Your diet plays an important role in your health, including preventing disease, illness, and infections.
Urinary tract infections (UTI) cause over 8 million visits to a healthcare provider’s office annually.
About 10 in 25 women and 3 in 25 men will experience a UTI in their lifetime.
If you’ve had a UTI, you know how uncomfortable they can be.
If you haven’t had one yet, you probably want to keep it that way.
How can your diet influence your UTI risk? We’ll cover that and more in this article.
Keep reading to learn which foods you should avoid, and what foods to include in a UTI diet.
What is a UTI?
A urinary tract infection (UTI) occurs when bacteria enter your urethra (a tube that carries urine from your bladder out of your body) and cause an infection in your urinary tract. Bacteria cause most UTIs, but rarely they can result from a fungus. UTIs are also called bladder infections.
UTIs can impact both men and women but are more prevalent in women. About 50% of women are likely to have a UTI at some point in their lifetime. One of the main reasons women are more likely to get a UTI is because their urethra is shorter than a man’s, which means bacteria don’t have to travel as far to reach the bladder and urinary tract system.
Urinary tract infections are especially problematic during pregnancy and can lead to preterm delivery. They are also more common in menopausal women because a drop in estrogen can trigger UTIs.
If a UTI goes untreated, it can spread to your kidneys and cause a kidney infection, which is why UTI prevention and prompt treatment are so important.
Some of the symptoms of a UTI include:
- Frequent urination
- Burning or pain when passing urine
- Urine that looks dark, cloudy, or reddish (blood may be present in the urine)
- Foul-smelling urine
- Pain when not urinating
- Pain in your back or side below your ribs
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Only a small amount of urine despite a strong urge to urinate
- In women, pressure above the pubic bone
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Can your diet prevent or treat a UTI?
Like many health conditions, your diet can greatly affect UTI prevention and treatment. While you might not be able to completely prevent a UTI through diet alone, you shouldn’t overlook the importance of your diet when it comes to UTI risk.
Certain foods can irritate your bladder lining, which can worsen the uncomfortable symptoms of a UTI. Other foods may help prevent UTIs by fighting off bacteria that cause infections.
Some UTIs can be treated at home (resting, drinking plenty of fluids, eating a healthy diet, etc.), but some will require antibiotics. If you’re still experiencing symptoms of a UTI after several days, you should seek medical attention to see if you need antibiotics.
Untreated UTIs can lead to kidney infections and more serious issues, so it’s important not to delay medical treatment if necessary.
Foods to avoid with a UTI
1) Acidic foods
While some acidic foods may help prevent UTIs due to their vitamin C content, you might want to avoid them if you have an active UTI. Acidic foods can irritate the lining of your bladder, especially if it’s already irritated from an active infection.
Some examples of acidic foods include:
- Citrus fruits
2) Spicy foods
Like acidic foods, eating spicy foods may irritate your bladder lining and intensify discomfort. Avoid eating spicy peppers like jalapenos, as well as black and cayenne pepper.
Eating spicy foods is fine if you’re not currently experiencing a UTI. Spicy foods may help with weight loss, combat inflammation, and improve your longevity, so there’s no need to be afraid of them outside of an active urinary tract infection.
Caffeine is a diuretic, which means it makes you urinate more. You should avoid caffeine during a UTI because it might increase the prevalence of symptoms such as burning during urination.
Caffeine may also worsen dehydration, which can exacerbate symptoms like burning while urinating.
4) Sugary foods and drinks
While sugar doesn’t necessarily cause urinary tract infections, it can feed the bacteria that are present during an active infection. While there isn’t significant research on the topic, it’s never a bad idea to cut back on added sugar.
If you have an active UTI, avoid drinking sugary drinks and foods with added sugar like cookies and desserts and processed foods with added sugar.
Drinking alcohol doesn’t increase your risk of a UTI, but it can further irritate your bladder during an active infection. Similar to caffeine, alcohol causes you to urinate more, which may increase the intensity and frequency of UTI symptoms.
Foods to eat that are good for UTI treatment and prevention
1) Fresh berry juices & fruit juice
According to a study, consuming fresh berry and fruit juices is correlated with a reduced incidence of urinary tract infections (1). This is one of the reasons cranberry juice is often touted as a good prevention for UTIs. Cranberry juice isn’t proven to be an effective treatment for UTIs, though (2).
Drinking large quantities of juice from acidic fruits like oranges and grapefruit might irritate your bladder during a UTI, so you should be mindful of this if you’re predisposed to UTIs.
2) Foods and drinks rich in probiotics
Probiotics help feed the beneficial bacteria in your body. Having a good army of beneficial bacteria can help your body fight off bad bacteria, like the kind that causes UTIs.
While there isn’t a robust amount of research confirming their efficacy, a study suggests that probiotics can be beneficial for preventing recurring UTIs (3).
Fermented foods are an excellent source of probiotics. Try including probiotic-rich foods like:
- Sourdough bread
- Foods with added probiotics
- Certain cheeses like Swiss, provolone, Gouda, cheddar, Edam, Gruyère, and cottage cheese
You might also consider taking a probiotic supplement to help prevent UTIs. Probiotics of the lactobacillus type are the most recommended for UTI prevention.
3) Vitamin C-rich foods
Vitamin C may help limit the growth of bacteria in your urinary tract system. There is some scientific evidence that ascorbic acid (vitamin C) can help prevent UTIs (4).
Some foods naturally rich in vitamin C (as well as antioxidants that help reduce inflammation) include:
- Citrus (oranges, kiwi, lemon, grapefruit)
- Bell peppers
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower)
- White potatoes
While there isn’t extensive research on the topic of garlic and UTIs, it certainly doesn’t hurt to include garlic in a diet to help prevent UTIs. Garlic possesses antibacterial properties, which may help fight off bacteria that cause UTIs (5).
5) Potassium-rich foods
Having low levels of potassium can cause recurrent UTIs. Hypokalemia (low levels of potassium) is associated with urinary tract infections, according to a study (6).
Potassium-rich foods to include in your diet include:
- Dried fruits (raisins, apricots)
- Beans & lentils
- Winter squash (acorn, butternut)
- Spinach, broccoli
- Beet greens
- Oranges, orange juice
- Coconut water
- Dairy and plant-based milk
- Cashews & almonds
- Drink plenty of fluids. Staying hydrated helps flush bacteria out of your urinary tract. Dehydration is linked with a higher risk of UTIs, so drink enough fluids so that your urine isn’t dark in color or strong in odor.
- For women, wipe front to back. One of the most common sources of bacteria that cause a UTI comes from the rectum, which is why you should never wipe from back to front when using the restroom.
- (Women) Avoid using products like douches, scented sprays, and powders near your genital area. These products may alter the normal pH of your vaginal flora and might predispose you to a UTI.
- (Women) Urinate after sex. Many women get UTIs after sex when bacteria are introduced into the urethra. Try to urinate after sexual activity to help flush out bacteria and reduce the risk of getting a UTI.
For an active UTI, avoid acidic and spicy foods and added sugars, caffeine, and alcohol. To help prevent UTIs, some things that might help when it comes to your diet include drinking berry juices, eating probiotics, getting enough vitamin C, and staying hydrated.