate despite feeling you need to go
- Weight loss
UC is a condition that can flare up at different times in your life and go into remission at others.
In many cases, the severity of your symptoms is based on the foods you eat. Foods to avoid when you have UC include:
- High-fat foods
- Spicy foods
- Carbonated drinks
- Insoluble Fibers
- Sugars (including lactose)
How Do You Know If You Have Ulcerative Colitis?
If you experience symptoms of ulcerative colitis, you can visit your doctor for diagnostic testing.
The process may include blood tests, stool sample studies, or a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy.
They may also take x-rays, perform a CT scan, or a magnetic resonance enterography to confirm you have the condition.
Because irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) shows similar symptoms, it's important to have the right diagnosis to treat your condition.
Ulcerative Colitis Treatment
UC has several treatment options, depending on the severity of your case.
These treatments include anti-inflammatory medications like corticosteroids, immunosuppressors like azathioprine, or biologics like Stelara.
You might also take over-the-counter antidiarrheal medications, antispasmodics, or pain relievers.
Severe cases of UC may require surgery in which the doctor removes part or all of your colon and rectum.
This eliminates symptoms of the condition by removing the affected organ; however, you must wear a colostomy bag following the procedure for the rest of your life.
How Does Food Affect Ulcerative Colitis?
While food can't cure or treat UC, your diet can majorly impact your symptoms of the condition.
As mentioned above, certain foods can cause flare-ups and heighten abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhea, or bleeding.
Many people with IBD conditions use a low FODMAP diet to help control their symptoms.
FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols, which are short-chain carbohydrates that tend to adversely affect the digestive system.
A low FODMAP diet limits these carbohydrates and has been shown to help reduce symptoms of IBS, a condition with similar effects as IBD (and UC).
A 2019 study reports a decrease in IBD symptoms after four weeks in 52% of those who ate a low FODMAP diet. While a low-FODMAP diet doesn't address the severity of the condition, it can help you minimize intestinal distress related to your UC.
Low-FODMAP diets are low in carbs and fiber, which make the foods you eat easier to digest.
Some research has shown that UC may be caused in part by bacteria in your intestines, and those bacteria feed off sugar and carbs.
Eating low-FODMAP foods lowers the amount of "food" for this bacteria, positively impacting your symptoms.
Low-FODMAP foods include:
- Almond milk
- Citrus fruits
- Green beans
- Hard cheeses
- Lean meats
Is Almond Milk Good for Ulcerative Colitis?
Since almond milk is considered a low-FODMAP food, it is an excellent choice for someone with ulcerative colitis.
It is both low in fiber and low in carbohydrates. Unsweetened almond milk typically only contains between 3 grams to 4 grams of carbs and 1 gram of fiber, making it easy for people with UC to digest without complications.
Almond milk is also good for ulcers.
Although ulcers differ from ulcerative colitis, they share similar causes in some respects, such as bacteria and irritation in the digestive lining.
When choosing almond milk for UC, opt for a homemade version or a brand that uses simple, organic ingredients to avoid digestive issues.
For example, you can use whole almonds to make almond milk at home or choose more convenient options such as JOI's almond milk base instead.
Opt for a product like MALK unsweetened almond milk if you want store-bought almond milk with simple ingredients.
This brand only uses filtered water, sprouted almonds, and Himalayan salt to create the beverage.
It doesn't have any dairy, soy, gluten, or carrageenan, which can irritate your colon and worsen symptoms of UC.
Almond Vs. Dairy Milk For Someone With Ulcerative Colitis
Almond milk is generally good at managing UC symptoms; however, dairy milk is not.
Cow milk contains lactose, a naturally occurring sugar.
This sugar breaks down during digestion and releases into the body.
Sugar, especially lactose, feeds gut bacteria and can worsen UC symptoms. Diary is on the list of low-FODMAP foods to avoid, so it's best to choose an alternative to cow's milk if you have UC.
Additionally, a 2014 study found a significant correlation between those with UC and dairy allergies, making almond milk a better alternative.
Possible Issues For Drinking Almond Milk With Ulcerative Colitis
While most almond milk is low-FODMAP, you must pay attention to the ingredients in your almond milk to be sure it fits into your low-FODMAP diet and doesn't cause your UC symptoms to worsen.
For example, some almond milk contains flavorings and sweeteners.
Opting for a chocolate almond milk or sweetened variety with lots of added sugar can cause issues for your digestive system and flare up your UC.
Additionally, some store-bought almond milk has emulsifiers like carrageenan added to thicken the beverage.
A 2013 study found that carrageenan consumption led to relapses in UC symptoms for those previously in remission.
You should avoid almond milk with additives like carrageenan and sugar if you have UC.
Are Other Plant-Based Milk Options Preferable Over Almond Milk For Ulcerative Colitis?
For some people, almond milk is not an option as a low-FODMAP alternative to dairy milk.
Whether you don't like the taste or are allergic to tree nuts, you may want to opt for a different plant-based, low-FODMAP beverage.
Possible choices for alternative milk include:
- Soy milk
- Hemp milk
- Coconut milk
- Cashew milk
- Pea milk
- Kefir (not plant-based, but has been shown to be a better alternative than whole cow milk)
Rice and oat milk are also possible plant-based milk options.
However, these two beverages typically contain 20 to 25 grams of carbohydrates per serving. You may also choose to drink lactose-free dairy milk.
If you have UC, consider working with a registered dietitian to help you understand how your body reacts to different milk types.
Every case of UC is different. Working with a professional specializing in IBS and IBD disorders can help you track your flare-ups to determine which foods fit best into your diet.
Bottom Line on Almond Milk and Ulcerative Colitis
The bottom line on whether almond milk is good for ulcerative colitis depends on your specific case and the almond milk you drink.
In most cases, unsweetened almond milk is one of the best milk choices for managing symptoms of UC.
It is more alkaline than dairy milk, doesn't contain extra sugars, and can help calm your system.
Sweetened almond milk or those with extra additives like carrageenan can cause your symptoms to flare up.
Working with your doctor to develop a healthy diet that addresses your digestive issues is vital. Since almond milk is a low-FODMAP diet, it may be a beneficial option.