What Can I Eat If I Have a Peptic Ulcer?

Safest Foods to Avoid Stomach Irritation While Healing

teen eating with stomach pain
Peter Zelei/E+/Getty Images

Many people who have a peptic ulcer can eat whatever they want with no problems. Though for a long time it had been a widely held belief that spicy foods or a stressful job were what caused peptic ulcers, doctors now know that a bacterial infection or some medications cause most peptic ulcers. Therefore the best type of diet for them is one that is healthy and balanced.

If you, however, experience some symptoms of pain or other irritation when you eat, it may be because some of the foods you are eating are aggravating your ulcer symptoms. This can happen for any or all of the following reasons:

  • Some foods that cause irritation to the digestive system
  • Some foods cause excessive acid production
  • Some foods and eating habits cause unpleasant side effects, such as heartburn.

Your peptic ulcer will need treatment, which commonly includes a combination of two antibiotics and bismuth subslicylate (Pepto-Bismol) to kill the bacteria that cause the ulcer and protect the injured area so it can heal.

How to Eat When You Have a Peptic Ulcer

Keep the following points in mind when planning your diet while your peptic ulcer is being treated and healing. The goal is to avoid heartburn and stomach irritants:

  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Cut down on caffeine.
  • Avoid foods that are spicy.
  • Chocolate, citrus fruits, and tomato-based products can trigger heartburn in some people.
  • Eat a diet rich in fiber, especially from fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoid foods that are fried or high in fat.
  • Eat five to six small meals a day instead of three larger meals. It is important that you avoid overeating. Frequent, smaller meals will be more comfortable and easier on the stomach than two or three large meals a day.
  • Rest and relax a few minutes before and after each meal, as well as remaining relaxed during meals.
  • Eat slowly and chew your food well.
  • Avoid eating within three hours before bedtime.

Foods Less Likely to Cause Irritation to a Peptic Ulcer

These foods are less likely to trigger heartburn and stomach irritation, which can be painful when you are healing a peptic ulcer:

  • Bread and grains: Enjoy whole-grain or enriched breads and grains as long as they are low in fat.
  • Vegetables: Eat any fresh, frozen or canned vegetables except for spicy peppers.
  • Fruit: You can have fresh, frozen, or canned fruits but only have fruit juice if you can tolerate it without heartburn.
  • Milk and dairy products: Lower-fat dairy products including milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese may be well-tolerated.
  • Meat and Protein Foods: Lean meat, fish, eggs, nut butter, soybean products, dry beans, and peas are good choices as long as you avoid fried foods, high-fat cuts, and spicy condiments or sauces.
  • Snacks: Those that are low in fat and less likely to cause irritation include hard candies, gelatin, angel food cake, graham crackers, pretzels, and rice cakes.
  • Condiments: Salt, most herbs, ketchup, and mustard are usually well-tolerated.

Foods That May Irritate Your Stomach or Trigger Heartburn

You may not be affected by these foods, but they are ones that can cause stomach irritation or heartburn in some people.

  • Spicy foods: You will want to skip anything that is "hot" such as chili peppers, horseradish, black pepper, and sauces and condiments that contain them.
  • Caffeine: You should cut back or eliminate coffee, tea, and caffeinated sodas.
  • Alcohol: This will delay healing and you should avoid wine, beer, and spirits.
  • Chocolate: Some people find chocolate to be a heartburn trigger.
  • Breads and grains: Those with high-fat ingredients such as biscuits, croissants, granola, as well as those with seeds or bran may be irritating.
  • Vegetables: Some find raw vegetables, tomatoes, or vegetables prepared with added fat to be heartburn triggers.
  • Fruits: Citrus fruits and their juices may be irritating, as can be berries and figs due to their tiny seeds.
  • Milk and dairy products: Those higher in fat and cream may be irritating, as can be strong-flavored cheeses.
  • Meats: Highly-seasoned meats, lunch meats, sausages, nuts, seeds, and fried or fatty meats and proteins may be irritating.
  • Fats: You may need to avoid gravy, cream soups, and highly-seasoned salad dressings.
  • Snacks: You may need to skip high-fat or fried snacks such as chips, fried potatoes, buttered popcorn, cakes, cookies, pies, and pastries.
View Article Sources
  • Peptic Ulcers (Stomach Ulcers). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/peptic-ulcers-stomach-ulcers.
  • Ulcers. American Academy of Family Physicians. https://familydoctor.org/condition/ulcers/.