Interstitial Cystitis Diet: What to Eat and Avoid for Pain Relief
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Interstitial cystitis (IC) — also known as bladder pain syndrome (BPS) — is an inflammatory condition that affects the bladder.
Although current treatment options remain limited, you may experience some relief by avoiding certain foods.
This article explains which foods to eat and avoid with IC and provides a sample IC diet menu.
What is interstitial cystitis?
IC is a chronic inflammatory condition that affects the bladder.
The cause of IC is not well understood, but multiple factors are thought to play a role.
These factors include (1):
- a dysfunction in the cells that line the bladder
- a dysfunction in mast cells, a type of white blood cell
- a problem with the nerves that control the bladder
Symptoms of IC include (1):
- painful urination
- frequent urination at night
- loss of bladder control
- blood in urine
- pain during sex
These symptoms can be burdensome and lead to a poor quality of life if inadequately treated.
For most people with IC, no single treatment has been shown to effectively and reliably relieve symptoms.
But there are many treatments — including diet changes — for IC, albeit with variable results.
IC elimination diet
The best diet treatment for IC is an elimination diet.
An elimination diet for IC involves removing foods or ingredients from your diet that may be contributing to bladder irritation.
The eliminated foods are later reintroduced one at a time so you can identify which foods are contributing to your symptoms.
You can then eliminate those foods from your diet to prevent IC symptoms in the future.
The foods or ingredients most commonly reported to cause IC symptoms include (2, 3, 4, 5):
- Fruits: cranberries, grapefruits, green apples, kiwis, lemons, limes, mandarin oranges, nectarines, pineapples, pomegranates, starfruit, strawberries, tangelos, tangerines, tomatoes, olives
- Vegetables: banana peppers, chili peppers, pickles, red peppers, onions
- Processed meats: bologna, corned beef, salami, pastrami, prosciutto, spam, hot dogs, pepperoni, sausages, smoked fish, anchovies, sardines, caviar
- Cheese: blue and aged cheeses
- Sweets: cakes, flavored milks, strawberry ice cream
- Spices: allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, ginger, mace, nutmeg, pepper, saffron, turmeric, etc.
- Artificial sweeteners: aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame K, saccharin
- Juice: cranberry, orange, pineapple, prune, and tomato juice
- Caffeine: coffee, chocolate, energy drinks, tea, and soda
- Alcohol: beer, gin, vodka, wine, whiskey, etc.
One study suggested that coffee was the most common trigger for IC symptoms.
However, less frequent coffee drinkers are more likely to experience symptoms compared with frequent coffee drinkers (4).
Foods that tend to be the least bothersome include (5):
- Fruits: apricots, bananas, blueberries, melons, pears, raisins
- Vegetables: avocados, asparagus, beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, mushrooms, peas, potatoes, radishes, spinach, zucchini
- Grains: oats, rice, pretzels, popcorn
- Proteins: beef, eggs, fresh fish, lamb, nuts, peanut butter, pork, poultry
- Dairy: milk and mild cheeses
However, foods rich in oxalates such as spinach, nuts, and wheat products may trigger IC symptoms in some people.
How to follow an IC elimination diet
An IC elimination diet involves two phases — elimination and reintroduction.
The elimination phase involves eliminating all foods and ingredients that are thought to contribute to bladder irritation, provoking painful and uncomfortable IC symptoms.
This includes all the foods and ingredients listed earlier.
Eliminate these foods for 2–6 weeks, during which, you can determine whether your symptoms resolve or improve.
In the reintroduction phase, you slowly add the foods back that you eliminated.
Reintroduce each food one at a time slowly over 2–3 days while you monitor for symptoms.
If you experience no symptoms after reintroducing a food or ingredient, you can assume that food is not a trigger for your IC symptoms and reintroduce the next food.
Generally, you will know whether a specific food or ingredient triggers your symptoms within minutes to 2–4 hours (5).
Keep a journal so you can document which foods you eliminated and whether you experienced any symptoms after reintroducing them into your diet.
Sample IC diet menu plan
Here’s a one-day sample IC diet menu plan that resembles the elimination phase:
- Breakfast: scrambled eggs with sauteed spinach and oatmeal
- Snack: banana with peanut butter
- Lunch: grilled chicken breast, white rice, and broccoli
- Snack: almonds and blueberries
- Dinner: baked salmon, roasted potatoes, and asparagus
For the reintroduction phase, add back the foods and ingredients one at a time that you eliminated like citrus fruits, processed meats, caffeine, and spicy foods.
Supplements for IC
Although few supplements have been shown to offer symptom relief, calcium glycerophosphate has been shown to improve symptoms when taken before eating a trigger food.
One study found a significant decrease in IC symptoms in more than 40% of participants who consumed two tablets of calcium glycerophosphate for four weeks before consuming trigger foods like coffee, acidic fruits and juices, spicy foods, and tomato-based products (6).
The researchers of the study also noted a 20–30% reduction in IC symptoms related to consuming chocolate and carbonated and alcoholic beverages.
It’s unclear exactly how calcium glycerophosphate works, but researchers believe it may reduce a protein marker in urine that’s associated with IC and bladder cancer (7).
You can find calcium glycerophosphate online.
The bottom line
Following an elimination diet with IC can help you identify which foods may be contributing to bladder irritation and triggering your symptoms.
Foods and drinks containing caffeine, acidic foods like citrus fruits, artificial sweeteners, carbonated and alcoholic beverages, as well as spicy foods tend to be the most common triggers for IC symptoms.
Taking calcium glycerophosphate before a meal containing these trigger foods may reduce IC symptom severity.