What’s the food to eat when you have ulcers?

Ulcers can be painful and disruptive to daily life. While treatment from a doctor is important, adjusting your diet can also help manage ulcer symptoms and promote healing. Certain foods may aggravate ulcers while others can have a soothing effect. Understanding what to eat and avoid is key to dietary management of ulcers. This article will examine optimal nutritional choices when living with ulcers.

What are ulcers?

Ulcers are open, painful sores that develop on the lining of the esophagus, stomach or small intestine. The main causes are infection with the bacteria H. pylori and long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin and ibuprofen. Stress, smoking and alcohol may also contribute to ulcer formation. Some common symptoms of ulcers include:

  • Burning abdominal pain that feels worse on an empty stomach
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bloating
  • Feeling full after eating only a small amount
  • Burping
  • Unexplained weight loss

Left untreated, ulcers can cause serious complications like bleeding in the digestive tract, perforation of the stomach wall and blockage of the intestine. It’s important to see a doctor for appropriate testing and treatment, which typically involves antibiotics for H. pylori and medications that reduce stomach acid production. Dietary and lifestyle changes can assist medical therapy.

How does food impact ulcers?

Certain foods can worsen ulcer pain and disrupt the healing process. Foods that are likely to cause problems include:

  • Spicy foods – Chili peppers, hot sauce, black pepper and other pungent seasonings may irritate the ulcer.
  • Caffeinated drinks – Coffee, soda, energy drinks and tea can increase stomach acid production, especially when consumed on an empty stomach.
  • Alcohol – Alcohol increases stomach acid and can allow H. pylori to thrive.
  • High-fat foods – Fatty red meats, fried foods, whole milk dairy and butter may delay gastric emptying and boost acidity.
  • Citrus fruits and juices – Oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit and tomatoes are highly acidic.
  • Spices – Black pepper, chili powder, nutmeg, cloves and mustard can be irritating.

On the other hand, some foods may actually help protect and heal the ulcerated tissue. Beneficial options include:

  • Fiber-rich foods – Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes add bulk to stool and may reduce contact between digestive juices and ulcer.
  • Probiotics – Yogurt with live cultures, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi replenish good bacteria to support gut health.
  • Antioxidants – Colourful fruits and vegetables provide antioxidants to counter inflammation and promote healing.
  • Lean protein – Fish, skinless poultry, eggs, tofu and low-fat dairy supply protein to aid tissue regeneration without excess fat.
  • Garlic – Contains compounds that may hinder H. pylori growth and heal damaged tissue.
  • Honey – Has antimicrobial effects and may coat and protect ulcerated areas.

Avoiding foods that exacerbate symptoms and choosing nutritious ulcer-friendly options can significantly improve comfort and speed the healing process.

Best foods to eat with an ulcer

When selecting foods to eat with an ulcer, aim for a mix of soothing, easy-to-digest choices that provide key nutrients without irritation. Some of the top foods to include are:


Plain oatmeal made with water is a great breakfast option when living with ulcers. Oatmeal is high in soluble fiber, which forms a gel-like substance when combined with fluids. This can coat an ulcer and act as a protective barrier against aggravating digestive acids and enzymes. The soluble fiber may also help eliminate H. pylori bacteria. Oats are bland and easy on the stomach. Avoid flavored instant oatmeal, which often contains added sugar and unwanted spices.


The soft, smooth texture of bananas makes them ideal for the ulcer diet. Bananas help maintain the mucus barrier that protects the stomach lining. They contain compounds that may stimulate mucus production and protect against ulcer formation. Bananas are easily digestible and provide potassium, vitamin B6 and magnesium.

Leafy greens

Leafy greens like spinach, kale and romaine lettuce provide important nutrients with a low risk of irritation. These vegetables are excellent sources of vitamin A for healing tissues. They also supply folate to aid cell regeneration and production. The fiber content adds bulk to stool, while the water content keeps stools soft to minimize ulcer aggravation from straining during bowel movements.


Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines are loaded with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. These essential fats may help reduce inflammation associated with ulcers while delivering protein for wound repair. Baked or grilled fish is an easily digested, nutritious choice when recovering from an ulcer. Fried fish products should be avoided due to high fat content.


Boneless, skinless chicken breast is an excellent lean protein source to promote tissue healing. It provides vitamin B3 for healthy digestion and selenium to protect against cell damage. Chicken is lower in fat and easier to break down than red meat, making it less likely to exacerbate ulcer pain. Prepare simply by baking, grilling or boiling.


Eggs offer protein, vitamins and minerals with little risk of stomach irritation. The vitamin A supports tissue repair, while vitamin D aids calcium absorption for wound healing. Eggs are also rich in selenium and zinc to strengthen immune response against H. pylori. Scrambled or poached eggs tend to be well-tolerated.

Low-fat dairy

Milk, cheese and yogurt containing little fat can provide protein, calcium and probiotics while healing an ulcer. Look for Greek yogurt with live cultures to replenish healthy gut bacteria. Calcium-fortified milk and yogurt offer calcium to assist tissue regeneration. The protein in low-fat dairy aids tissue repair without substantial fat content.

Vegetable juice

Drinking vegetable juice made from low-acid choices like carrots and celery may be better tolerated than whole raw vegetables. The liquid form means less work for the compromised digestive tract. Juicing vegetables breaks down fiber, making key nutrients more accessible for the ulcer. Antioxidant-rich vegetable juices can reduce inflammation as well.

