The IC Diet is simple, healthy and natural. It’s most challenging for patients who are used to eating fast food, junk food or foods that are premade with preservatives or colorings. I choose to look at the IC Diet as an opportunity to get back to the basics of eating good, healthy food. And why not? There’s no doubt that today’s diet is filled with problematic substances that have contributed to alarming rates of diabetes, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and a shorter life span. When you consider all of the artificial substances (preservatives, flavorings, sweeteners, chemicals, etc.) now found in the vast majority of foods, it’s no wonder that many chronic illnesses are on the rise. The human body can be fragile and the chemical load found in many of todays foods is undoubtedly challenging to many of us. So keep your diet simple and, when possible, organic. Organic foods are less contaminated with pesticides and chemicals which could irritate the bladder.
You can have almost any fresh meat (fish, beef, pork, poultry) that you want but be quite careful with the seasonings and sauces. For breakfast, look for uncured bacon or mild, fresh sausage products. Look for preservative-free deli meats to make your sandwiches for lunch. At dinner, please enjoy eating meat. Want a steak? Go for it but avoid the spicy sauces and rubs (i.e. BBQ, Cajun) that are so popular today. Rather, top it with cooked mushrooms or other IC friendly veggies. Fried chicken and roasted turkey are great entrees. If you love fish, we encourage you to indulge frequently. Filet of sole almondine or grilled salmon are perfect examples of IC friendly entrees.
Most vegetables are IC friendly with the exception of concentrated tomato products (i.e. tomato sauce, soup, etc.) and some soy. How about a veggie omelet with hash brown potatoes for breakfast? Vegetable soups, such as split pea or butternut squash, make a perfect lunch. Baked potatoes, yams, winter squash, parsnips make for filling side dishes in the evening. How about some fresh corn, steamed broccoli, green beans or sauteed zucchini to go with your protein. I encourage you to play with your veggies frequently!
Perhaps the biggest change in the IC diet is how we approach dairy products. Yes, milk and eggs are IC friendly provided, of course, that you don’t have a previous food intolerance or allergy to them. In the past, many cheeses were discouraged but research studies and patient testimonials have now shown that many cheeses are, indeed, bladder friendly. The rule of thumb is fresh and mild! If you want to make a cheese omelette for breakfast, try using a plain fresh mozzarella, cottage cheese, mild cheddar or soft monterey jack first.
Farmers cheese and string cheeses make a great, healthy snack during the day. Parmesan cheese sprinkled on noodles, baked potatoes, popcorn and veggies adds a light and satisfying flavor! Need some comfort food? How about homemade macaroni and cheese using a mild cheddar and/or mozzarella. It’s the aged, heavily spiced cheeses and/or “cheese in a can” that can cause problems for some patients. Check our list for many cheese options and, if you’re unsure, try a small amount first to see if you can tolerate it.
Breads & Grains
It’s ironic that the one staple that mankind has relied on for thousands of years has been perverted in todays “fast food” culture. Buying a fresh loaf of bread at a local bakery is now a luxury in many communities. If you have a bread maker, make your own whenever possible. Filling your home with the scent of fresh baking bread makes everyone happy especially when it comes out of the oven and is served warm with butter! Avoid heavily preserved and/or fortified breads.
Wheat, oat, corn, italian sweet and rice breads are usually bladder friendly provided, of course, that you don’t have an allergy or sensitivity to those grains. Rye, pumpernickel and sourdough breads are in the “try it” column and are worth trying in a small amount first. The Ezekiel brand of breads (found in major supermarkets in the frozen section) are quite popular due to their great flavor, high protein and fiber content. Made from sprouts rather than processed flour, they seem to be easier on the gut than other breads. They do contain a small amount of soy which could bother some patients.
Breakfast cereals are a challenge because many are the epitome of junk food. According to a USA Today article, a one-cup serving of Honey Smacks has more sugar than a Hostess Twinkie. One cup of Cap’n Crunch has more sugar than eating three Chips Ahoy cookies.(1) It’s no wonder that 17% of American children as classified as obese! Thus, your goal is to avoid these junk, marshmallow like cereals in favor of those that are more natural, have less sugar, preservatives and more protein. Oatmeal, Kashi, Granola are reasonable choices. I love the Ezekiel brand of boxed cereals.
