IC diet basics: What you need to know to get started If you're grappling with the challenge of determining the right foods to include or exclude from your diet, you're certainly not alone. Navigating the IC diet can be quite a puzzle (in fact, it's quite an intricate puzzle). While research has yielded compilations of foods that tend to cause the least discomfort and those that tend to cause the most discomfort, it's worth noting that the specific dietary triggers can vary from person to person, seemingly without a clear pattern. I'll provide an overview of the fundamental principles of the IC diet to help you kickstart your journey (and provide ongoing support as you progress).
What to avoid While researchers are still learning more about the IC diet, many have concluded that there is a general list of foods that prove to be bothersome for those with interstitial cystitis (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 findings 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 foods. 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 always a life sentence. She is an IC Warrior who overcame her IC and can now 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, leaving you feeling helpless and wondering what you CAN eat. Luckily, the IC diet has a wide variety of foods 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 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. If you notice your symptoms are worse when you eat certain foods, you should listen to your body.
Inflammation is at the heart of interstitial cystitis (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 not planned out properly and monitored closely. To ensure adequate vitamin and mineral intake, it’s essential to substitute poorly-tolerated foods rich in the same nutrients. For example, many with IC cannot tolerate citrus (at least initially), so it’s essential 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 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 a month, the elimination diet will encourage avoidance of any and all foods that could 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 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. The MRT test is one of the most reliable and accurate tests available to date. This test will assess your individual tolerance of up to 150 different foods and test for food additives, preservatives, and other food chemicals. I now 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 overwhelming, and if you need a little support, 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 email@example.com. I can’t wait to work with you and get you on the path to true wellness!