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What to eat — and avoid — if you have a stomach ulcer
Stomach ulcers, or peptic ulcers, can make mealtime painful. But there are plenty of foods that are gentle on your stomach and can even help heal your ulcer.
Sitting down for a delicious meal is one of life’s simple pleasures. But if you’re dealing with a peptic ulcer, or stomach ulcer, eating can turn into a painful experience.
“A stomach ulcer is almost like an open wound or open sore that has developed in the lining of the stomach,” says Roxana Ehsani, RDN. She’s a registered dietitian nutritionist in Miami.
Most stomach ulcers are caused by 2 main factors. The first is a bacterial infection. The second is long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil®) and naproxen (Aleve®).
Stress can’t cause a stomach ulcer, according to the Cleveland Clinic. But it can worsen your symptoms. Your body’s natural reaction to stress is to produce more irritating stomach acid.
Diet plays a huge role in managing stomach ulcers. But your doctor might also prescribe medication to help reduce stomach acid production. Show your pharmacist the free Optum Perks prescription discount card to make sure you’re getting the best deal on your medications.
What to eat when you have a stomach ulcer
Imagine you had an open wound on your hand and you spilled lemon juice on it. It would hurt, right? Stomach ulcers work in a similar way, Ehsani explains.
“When you eat or drink certain foods, it can either help or hurt that open wound,” she says. “It’s important to treat it carefully and feed yourself food and beverages that will help heal the ulcer.”
Antioxidant-rich foods such as fruits and veggies should be a main staple in your diet when trying to heal a stomach ulcer. These foods can even help prevent another ulcer from developing. Focus on getting a different color of the rainbow on your plate with every meal.
And when you do eat, try to keep your meals small.
“Smaller meals will produce less acid, therefore less burning sensation,” says Jonathan Valdez, RDN. He’s a registered dietitian nutritionist and owner of Genki Nutrition. “Skipping meals and overeating can be problematic for ulcers,” says Valdez.
Here are some of the best foods to eat if you have a stomach ulcer:
Kefir is a fermented yogurt beverage — you can drink it on its own or use it in smoothies instead of milk. “It can help support and rebalance your gut microbiome and even help support your immune system,” Ehsani says.
A study in Frontiers of Microbiology suggests that eating fermented foods such as kefir may even help prevent gastric diseases from forming in the first place. And that includes ulcers.
#2: High-fiber foods
“Apples, oatmeal and pears are good examples that can help ulcers heal,” Valdez says. “The fiber helps prevent bloating and lowers the amount of acid that’s released into the stomach.”
Even after your stomach ulcer heals, you should strive to eat more fiber. That’s because fiber helps improve your gut health and could even decrease your odds of getting heart disease, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Here are 10 more high-fiber foods you should eat every week.
#3: Cruciferous veggies
Eating leafy greens is great for your overall health. So it’s no surprise that it can also help heal stomach ulcers.
“Eating more cruciferous veggies, such as broccoli and cauliflower, may help reduce stomach ulcers from developing,” Ehsani says. “These veggies are rich in antioxidants that inhibit stomach ulcers from forming.”
If eating more veggies intimidates you, we get it. These 7 easy kitchen tips will help make vegetables taste better.
The good news? Cruciferous veggies come in many forms, so you’re bound to enjoy at least 1 of them:
- Bok choy
- Brussels sprouts
- Collard greens
Berries such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and blackberries are rich in antioxidants. This can help reduce infections from developing, Ehsani says.
“They’re also rich in dietary fiber, which helps to support and balance out a healthy gut microbiome,” she says. “And it helps reduce the amount of acid that develops in your digestive tract, too. Too much acid in your stomach may aggravate your symptoms and cause more pain.”
#5: Red and orange fruits and veggies
“Red and orange fruits and veggies are rich in vitamin A,” Ehsani says. “Some studies have found that foods rich in vitamin C can help shrink stomach ulcers and may work toward preventing them.”
Try foods such as:
- Sweet potatoes
- Butternut squash
- Red and orange bell peppers
Recommended reading: Do you have an ulcer or GERD? Here’s how to tell the difference.
#6: Anti-inflammatory spices and herbs
Spices such as turmeric and ginger are not only rich in flavor. They’re also full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, Ehsani says. That makes them gentle on your stomach.
“Ginger can also settle down an upset stomach or reduce nausea, which may also help a person with a stomach ulcer,” Ehsani says.
What foods to avoid with a stomach ulcer
Eating certain foods when you have an ulcer can seriously hurt. They may also prevent healing, too. Here are some foods to avoid if you have a stomach ulcer:
#1: Spicy foods
Do you live by the mantra that the hotter the food is, the better? Well, you may want to turn down the heat until your ulcer heals.
Spicy foods such as hot sauces and chili pepper-based dishes could cause discomfort, bloating and pain for a person with a stomach ulcer, Ehsani says.
#2: Caffeinated drinks
A morning cup of tea or coffee might help you feel ready to face the day. But it’s not good for your stomach ulcer.
“Caffeine beverages increase acid production in your gut and may make your stomach pain much worse,” Ehsani says. This includes soda.
Cutting back on caffeine could reduce your stress levels, too. Less stress means your body will produce less stomach acid that could irritate your ulcer.
#3: Decaffeinated coffee
Caffeine isn’t the only coffee component that could hurt your stomach ulcer.
“Coffee is acidic and also stimulates the release of acid into the stomach,” Valdez says. “More acid equals more irritation for the ulcer.”
Ideally, you should skip coffee altogether until you’re fully healed.
#4: Citrus fruits
Lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruits are very acidic. This means eating them could irritate your stomach ulcer. Tomatoes are off limits during this time, too.
“Tomatoes and tomato sauces, like marinara or salsa, are quite acidic as well and could do more harm than good,” Ehsani says.
“Your nightly glass of wine or beer should also be avoided until your stomach ulcer has fully healed,” Ehansi says. “Any form of alcohol [beer, wine, liquor] increases acid production in your gut, promotes inflammation in the body and may even further damage your stomach lining.”
If diet changes aren’t enough, prescription-strength antacids could help relieve your symptoms. Print out this free prescription discount card and bring it with you to your pharmacy to save up to 80% on medications.
Peptic ulcer overview: Mayo Clinic
Study on benefits of fermented foods on stomach ulcers: Frontiers in Microbiology (2016). “Fermented Foods: Are They Tasty Medicines for Helicobacter pylori Associated Peptic Ulcer and Gastric Cancer?”
Fiber and health overview: American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Study on how vitamin C affects stomach ulcers: Frontiers in Physiology (2018.) “Vitamin C and Helicobacter pylori Infection: Current Knowledge and Future Prospects.”