Are you accustomed to having a glass of orange juice or half a grapefruit in the morning? Unfortunately, citrus fruits and juices are top irritants for our tender, fragile bladders. You must look for milder, riper and sweeter fruits and juices such as pear, blueberry and apple. In general, the tarter the fruit, the more acid it contains. Thus, tart Granny Smith apples should be avoided in favor of the sweeter Gala or Fuji varities. Some patients tolerate tropical fruits fairly well, such as mango or papaya. Melons (i.e. honeydew, watermelon, cantaloupe) receive more mixed reviews from patients yet many find them perfectly bladder friendly. Again, you’ll need to start slowly and with a small amount of the riskier fruits to make sure that they don’t irritate you.
A note about juicing! Juicing is touted as being a healthy way to get your vitamins but, for the IC patient, it’s generally to be avoided in favor of eating, instead, the actual fruit. The challenge with juicing is that it concentrates acid levels from several pieces of fruit into one glass. Some popular brands throw in extra Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) which is well known to be bladder irritating. For a breakfast juice, look for an organic pear, blueberry or apple juice, diluted 2 to 1 with water. A juice with a tiny amount of citric acid in the ingredient list (the last ingredient in the list) is more tolerable than a juice that uses large amounts as a flavoring.
Most desserts are IC friendly which, for many of us, creates a problem. Patients taking antidepressants often crave sweets which can lead to weight gain. Desserts should be consumed in moderation. You can’t go wrong with vanilla ice cream, sugar or almond cookies, angel food, pound or white cakes. Look for desserts that utilize IC friendly fruits, such as apple pies, tarts, carrot cake, pumpkin pies, pumpkin bread, etc. Homemade desserts are always better than buying premade cakes and pies at the store which often contain massive amounts of sugar, sweeteners and other problem ingredients. If you need to make a quick cake for family, look at the Dr. Oetker’s organic white cake and frosting mixes which are very popular rather than the chemical tasting cake mixes and thick, canned frostings found in so many grocery stores. These are available in the ICN Shop!
Chocolate lovers are out of luck. Those favorite chocolate desserts need to be removed from your diet unless they are made from white chocolate or, in very small amounts, dark chocolate. Carob makes a fine alternative. Carob brownies and cakes are very IC friendly and the carob candies made today (i.e. Honey Essence, Missy J’s Treats) are rich, creamy and taste almost like chocolate but without the bladder irritating effects.
Pasta and pizza lovers often look at the IC diet and cringe out of fear that they won’t be able to eat their favorite foods. Enjoying italian food is all about moderation. For pasta, try pesto, carbonara, alfredo, clam or mushroom sauces, especially when your bladder is more tender. Once your bladder has calmed down, you can try a small amount of marinara sauce on the side as a flavoring, perhaps with some Prelief to help reduce the acid.
Pizza is another family favorite and, for the IC patient, can still be enjoyed. Many pizza parlors offer white or pesto sauces that can be used instead of tomato sauce or you can simply order half the pizza without tomato sauce entirely. I urge you to avoid the heavily processed meats such as pepperoni & linguini in favor of the fresh vegetables, mushrooms or a simple cheese pizza.
While many associate Mexican food with the use of hot chiles, it can be mild and bladder friendly. The key is to avoid the “hot” variations found in salsa, beans, spices and guacamole. Your goal is mild, fresh and healthy. Chicken, fish or beef tacos and tostadas made with tortillas, fresh grilled meats and cheese are wonderful. Burritos made with mild refried beans can be enjoyed though it’s important to note that black beans seem to be more irritating than simple refried beans. Even nachos made with corn chips, refried beans, guacamole, mild cheddar cheese and a small amount of sour cream can be bladder friendly for many IC patients. Salsa should be avoided. We suggest that you swap homemade fresh guacamole instead!
Asian foods are not off limits to IC patients though it may take some work and research to find foods that agree with you. Look for Chinese foods and restaurants that are MSG free and, of course, avoid the strong spicy sauces like Spicy Mongolian Beef. Almond chicken, chicken chow mein, mild beef with broccoli, mushu pork, egg rolls, won ton soup are mild and usually bladder friendly! Be willing to try other variations as well!
Sushi is certainly viable for the IC patient as long as you avoid the strong sauces and spicy horseradish known as wasabi. Soy sauce should be consumed in very small quantities, if at all. While Thai food uses a lot of fresh vegetables, they are also known for using chili for a spicy “heat” in their dishes along with some pickled spices. We suggest that you approach Thai food with caution and ask your local restaurant to make dishes very mild when you do try it.
1. Weise E. Beware the sugar in cereals marketed to kids. USA Today. 12/6/11
- ICN Diet Information Center
- 2012 IC Diet Guide
- ICN Food List App
- Books on the IC Diet – Confident Choices: Customizing the IC Diet, A Taste of the Good Life: A Cookbook for IC and OAB, The Happy Bladder Cookbooks, ICN Diet Guide