You know that pesky feeling... the urgency to get to the ladies’ room, the overwhelming burning sensation when you get there, and then the cloudy, dark, and strange-smelling pee that (barely) trickles out. Urinary tract infections (affectionately called UTIs) are as common as they are annoying. In general, 40 percent of women will develop a UTI in their life, with age and sexual activity upping the risk.
While hygiene, genetics, the use of irritating feminine products, and birth control methods may play a large role, what you eat may help mediate the risk and reduce the symptoms of s UTI. Here’s our list of what to eat and what to avoid to help you manage and naturally treat UTIs.
Foods to Avoid When You Have a UTI
Ugh. I hate this list already. A common stimulant and irritant of the bladder, caffeinated beverages like coffee are probably not your BFFs if you’re battling recurrent UTIs. One study found that women who increased their coffee consumption by two servings a day had a 64-percent higher risk of urinary urgency, while women who drank caffeinated soda also had urgency and urinary tract symptoms. Try swapping your daily joe out slowly for decaf or go cold turkey (you brave soul, you) by choosing herbal tea instead.
Noooooo. Sometimes you just gotta choose between bladder pain and the legitimate pain in your heart associated with swearing off chocolaty treats. Since chocolate, like our other true love, coffee, contains some caffeine, it could irritate your already-sensitive bladder.
The good news: You would need to eat a lot of chocolate in order for its small caffeine contents to have a major effect. But if the UTIs keep coming back, and if chocolate is your usual sweet vice, try swapping it out occasionally for something equally delicious with zero caffeine, like these vegan peanut butter blondies.
A common diuretic, alcohol can create large volumes of urine quickly that may irritate the bladder and weaken your pelvic muscle tone. For days when you feel the UTI coming on, try cutting back on the fun juice and volunteer to be the DD for the night.
If it burns going in, it could burn coming out. While not everyone is sensitive to heat, spicy food can irritate the bladder, worsening an already-unpleasant bathroom experience. Try dialing it back on the hot sauce at your favorite Mexican joint and choose neutral herbs like rosemary and thyme in your food instead of black pepper, cayenne, and red chili pepper flakes.
Diet soda is probably the worst thing you can drink when you’re struggling with a UTI because it has caffeine, bubbles, and artificial sweeteners. Like some of the other ingredients on this list, low or no-calorie sweeteners like aspartame tend to cause bladder pain for some, so it’s best to stick to plain water or tea whenever you can (no surprises there).
Foods to Eat When You Have a UTI
You’ve probably heard about this one. Unfortunately, contrary to popular belief, downing that tart cranberry juice likely won’t cure your UTI, and research on its role in prevention is mixed, at best. Cranberry juice contains a unique set of phytochemicals that may help to prevent infection-causing bacteria from adhering to the urinary tract walls. When tested, however, the results have been conflicting.
One meta-analysis found that cranberry juice and supplements helped reduce the occurrence of UTIs, while a Cochrane review found that it may help reduce the number of UTIs in women who are prone to them.
While it doesn’t seem to work for everyone, it also can’t really hurt—especially if you’re a fan of the stuff. We recommend choosing pure cranberry juice with no sugar added to avoid overdoing it on the refined carbs.
Again, you don’t need a listicle to confirm the importance of getting enough water, but this is probably the most important thing you can consume when you’re dealing with a UTI. Water helps dilute the contents of the bladder and flush out any bacteria, reducing the risk of a UTI.
It’s also the drink of choice because it won’t irritate or exacerbate an existing infection like our list of no-nos above. While every body has different fluid needs, we recommend drinking as soon as you feel the slightest bit thirsty and keeping a full bottle of water nearby at all times.
Trendy for a reason, probiotics aren’t just good for the gut, they may also play an important role in preventing a UTI as well. During a UTI, harmful bacteria like E. Coli inhabit the vagina and displace the healthy bacteria, then the use of antibiotics on top of that can further the decline of good bacteria. In this sense, it makes total sense that upping our intake of probiotics (that is, the beneficial bacterial strains) can help.
Not surprisingly, findings from a 2006 review of the literature suggested that some strains of lactobacilli bacteria helped reduce the risk of recurrent UTIs in women. While a supplement is a more reliable source, it doesn’t hurt to also include a wide range of probiotic-rich foods that list live active cultures on the label, including yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kombucha.