Dealing With a Stomach Ulcer? These 5 Foods Will Actually Help, According to GI Docs

Woman dealing with stomach ulcer pain

Stomach ulcers—also known as peptic ulcers—can be extremely painful. Often, someone with a stomach ulcer feels a burning pain in their stomach, which is located between the breastbone and belly button. This pain can make eating particularly tricky. Someone with a stomach ulcer—or who is prone to getting them—may be worried that whatever they eat will make their symptoms worse.

If you are experiencing stomach ulcers regularly, it’s important to see a gastroenterologist for treatment. But in the meantime, you still have to eat. Keep reading to see which foods can help support healing and which ones you should definitely steer clear of, according to gastroenterologists.

Related: Does Stress Cause Stomach Ulcers?

What Causes Stomach Ulcers?

“A peptic ulcer is a sore or a break in the tissue that lines your stomach or small intestine,” explains Dr. Leah DeCoste, MD, a gastroenterologist with Gastro Health in Acton, Massachusetts. Dr. DeCoste explains that there are two primary causes of stomach ulcers. One is due to high dose or continued use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin. The other cause is due to a bacteria infection called Helicobacter pylori.

Certain people are more at risk of getting ulcers. Dr. Kayane Hanna Hindy, MD, FACG, the Director of the Women’s Digestive Health Center at Gastroenterology Associates of Brooklyn, says that this includes people who smoke, have a diet high in acidic foods and drinks, have a family history of ulcers and who drink alcohol in excess.

How do you know if you have an ulcer? Most of the time you may not! Dr. Hindy says that 70 percent of stomach ulcers are asymptomatic. For those who do experience symptoms, she says that this can include abdominal pain, indigestion and nausea. She adds that another symptom is having black-colored stools and, sometimes, bleeding.

“The main symptom of an ulcer is pain in the upper abdomen that tends to worsen after eating, although in some cases the pain can get better after eating,” Dr. DeCoste says, adding to this. She explains that getting an official diagnosis typically requires getting an endoscopy, saying, “In this procedure, a small tube with a camera is inserted through the mouth to look directly at the stomach and small intestine."

Related: What Does Heartburn Actually Feel Like? GI Docs Explain

5 Foods to Eat if You Have a Stomach Ulcer

Dr. Hindy explains that stomach ulcers are typically treated with changes in diet, lifestyle habits and medication. Below are five foods to eat if you have a stomach ulcer or are prone to getting them.

1. Cruciferous vegetables

Dr. DeCoste says that while no specific diet has been shown to heal stomach ulcers, one scientific study did show that a high-fiber diet can be beneficial for avoiding getting stomach ulcers in the first place. (It should be noted that while a high-fiber diet may help with avoiding stomach ulcers, the study did not prove that it helps with treatment.) For this reason, it can be beneficial to incorporate cruciferous vegetables into your diet such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and leafy greens. 

Scientific research shows that eating between 20 and 30 grams of fiber a day can help prevent stomach ulcers because the fibers act as a buffer helping to reduce the concentration of bile acid in the stomach. Foods high in fiber also aid with the digestive process, which leads to less bloating and pain.

2. Beans and legumes

Curious as to where to get your protein if you’re prone to stomach ulcers? Beans and legumes are great sources of the nutrient to focus on because they’re also high in fiber, which as previously stated, can help prevent stomach ulcers. Beans and legumes also contain flavonoids, which help lower inflammation and support healing from stomach ulcers.

3. Yogurt

Scientific research shows that probiotic foods, such as yogurt, can help with stomach ulcer healing, particularly ulcers caused by a Helicobacter pylori bacterial infection. The “good bacteria” in probiotic-rich foods help restore balance in the gut, which supports healing.

4. Fish

Scientific research shows that foods high in vitamin A can help support stomach ulcer healing. One particularly good source of vitamin A is fatty fish, such as mackerel, herring and salmon. Other good sources of vitamin A include eggs, sweet potatoes and mango.

5. Red bell peppers

When healing from a stomach ulcer, it’s also important to get enough vitamin C and zinc. One powerhouse source of both nutrients is red bell peppers, which have more than 100 percent of the daily recommended vitamin C per day. 

Related: Eat Your Way to a Healthier Gut—Here's What You Need to Know About Gut Health and Diet

4 Foods and Drinks to Avoid if You Have a Stomach Ulcer

Just like certain foods can help prevent and support healing from stomach ulcers, some foods can exacerbate symptoms, or make stomach ulcers more likely. Below are four foods and drinks to avoid if you have a stomach ulcer or are prone to getting them, according to the gastroenterologists.

1. Alcohol

Both Dr. DeCoste and Dr. Hindy emphasize that consuming alcohol can make stomach ulcer symptoms worse. “Avoiding alcohol is very important and can help the ulcers heal more quickly,” Dr. DeCoste says.

2. Coffee

Another no-go according to both doctors is coffee—and anything else high in caffeine for that matter. Coffee can increase acid production in the stomach, which can irritate the stomach lining and make ulcer symptoms worse.

3. Spicy food

If you have a stomach ulcer, both Dr. Hindy and Dr. DeCoste say it’s a good idea to avoid eating spicy foods. Dr. DeCoste explains that while spicy foods don’t directly damage the stomach, they often can make symptoms worse.

4. Fried foods

Foods like French fries, onion rings, battered seafood and fried tofu can all increase stomach ulcer symptoms, according to both doctors. A diet high in fried foods can also increase the risk of experiencing stomach ulcers in the first place because these types of foods contribute to inflammation in the gut. 

While knowing what foods can support healing from a stomach ulcer—as well as knowing what foods and drinks to avoid— is important, Dr. DeCoste emphasizes that, ultimately, stomach ulcer treatment requires medication and is needed for preventing any further complications, such as rupture or bleeding. Because of this, it’s important to see a gastroenterologist if you believe you have an ulcer. The good news is that, with proper medical care, healing is possible.

Next up, here's what the term "gut health" means and why it matters.