OAB – Diet Modification

How Can Diet Affect Overactive Bladder Symptoms?

Even though there is no official diet prescription, food and drink can make a big difference in overactive bladder  (OAB) symptoms. What you consume, and how much you consume, can make the situation better — or much worse. Each OAB sufferer’s situation is unique, but some foods do seem to cause more problems than others.  Discovering your own personal “triggers” can help you plan for your best food and beverage intake.


OAB: What To Drink

First of all, make water your preferred beverage. Added ingredients in sodas and energy drinks, as well as the caffeine in coffee, tea and cola, may aggravate an already overactive bladder.  It might be wise also to avoid certain other beverages such as pineapple, tomato or cranberry juice and carbonated drinks. Those items are known to irritate the bladder for a significant number of adults. Better substitute choices would be pure water and noncitrus juices.

OAB: When To Drink it

Here are six tips for managing your fluid intake:

  • Spread out fluid intake throughout the day only sipping water between meals.
  • Unless you are exercising, don’t carry a large water bottle with you.
  • Fill your cup or glass half-way, or use a smaller cup instead.
  • Sip; don’t gulp.
  • If you’re drinking enough water, your urine should be light yellow or almost colorless.
  • Remember that you also get fluids in other foods such as fruits, vegetables and soups.
Drastically reducing your fluid intake might seem like a good way to control the urge to urinate. But drinking too little can result in more highly concentrated urine. That situation may then irritate the bladder and can thus increase the risk of a urinary tract infection.
Timing can also be crucial to coordinate fluid intake and a good night’s sleep. As part of lifestyle modifications, a schedule that limits late night drinking may be helpful.


Specific Trigger Foods

Since sensitivity to foods can vary among individuals, it is important to determine your own personal trigger foods. Once you have identified them, you can then limit your intake of whichever specific foods prompt excessive bladder activity for you. It may be helpful at first for you to keep a good food-and-symptoms diary to help pinpoint any “Bad Actors.” Depending on the food, it can take from a few minutes to several hours for symptoms to appear.

As your symptoms improve, add variety to your diet by testing out new foods, one at a time. Include fresh foods whenever possible. Processed foods are more likely to contain ingredients that can be irritating. Such substances include preservatives, artificial flavorings, additives and synthetic vitamins. Organic foods often contain fewer additives. Always read labels to detect the presence of hidden triggers. Try different brands of the same food. Various producers might include completely different ingredients or additives that could irritate the bladder.

Avoid foods that you know you are allergic to even if you otherwise find them listed on a “safe” list for OAB sufferers. Pre-existing food allergies might also trigger bladder irritation and/or a stronger allergic reaction. Examples include sensitivity to certain nuts, eggs, grains and shellfish.

General Categories for Caution

Some foods or categories of food are known to cause problems for many OAB sufferers. Although there may be variability among individuals, these items seem to cause disproportionate consequences. Eliminating or limiting their intake often can improve OAB symptoms.

For example, avoiding  prunes, citrus and pineapple- or tomato-based foods may be advisable. Those items are known to irritate the bladder for a significant number of adults. Better choices could be noncitrus fruits such as peaches, blueberries, melons, pears and coconut. Instead of onions, try substituting shallots. Cooking with extracts and mild herbs instead of pungent spices and fiery condiments might also help to manage OAB symptoms.  Avoid hot pepper sauce, vinegar, wasabi, MSG, mustard, mayonnaise and soy sauce. Substituting imitation sour cream and processed, non-aged cheese for creamy, rich sour cream and sharp/zesty, aged cheese can minimize symptoms.

It  is advisable, too, to limit the total intake of processed foods. Read package labels carefully to discover artificial flavors and hidden preservatives or additives. Go “fresh and all-natural” whenever possible to optimize the nutrients, vitamins and minerals in food as well.

You can visit online sites to find detailed food lists that group together “generally safe” and “potentially dangerous” foods for OAB sufferers. Remember, though, such lists are general in nature and need to be fine-tuned and individualized for your particular situation.

Sugar and Sweeteners

Use as little as possible of added sugars, artificial sweeteners and even honey. Such items often cause an increase in symptoms. Sugar may encourage bacterial growth too. Bacteria can cause urinary tract and bladder infections, which in turn may intensify OAB symptoms.

