If you have recently received a diagnosis of interstitial cystitis, you may or may not have heard of the interstitial cystitis diet. At the appointment following my cystoscopy, I remember my urologist saying, “You can try following the interstitial cystitis diet, but it doesn’t work for everyone.” The only other option he presented was to try the drug Elmiron, which like the IC diet, I was told, doesn’t work for everyone and has side effects. How’s that for hope!
At the time of my diagnosis I was 20 and let’s just say the list of foods to avoid with interstitial cystitis was too extensive for a university student to follow strictly. Avoiding take out pizza and all canned and packaged items with preservatives was next to impossible at the time. Years later, when I did begin to follow the diet more strictly, I noticed an improvement in my frequency and this gave me hope; however, through a lot of trial and error and formally studying nutrition, I realized that there is more to the optimal IC diet than was being presented.
My approach to the interstitial cystitis diet
Today, as a nutritionist, I believe that most resources out there for the interstitial cystitis diet, while very helpful as a starting point, are missing something and are not very holistic in nature. A holistic approach to the IC diet would also speak to what foods to include for optimal bladder healing and for rebalancing the body. In this post, I will share my top 10 foods to avoid with interstitial cystitis. I’ve written more about the best type of diet for IC, including what foods are most healing in my free course, 4 Weeks to IC Relief.
Top 10 foods to avoid with interstitial cystitis
1) Coffee (regular and decaf)
There are two main reasons why all coffee must be eliminated:
a) Caffeine! Caffeine can stimulate spasms in sensitive nerves and muscles (including those in the bladder). Caffeine stimulates the adrenal glands and the production of cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, which are stress hormones linked to aggravating an IC bladder. Caffeine is also a diuretic, meaning it causes more frequent urination.
Even small amounts of caffeine can trigger a bladder flare, leaving you with excessive urination and pain for hours. It might take some time to ween yourself off of coffee, especially if you are dependent on it to feel awake and productive. Caffeine is addictive. Try to ween yourself off of it slowly to avoid experiencing any extreme withdrawal symptoms.
b) High acid content. Both regular and decaffeinated coffee are acidic and therefore highly irritating to an IC bladder. Eventually, you can experiment with low-acid brands of decaf coffee. But for now, I highly recommend eliminating both.
2) Tea (regular and green tea)
Like coffee, regular tea and green tea contain caffeine and are acidic. They contain a substance called tannic acid, both of which are IC triggers.
Most herbal, non-caffeinated teas should be okay. Chamomile is safe for most people with IC, as is peppermint. Marshmallow root is very soothing for the urinary system and licorice root is supportive to the adrenal glands.
3) Chocolate ☹
This is where you might be trying to run for the hills and make your escape! Unfortunately, chocolate is a very common IC trigger due to the same reasons as coffee and tea – it contains caffeine and is acidic. In addition, most chocolate products will contain a large amount of sugar (pro-inflammatory and feed yeast known as Candida), dairy (a common allergen and pro-inflammatory), as well as preservatives. Lastly, chocolate is high in histamine, which triggers the mast cells usually present on the IC bladder.
You can try small amounts of high quality organic white or dark chocolate, as they will contain fewer preservatives and potentially no dairy.
Carob can replace chocolate in a recipe and you might be able to find pre-made carob products at your local health food store.
4) Carbonated beverages, energy drinks and vitamin waters
Carbonated beverages contain citric acid, preservatives and flavorings, all of which are highly irritating. Diet sodas contain artificial sweeteners like aspartame, also a known IC trigger. Other common ingredients in these types of drinks that can be problematic include caffeine, multivitamins and sugar.
Alcohol is acidic and inflammatory. Just think about how much it increases urinary frequency in people without interstitial cystitis! Red wine, in particular, is high in histamine. Histamine is irritating to mast cells, which are usually found in larger numbers on an IC bladder.
Alcohol is dehydrating and hydration is key to washing away excess toxins and acids from the body. Individuals with IC often have acidic urine, indicating that their acid-alkaline balance is off. An acidic body is often a tired and painful body.
6) Acidic fruit (including fruit juices)
Although most fruits are alkalizing to the body after they have been metabolized, they still contain acids that irritate a wounded IC bladder. Blueberries and pears are your best options for now and definitely avoid citrus fruits at the moment.
TOMATOES are especially nasty and should be strictly avoided. This isn’t an easy task because many popular dishes, especially at restaurants, contain tomatoes. In place of tomato sauce for at home use, you can try making this easy pesto sauce from Everyday Maven. I suggest taking out the red pepper flakes.
7) Spices, seasonings, nitrites and nitrates
Hot peppers, spicy foods, chilli, horseradish, vinegar, MSG and soy sauce should be avoided. Just think about placing any of these substances onto an open wound…ouch!
Opt for organic herbs such as rosemary, oregano, thyme, basil and tarragon. Turmeric is anti-inflammatory and therefore beneficial for IC; however, each case of IC is unique and therefore use caution when testing herbs and spices.
Cinnamon is another spice to be cautious of, but it might be tolerated in smaller amounts. Sea salt should be tolerated, but black pepper is usually an IC trigger due to its high oxalate content.
Nitrites and nitrates are preservatives found mainly in processed meats that trigger IC symptoms. Opt for fresh meat or meat that is specifically labelled “nitrite and nitrate free”
8) Artificial sweeteners
Most people with IC react negatively to sugar substitutes and they are best avoided due to potential side effects and negative health consequences. Avoid any artificial sweetener, including Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal, Sugar Twin), Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low, Sweet and Low, Sweet Twin, Necta Sweet), Sucralose (Splenda), Neotame (chemically related to aspartame) and Acesulfame K.
9) Vitamin C, B6 and multivitamins
Vitamin C, especially in its ascorbic acid form is a bladder irritant, as is Vitamin B6. Multivitamins usually contain these two vitamins. You might be okay with a buffered vitamin C, such as Ester-C. For the most part, it is safer to get your vitamins from fresh fruits and vegetables and other whole food sources.
10) Foods with high allergenic potential
Eliminate gluten, corn, soy, dairy, eggs, nuts, nightshades (tomatoes, bell peppers, potatoes and eggplant), citrus and yeast (baker’s yeast, brewer’s yeast and fermented products like vinegar) for a trial period of 3 months. It is also worthwhile to look into getting a food sensitivity panel done to determine all of the foods you are reacting to. Food allergies are common in IC patients and allergies cause mast cells in the bladder to release histamine, leading to inflammation and pain.
How long do I need to avoid these IC triggers for?
If you are in the beginning stages, with an extremely sensitive and painful bladder, you will probably need to eliminate these common triggers for at least 3 to 6 months.
Be sure to check the labels on any packaged food items to see if they contain any of the IC triggers listed above.
As the bladder begins to calm down and heal, you will have a better idea as to what foods are safe and unsafe for you. In the beginning, you will most likely be flaring from most of the foods and substances I mentioned. When you are symptom-free for a period of time, you can begin to reintroduce foods that you have been avoiding.
The good news is that the IC diet is actually a “cleaner” diet because you must avoid certain foods and substances that are harmful for everyone, such as artificial sweeteners, preservatives and alcohol. These can continue to be avoided for optimal health. Some of the allergenic foods, like gluten, soy, corn, conventional dairy and yeast may be avoided long term as well, as they are not exactly “health foods.”
To give your bladder the best chance to regenerate and heal, you can’t stop at avoiding the top 10 foods. In my course, 4 Weeks to IC relief, I talk delve into exactly how to optimize your diet for IC healing.