Ginger tea

Ginger has natural antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects that may support ulcer healing. Drinking ginger tea can help soothe the upset stomach often associated with ulcers. The liquid passing over the ulcer area may also offer some coating protection. Green tea is another option containing antioxidants without coffee’s acidity.

Olive oil

While fried and fatty foods should be limited, small amounts of olive oil provide healthy fats to aid healing. Olive oil contains oleic acid, which may inhibit H. pylori growth and counter inflammation. Drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil over bland foods like oatmeal, cooked vegetables and fish.


Honey’s antimicrobial, wound-healing properties make it a traditional home remedy for ulcers. It may help fight H. pylori while forming a protective lining over the ulcer area. Manuka honey from New Zealand offers particularly potent antibacterial activity. Stir a spoonful into tea or oatmeal for additional soothing benefits.

Foods to avoid with an ulcer

Certain foods commonly worsen ulcer pain and should be avoided during active flare-ups. Problematic items include:

Spicy foods

Foods seasoned with hot peppers or chili powder can severely irritate an ulcer. The spice capsaicin boosts stomach acid secretion, exacerbating pain. Other pungent spices like black pepper may also be bothersome. Stick to mild herb and seasoning options.

Citrus fruits

The high acid content in citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruit, lemons and limes can seriously irritate an ulcer. Even small amounts of juice may cause discomfort. Tomatoes are also highly acidic and best avoided.

Coffee and tea

Caffeine found in coffee, tea and soda triggers acid production, which can burn the ulcerated tissue. Caffeine on an empty stomach is particularly problematic. Herbal teas without caffeine are a better choice.


Any type of alcohol can aggravate ulcers and delay healing. Alcohol increases stomach acid levels, relaxes the esophageal sphincter and irritates the digestive tract. It may also disrupt treatment for H. pylori infection. Refrain from drinking alcohol during ulcer flare-ups.


Chocolate contains caffeine and obese cocoa butter, both of which may stimulate acid secretion and worsen ulcer pain. Avoid chocolate bars, candies and chocolate-flavored desserts until the ulcer has fully healed.

Processed meats

Bacon, sausage, deli meats, beef jerky and canned meats tend to be high in salt, fat and preservatives that can disrupt ulcer healing. These items also require substantial digestion compared to less processed options.

Butter and margarine

High-fat butter and margarine can lead to feelings of fullness and delayed stomach emptying. This may increase contact between food and the ulcerated area. Limit added fats by avoiding butter spreads, fried foods and high-fat dairy products.

Onions and garlic

Despite their reputed medicinal properties, raw onions and garlic often initially worsen ulcer pain. Their high fiber content and texture can scrape against ulcerated areas. Cooked onions and garlic are generally better tolerated once symptoms improve.


Peppermint may ease other forms of digestive upset, but it tends to exacerbate ulcer symptoms by relaxing the esophageal sphincter muscle. This allows more stomach acid to reach the ulcerated area. Avoid peppermint tea, candy, gum and menthol cigarettes.

Refined grains

Refined grains found in white bread, pasta, cereals and baked goods lack fiber and nutrients. They may promote H. pylori growth while supplying little nutrition to aid healing. Opt for whole grain versions of carbohydrate foods.

Sample menu for the ulcer diet

When following an ulcer diet, aim for small, frequent meals that are rich in nutritious yet soothing foods. Here is a sample daily menu:


  • 1 cup oatmeal cooked with water, 1 tbsp honey, 1⁄2 cup blueberries
  • 1 cup low-fat milk
  • 1 cup banana smoothie (blended with milk, no yogurt)

Mid-morning snack

  • 1 slice whole wheat toast with 2 tbsp mashed avocado


  • Tuna salad sandwich on whole grain bread with lettuce, tomato
  • 1 cup vegetable broth soup
  • 1 cup cooked carrots

Afternoon snack

  • 1 apple, sliced
  • 1 tbsp sunflower seed butter


  • 4 oz grilled salmon
  • 1 cup roasted potatoes
  • 1 cup steamed spinach
  • 1 cup cooked green beans

Evening snack

  • 1 cup chamomile tea
  • 2 gingersnap cookies

Aim to drink at least eight glasses of fluids per day to stay hydrated. Good choices include cool water, herbal tea, diluted fruit juice and low-fat milk. Proper hydration aids digestion.

Tips for managing ulcers through diet

Dietary adjustments can significantly improve ulcer symptoms when combined with medical treatment. Consider these tips:

  • Eat 5-6 small meals rather than 3 large ones
  • Avoid lying down immediately after eating
  • Limit acidic, spicy, fried, fatty and processed foods
  • Choose soothing foods like oatmeal, bananas and lean proteins
  • Reduce alcohol and caffeine consumption
  • Drink liquids between meals rather than with meals
  • Chew foods thoroughly to aid digestion
  • Wait 3-4 hours after eating before exercising
  • Quit smoking to optimize healing
  • Manage stress through relaxation techniques

Keeping a food symptom journal can help identify problem foods. Note any pain, discomfort or symptoms experienced after eating particular foods. Over time, you may notice correlations between certain dietary choices and ulcer symptoms.


Ulcers can make eating painful, but adjusting your diet is an important tool in managing symptoms. Focus on bland, nutrient-rich foods that soothe the inflamed lining of the stomach and intestines. Avoid common irritants like coffee, alcohol, chocolate, citrus and spicy fare. Pay attention to how different foods affect your ulcer symptoms. With the right dietary approach, you can promote healing while minimizing discomfort. Work with your doctor on appropriate treatment and lifestyle changes for managing your ulcer.

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