5 foods to avoid if you have urinary incontinence

Avoiding certain foods and drinks can help make urinary incontinence more manageable.

17 July 2015
by Meg de Jong

Urinary incontinence is the involuntary leakage of urine. Certain foods and drinks can trigger this reaction more easily than others, for a variety of reasons. See below for the foodstuffs that are best to sidestep.

1. Alcoholic beverages

“Alcohol is best avoided because of its diuretic properties, which will both stimulate urine output and cause dehydration,” explains registered dietician, author and professional speaker Celynn Erasmus.

2. Caffeine

“Coffee, certain teas, energy drinks, certain fizzy drinks and even chocolate all contain caffeine, which not only has a diuretic effect, but may also have a direct effect on the muscle that controls the release of urine,” explains registered dietitian Deborah Talbot. She recommends limiting drinks with caffeine to two or less cups per day, which may improve symptoms of both urgency and frequency.

3. Acidic fruits

Acidic fruits, such as citrus, pineapple, tomato and cranberries, are known to irritate the bladder and may cause spasms that trigger urinary output. Erasmus recommends replacing these fruits with less acidic alternatives such as apples, bananas, watermelon and apricots.

4. Spicy foods

Foods containing chilli, wasabi or other hot spices are best taken off the menu, as they may agitate your bladder.

5. Processed foods

Many processed foods or food with artificial sweeteners may contain irritants that, when they collect in the bladder, can cause the bladder muscles to spasm. Erasmus explains that those spasms can create the sudden urge to urinate and increase your frequency of urination.

But do NOT avoid water!

Don’t make the mistake of trying to limit your water intake. This could lead to dehydration and constipation, which in turn can irritate the bladder and cause incontinence. Erasmus recommends sipping at fluids, rather than drinking large amounts at one time, to ensure you remain hydrated.

Plus, get enough fibre

Cutting out foods with fibre is another thing that can lead to constipation, and aggravate the bladder. “Healthy foods shouldn’t be restricted unless they have been identified as trigger foods within your own situation,” stresses Talbot. Erasmus agrees, and recommends including high fibre foods such as vegetables or legumes at most meals.

However, not all of these foods and drinks will have the same effect on every person, explains Erasmus. “Don’t avoid foods unnecessarily,” she says. “The best way to find out what is problematic for you is to eliminate foods or drinks one at a time and monitor whether your continence improves or not.”

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