Foods to Eat and Avoid With a Peptic Ulcer

How you eat is as important as what you eat

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Peptic ulcers are painful, open sores that develop in the lining of the digestive tract. Those that develop in the stomach are called gastric ulcers. Ulcers that occur in the upper portion of the small intestine are referred to as duodenal ulcers.

Since the sores are located in the digestive tract, it's not surprising that certain foods and drinks can irritate them. One of the best ways to manage peptic ulcers is by steering clear of foods and beverages that are known to aggravate them.

Here's a quick overview of the causes and symptoms of peptic ulcers, plus a list of foods to eat and avoid if you have them.

Eating tips to reduce peptic ulcer symptoms

Verywell / JR Bee

Symptoms and Causes

Contrary to long-standing myths, neither spicy foods nor excessive stress plays a role in developing ulcers. However, both of these can make the symptoms of peptic ulcers worse. Symptoms include:

  • Stomach pain
  • Bloating
  • Belching
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea
  • Fatty food intolerance

Bacteria

Bacteria cause most peptic ulcers. Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is the most common bacterium that takes up residence in the stomach. It's estimated that half the population of the word are infected with the bacteria, though most don't get ulcers because of it.

These bacteria can damage the tissues lining the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Then when acidic digestive juices come into contact with the damaged lining, it can lead to further damage and inflammation.

Aspirin and NSAIDs

Another cause of peptic ulcers is the long-term use of aspirin and certain other painkillers—specifically non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These include medications like Advil and Motrin (ibuprofen) and Aleve and Anaprox (naproxen).

Other Causes

There's some indication that certain people may be genetically predisposed to developing peptic ulcers. Smoking also may play a role in the development of ulcers.

Dietary Goals

Certain foods can cause the stomach to produce acids that bring on the classic burning pain of peptic ulcers. So avoiding those foods is key to preventing flare-ups.

In addition, having an empty stomach can worsen the pain. So choosing foods that help to buffer stomach acid can be a helpful strategy for managing ulcers. Medications that reduce stomach acid also can help.

How you eat also might also play a role. In fact, eating habits can significantly reduce the severity and impact of a peptic ulcer.

Eating Tips

  • Eat five or six small meals a day rather than three large ones.
  • Sit upright in a chair while eating.
  • Avoid slouching on the sofa, lying in bed, or eating on the run.
  • Rest and relax a few minutes before and after each meal.
  • Eat slowly and chew each bite thoroughly.
  • Have your last meal or snack at least three hours before bedtime.

Foods to Eat

Certain foods are easier on the stomach when you have a peptic ulcer. They include foods that are lower in fat, acidity, and spiciness, including:

  • Vegetables and fruits: Most fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables and fruits
  • Milk and dairy: Low-fat and non-fat yogurt and cottage cheese, and plain, mild cheese with fewer than 5 grams of fat per ounce
  • Whole and seedless grains: Bagels, tortillas, English muffins, pita bread, buns, dinner rolls, low-fat crackers, cereals, barley, rice, and pasta
  • Low-fat foods: French toast, muffins, pancakes, waffles, pretzels, and rice cakes made with low-fat ingredients
  • Lean meats: Beef, pork, lamb, veal, skinless poultry, crisp bacon, lean ham, fresh or frozen fish, or canned fish packed in water
  • Eggs
  • Peanut butter: Smooth peanut butter and other nut butters
  • Tofu: And other meat substitutes
  • Beans and peas: Cooked without fat
  • Soups: And mildly seasoned meat stock
  • Fats: Non-fat or low-fat mayonnaise and salad dressings and light or low-fat margarine (used sparingly)
  • Sweets: Sugar, syrup, honey, jelly, seedless jam, marshmallows, hard candy, sherbet, fruit ices, gelatin, angel food cake, graham crackers
  • Mild spices and seasonings: Salt, pepper, most herbs, ketchup, mustard, and vinegar (in moderation)
  • All beverages: As tolerated

Foods to Avoid

On the flip side, to avoid symptoms of a peptic ulcer, there are some foods you may want to avoid. Lower your fat intake and avoid foods that can trigger stomach acid and irritate open sores. These include:

  • Fried foods: French fries, fried chicken
  • Spicy foods: Jalapeños, cayenne
  • Coffee: Including decaf, tea, and cola
  • Carbonated beverages: Sodas, sparkling water
  • Citrus fruits and juices: Pineapples, berries, figs
  • Chocolate: Candy bars, chocolate-covered nuts
  • Alcohol: Wine, beer, liquor
  • High-fat carbs: Croissants, biscuits, muffins, granola and bran cereals, bread that contain nuts or seeds, wild rice, and crackers
  • Raw vegetables: Corn, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, onions, cauliflower, cucumbers, green peppers, rutabagas, turnips, sauerkraut, tomatoes, and vegetables prepared with added fat
  • Tomato-based products: Soups and sauces
  • Whole milk: Chocolate milk, buttermilk made with whole milk, evaporated whole milk, cream, and strong cheeses
  • Highly seasoned meats: Poultry, fish, corned beef, luncheon meats, frankfurters, other sausages, sardines, and anchovies
  • Fatty meats: Dark poultry, fatty cuts of beef and pork
  • Dried beans: And peas cooked with fat
  • Chunky peanut butter: And other chunky nut butters
  • Nuts and seeds: Cashews, walnuts, almonds, etc.
  • Gravy: Made from fatty meats
  • Cream soup: Made with milk bases
  • Salad dressings: Especially those that are highly seasoned
  • High-fat snacks: Chips and buttered popcorn
  • Desserts: Cake, cookies, pie, pastries, doughnuts, chocolate, creamy candies, and any sweets and desserts containing nuts, coconut, or fruit
  • Seasonings and condiments: Strongly flavored, such as garlic oil, barbecue sauce, chili sauce, chili pepper, chili powder, horseradish, and black pepper
  • Pickles: And pickled vegetables

More Prevention Tips

In addition to avoiding certain foods, make an effort to stop smoking. Finally, until your ulcer is fully healed, avoid taking NSAIDs; try Tylenol (acetaminophen) for pain instead.

Summary

Peptic ulcers are painful sores that develop in the digestive tract. Bacteria most commonly cause them. But they may also develop as a result of some medications, smoking, or genetic predisposition.

If you have a peptic ulcer, certain foods may aggravate it. For example, you may want to limit or avoid spicy foods, fried foods, alcohol, and high-fat foods. Eating frequent, small meals and chewing your food thoroughly can also help.

Was this page helpful?
2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Parikh NS, Ahlawat R. Helicobacter pylori. StatPearls. Updated August 10, 2020.

  2. Vomero ND, Colpo E. Nutritional care in peptic ulcerArq Bras Cir Dig. 2014;27(4):298-302. doi:10.1590/S0102-67202014000400017016

Additional Reading