IC diet basics: What you need to know to get started
If you’re feeling frustrated with knowing which foods to eat and which foods to avoid, you’re not alone. The IC diet is tricky (actually, it’s super tricky). Research has led to the development of lists of foods that are least bothersome and foods that are most bothersome, but for some reason or another, each person’s dietary triggers vary. Here I’ll review the IC diet basics to get you started (and offer support along the way).
What to avoid
While researches are still learning more about the IC diet, many have come to the conclusion that there is a general list of foods that prove to be bothersome for those with IC. This list includes many fruits, such as cranberry juice, grapefruit and grapefruit juice, lemon, orange and orange juice, pineapple and pineapple juice, and strawberries. There are also many vegetables that cause irritation, such as chili peppers, pickles, sauerkraut, tomatoes, and tomato products. While most protein foods are well tolerated, processed sandwich meats (such as salami and bologna) and soy have been found to cause symptoms.
Despite research finding that probiotics can be beneficial, those with IC often do not tolerate yogurt (though they can often tolerate other forms of dairy). Some of the most bothersome parts of the diet include condiments (such as chili, horseradish, ketchup, salad dressing, soy sauce, vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce) and beverages (including alcohol; regular and decaf coffee; caffeinated and decaffeinated tea, and any carbonated drinks such as soda). Other foods that can cause irritation include chocolate, Indian food, Thai food, Mexican food, pizza, and other spicy food. Finally, those with IC often do not tolerate additives (such as MSG) or artificial sweeteners (such as equal, NutraSweet, saccharin, and sweet n low).
Some with IC find that they may need to avoid these foods indefinitely; however, as your gut and overall health improve, there may come a time when you are able to tolerate these foods. Our founder, Elisabeth Yoatani, is living proof that this list is not is always a life sentence. She is an IC Warrior who overcame her IC and is now able to enjoy citrus fruits regularly and many other foods above without pain and discomfort.
So what CAN I eat?
Many diets focus on what you CAN’T eat, and this leaves you feeling helpless and wondering what you CAN eat. Luckily, the IC diet has a wide variety of foods that are often well tolerated by those with IC. This list includes many fruits, such as apricots, bananas, blueberries, dates, honeydew, watermelon, prunes, pears and raisins. There are also many vegetables that cause very little irritation, such as avocados, asparagus, beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, eggplant, mushrooms, green peas, white potatoes, sweet potatoes, radishes, spinach, squash, turnips, and zucchini. As for grains, oats and rice are often best tolerated, and some with IC can tolerate low-fat milk and mild cheeses. Many herbs and garlic infused olive oil are also well tolerated, as well as popcorn, pretzels, and water (thank goodness water made the list!)
Interestingly, there is a lot of controversy regarding the list of foods that are least bothersome, especially with gluten, dairy, and oxalates. While anecdotally there is a subgroup of those with IC that notice an improvement in their symptoms by following a gluten-free and/or dairy-free diet, there is no conclusive evidence that gluten and dairy necessarily have to be avoided by all. Similarly, the research is inconclusive on whether high oxalate foods (such as nuts, beans, berries or spinach) should be avoided by all. Yes, if you notice your symptoms are worse when you eat certain foods, you should listen to your body. Inflammation is at the heart of IC, and many have found that following an anti-inflammatory diet (along with avoiding their trigger foods) can help to minimize symptoms. Overall, it’s important to remember that eliminating more foods than necessary can negatively affect your immune system, nervous system, and overall nutrition status.
A restrictive diet, like the IC diet, can lead to malnutrition if it’s not planned out properly and monitored closely. To ensure adequate vitamin and mineral intake, it’s essential to substitute poorly tolerated with well-tolerated foods that are rich in the same nutrients. For example, many with IC cannot tolerate citrus (at least initially), so it’s important to incorporate alternative vitamin C rich foods (see bold items above). While a multivitamin can provide the missing nutrients, this shouldn’t be a long term solution, as excessive intakes of one nutrient can prevent the absorption of another and the nutrient is most effective when it’s consumed from its natural source.
How do I know what foods are best for ME?
The most effective way to determine your individual needs is to do an elimination diet. Over the course of a month, the elimination diet will encourage avoidance of any and all foods that could potentially cause symptoms. Strict adherence to the diet is essential, as even a small amount of a bothersome food could cause symptoms within minutes to hours and even have residual effects days later. It’s also very important to remember that symptom improvement can take several weeks – just because you eliminate coffee for a few days and your symptoms are not better does not necessarily mean that coffee is not the culprit. After one month of the “bladder friendly” diet, you can slowly re-introduce one food at a time over three days (but be sure to give yourself a three-day break before re-introducing a new food). Throughout the elimination and challenge phases, it can be very helpful to keep a food and symptom diary in order to more clearly identify your personal trigger foods.
While not all tests are created equal, there is also the option to do a food sensitivity test. One of the most reliable and accurate tests available to date is the MRT test. This test will not only assess your individual tolerance of up to 150 different foods, but it can also test for food additives, preservatives, and other food chemicals. I will soon offer this test which can provide assurance to those who struggle to find answers for their IC symptoms.
Remember – you don’t have to do this diet alone!
Figuring out personal dietary needs on your own can be very overwhelming, and if you may need a little support along the way, I’m here to help! Working together, we can develop an individualized diet and lifestyle plan that is a long term solution to your IC symptoms. This plan will not only help resolve pain related to IC, but it will get you back to a state of vitality and, as Elisabeth says, get your life back!
For more information, check out https://icwellness.org/services/or feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I can’t wait to work with you and get you on the path to true wellness!