Salty Foods

Take the salt shaker off your dining table. If you do think about adding salt from the shaker, always taste the food first to be sure you really need it.  Then shake only the bare minimum. Limit or eliminate salt in cooking/preparation. Avoid cured and processed meats, pickled foods and salty sauces. Reduce consumption of salty snack foods like potato chips, salted nuts and other high-sodium nibbles. These items can cause the body to retain too much water. Eventually it all has to go to the bladder for elimination. Salty items also often increase thirst and therefore lead an individual to drink an excessive amount of liquids. An effective solution might be to switch to low- or no-salt replacement snacks such as veggies and fruit or unsalted popcorn.

Milk and Dairy Products

Some people with an overactive bladder may find that milk and dairy products make their symptoms worse. This caution doesn’t mean that everyone with bladder problems will necessarily have a bad reaction to dairy. If you keep a careful food intake diary, you can use that record to figure out which foods do bother you. Then you will be able to minimize or eliminate those items from your own daily diet.

High-Fiber Foods

Consuming the right amount of dietary fiber can ward off constipation. This condition is not only uncomfortable in itself but also can increase the likelihood of both OAB and incontinence symptoms. Because the bladder and the bowel are so close to each other, constipation puts pressure on the bladder. Severe constipation (less than one elimination weekly) can even damage the neurological function of pelvic floor muscles. Such injury could make it much more difficult to get bladder symptoms under control.

Fortunately research has shown the reverse to be true as well. Alleviating constipation may significantly improve control of urinary frequency and urgency. To maximize the effect of fiber intake, combine both soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. One absorbs water and slows digestion; the other helps maintain regularity on a daily basis.

Good sources of fiber include:

  • whole-grain breads and cereals
  • barley
  • brown rice
  • oatmeal
  • beans or peas
  • fresh or dried fruit
  • raw vegetables
  • unsalted popcorn
  • whole-grain crackers
  • a handful of unsalted nuts
Caffeine-Containing Foods

Limit caffeine intake from beverages like coffee and tea. Experiment instead with substituting herbal teas for “regular“ or even decaffeinated coffee or tea. Be cautious with drinking energy drinks and some sodas such as cola and a few other flavors. As always, read each label carefully.  To lessen the feeling of urgency to urinate, reduce your consumption of chocolate candy, some mints and chewing gum as well as hot or cold beverages, ice cream, frozen yogurt, puddings and other desserts if they are flavored with coffee and/or chocolate.

Beware also of some over-the-counter diet pills, stimulants, pain relievers and cold/allergy medications which contain high amounts of caffeine. In fact you should read all product labels carefully to identify unexpected caffeine sources. Surprisingly, some brands of beef jerky, instant oatmeal and even “energized” sunflower seeds can include significant caffeine too.


Avoid excessive alcohol intake. If you drink alcoholic beverages at all, consume no more than a single glass of wine or liquor per day. Carbonated or “fizzy,” “bubbly” drinks may be more risky than others.

note: it may be especially helpful in managing OAB to minimize or eliminate beer consumption.

Meal Planning

Advance planning can make food management easier. Consulting with a registered dietitian or licensed nutritionist may help you improve food selections.  For self-help, the website www.MyPyramid.gov offers advice on meal planning.

To begin, plan your food intake to include all meals and snacks for the entire day. At the start it may be easier if you keep meals as simple as possible. It is much quicker to sort out which foods are causing your symptoms to flare if you are eating simple dishes with few ingredients.

Include family members in your planning process. If there are other individuals who regularly eat at your home, ask for their aid. When the people in your household help with menu choices, it will increase their understanding of your condition. Be willing to include some foods in the plan for them even if those choices might be trigger foods for you. Then serve those “special requests” to the other folks at your table, but avoid eating them yourself.

Finally group together all the days in an entire week, and then write your shopping list. Sticking to a grocery list will help you resist impulse buying, which can be tough on both the wallet and the bladder. Once you have developed a few weeks of menus that you and your family enjoy, go ahead and reuse them. To simplify planning, recycle your grocery lists, too. You do not have to re-invent the wheel each time!

A Final Thought

Remember: eating healthy and avoiding foods that can trigger bladder symptoms is something you can control. It gets easier with practice as time goes on. Take the first step today to make changes that will improve your quality of life.