Determining Your Personal Trigger Foods

Diet modification is the first line of defense for patients struggling with interstitial cystitis or painful bladder syndrome (IC/PBS). Since sensitivity to various foods can vary among individuals, it is important to determine your personal trigger foods.

Start by eliminating the top offenders: citrus, spicy hot foods, MSG, soy, caffeine, coffee, tea, sodas, alcohol, tomatoes, cranberry juice, and chocolate. See how you do without changing anything else. Give it a couple of weeks to see if you improve. Be sure to keep a food and symptom diary to be able to "measure" your success. If you lower your pain from an 8 to a 4, that is a success. Not everyone can get their pain down to zero or their frequency to 4 times a day. If you feel like you need to tweak your diet more, the three-category system that follows is based on emerging research as well as information gathered from patient and clinician experience.

Step-by-Step Through the Food Categories

We may never be able to pinpoint which foods affect which people, and we also must acknowledge that avoiding too many foods can be problematic to a person’s general health. As you experiment with foods, be sure to consume a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of foods from each food group each day.

The classic three category approach to an IC/PBS diet allows for variations in individual responses to foods, while identifying foods that are usually safe for most IC/PBS patients (Bladder Friendly list) and also those foods that are usually a problem (Caution list). The Try It list allows for the individualization of an interstitial cystitis/painful bladder diet, highlighting foods that some people seem to be safe with but others may find problematic.

The good news is that when you start to feel better, the Try It category contains may foods you can try first. Although most people can figure out there personal trigger foods on their own, if you get stuck or have multiple health conditions which have different food sensitivities, a personal consultation with a registered dietitian can be helpful.

Good to Read:

Definitions of Food Categories

Bladder Friendly foods rarely bother even the most sensitive bladders. If you are newly diagnosed, eat these foods until you experience some relief from your symptoms. It may take a few weeks, but do your best to stick with it! (Patients report needing from one to three months to feel some relief.)

Try It foods are often safe to eat, though they might bother more sensitive bladders. If your bladder is improving, these foods are safe to try. Test one food at a time over three days, beginning with a small quantity such as a half piece of fruit or a dash of spice, then trying a larger portion the second day. If you do not react to the food, you can try a whole portion the third day. If you still do not react, you can add it to your personal Bladder Friendly list. If your symptoms flare after consuming a problem food, return to the foods you know to be ok for your bladder until the flare passes.

Caution includes foods which frequently trigger bladder discomfort. Many of these foods have been identified with research. Try these foods only if your bladder is no longer sensitive.

Additional Hints

  • Keep a good food and symptoms diary while you are experimenting with your diet. It can take from minutes to hours for a problem food or beverage to trigger symptoms.
  • Avoid trigger foods when starting new therapies, such as Elmiron®. Problem foods may compromise the effectiveness of those treatments.
  • Don't be afraid to eat. In addition to the many foods that you can enjoy from the Bladder Friendly list, as your symptoms improve, add variety to your diet by testing foods from the Try It list. Some bladder patients, occasionally, may be able to consume small quantities foods from the Caution list.
  • Shop for fresh foods whenever possible. Processed foods often contain ingredients that can be irritating including some preservatives, artificial flavorings, additives and/or artificial vitamins. Organic foods often contain fewer additives and may be useful in an IC diet. Always read labels to look for hidden triggers.
  • Try different brands. Many "brands" of the same food have completely different ingredients and additives and could irritate the bladder.
  • Avoid foods that you know you are allergic to even if they are included in this diet guide. Pre-existing food allergies, such as an allergy to nuts or grains, can also trigger bladder irritation and/or a stronger allergic reaction.