Dietary Do's and Don'ts to Keep an Overactive Bladder Happy

Urinary incontinence can strike both caregivers and their elderly loved ones, resulting in messy and embarrassing situations.

An overactive bladder is one of the many potential causes of urinary incontinence. The muscles of an overactive bladder contract uncontrollably, resulting in the urge to urinate, and potentially causing a person to void unintentionally.

According to the Mayo Clinic, an overactive bladder can be caused by Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, a urinary tract infection, an enlarged prostate (in men), certain medications, and constipation, among other things.

Sometimes, the root cause of an overactive bladder cannot be discovered. In these cases especially, making minor alterations to a person's diet may help alleviate some of their symptoms.

Put your bladder on a diet

Here's a rundown of dietary don'ts for someone with an overactive bladder:

  • Caffeine
  • Citrus fruits
  • Alcohol
  • Chocolate
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Spicy foods
  • Carbonated beverages

These foods and beverages can be irritating to the bladder and may make it more prone to involuntary contractions.

Sample menu for a discriminating bladder (and palate)

The above list may appear restricting at first glance, stripped as it is of the holy trio of epicurean guilty pleasures—chocolate, coffee, and wine.

But, being kind to the bladder doesn't mean you have to restrict your loved one or yourself to tasteless rabbit-food. In fact, there are a variety of yummy foods that will keep the bladder calm without forcing you to give up the flavors that make eating pleasurable.

Ruth Frechman, M.A., a registered dietician and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, offers a few examples of meals that may be good—not only for the urinary tract, but for the taste buds as well:

Breakfast

Oatmeal with fresh blueberries and all-natural maple syrup: One cup of oatmeal has about four grams of fiber in it. Consuming the right amount of fiber will alleviate constipation. Being constipated can put extra pressure on the bladder, increasing the urge to go. Putting fresh blueberries and natural maple syrup on top of the oatmeal will add sweetness to the dish. As an added bonus, research has shown that eating blueberries may reduce a person's risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Blueberries have also been linked to supporting urinary tract health.

Egg white omelet with spinach, and mozzarella cheese: Eggs get a bad rap in most health circles, but when the yoke is removed from the picture, an egg white becomes a high-protein, low-fat food option that has no cholesterol. The spinach adds extra iron, potassium, and antioxidants to the mix. And, while certain kinds of dairy can be irritating to some people's bladders, non-aged cheeses such as mozzarella are usually well tolerated. You can sprinkle parsley and chives (two spices that don't cause bladder inflammation) in the omelet for extra flavor.

Lunch

Salad with black beans, cucumber, bell peppers, black olives, etc.: Most veggies are not only bladder-safe, but extremely healthy as well. Depending on which vegetables you decide to add, a salad can provide a variety of nutrients including: potassium, and vitamins A (protects against infection, promotes eye and skin health) and C (promotes teeth and gum health, boosts immune system). Black beans can make a salad more tasty and filling while providing an added source of protein and fiber.

Whole wheat peanut butter and jelly sandwich: Who doesn't love a good PB and J sandwich? Try and find peanut butter and jelly that are all-natural and don't contain any added sugars or artificial sweeteners as these can aggravate the bladder. When selecting bread for a sandwich, opt for whole wheat or whole grain varieties.

Snack

Cottage cheese with carrots: "If the cottage cheese is low-fat, and the carrots are fresh, this snack is a tasty way to stock up on beta-carotene (which may help prevent heart disease as well as certain cancers), fiber, and vision-boosting vitamin A," says Frechman.

Honey-coated graham crackers with jam: This combo may not add any significant health benefits, but it's a low-calorie, bladder-safe way to stave off midday hunger pains.

Dinner

Salmon with brown rice pilaf: Salmon is a great source of protein and Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s may help a person's body maintain healthy joints, skin and muscles. Because these fatty acids can also improve heart health, the American Heart Association advises adults to obtain two servings of Omega-3s per week. Salmon is also naturally low in fat. Brown rice has a ton of fiber and is a good source of selenium and magnesium, two nutrients that can improve immune system functioning. In order to reap these benefits, make sure the rice is brown.

Chicken with whole-wheat pasta and veggies: Chicken is another lean protein that is a good substitute for fattier cuts of beef (New York strip, skirt steak, T-bone, rib-eye, etc.). This versatile bird has high amounts of vitamin B3, which some research has shown may help shield the brain from Alzheimer's disease. Chicken and pasta go great together, but make sure to use whole grain, or whole wheat pasta, this will ensure that you and your loved one are getting the maximum amount of fiber and micronutrients. 100 percent whole wheat pasta can contain anywhere from 5 to 7 grams of fiber per serving.

Dessert

Angel food cake with fresh raspberries and whipped cream: According to Frechman, "Topping a small slice of angel food cake with a dollop of fat-free whipped cream and a generous helping of raspberries can be a sweet and healthy way to end the day." Raspberries are chock full of vitamin C, manganese, and (everyone's favorite) fiber. Just one cup of raspberries has only 63 calories, but about 53 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin C. These mini nutritional powerhouses also contain a plethora of heart and brain-disease fighting antioxidants as well as a chemical called, ellagic acid, which, some studies have shown, may inhibit that progress of certain types of cancer.

Coconut sherbet with honey and almonds: If you and your loved one are fans of frozen treats, you may want to consider indulging in a small portion of sherbet or ice cream (except for chocolate and citrus, most flavors are safe for a person with an overactive bladder) with honey and a handful of almonds. All-natural honey contains antioxidants and, some research indicates that, all-natural honey may ramp up immune system functioning. Almonds provide protein, B vitamins, monounsaturated fat (which may lower LDL cholesterol), and fiber.

Additional tips to keep the bladder happy

These are just a few suggestions, so they may or may not fit in with the specific dietary needs of you and your loved one.

Here are some general guidelines to help you keep meals healthy and bladder-safe:

  • Keep your weight healthy. People who are overweight tend to experience more problems with urinary incontinence. Exercising and eating a healthy, balanced diet can help you and your loved one to maintain a healthy weight and decrease your risk for incontinence issues.
  • Drink water. It may seem counterintuitive to advise someone with urinary incontinence to drink more, but being dehydrated can make urine more concentrated and irritating to your bladder. Also, not getting enough fluid increases the likelihood of constipation. According to the Mayo Clinic, women should drink a little more than two liters of fluid per day, while men need about three liters. Hydration can be a very individual process though, so if you are still experiencing the symptoms of an overactive bladder, the Mayo Clinic also says that a 25 percent decrease in your daily fluid intake could help. People who have an overactive bladder should stay away from beverages that are alcoholic, caffeinated, carbonated, or citrus-flavored. Water, apple and pear juice, and herbal tea are all bladder-friendly.
  • When it comes to pasta, bread, and rice, try to stick to whole-grain and whole-wheat versions as much as possible. This will ensure that you're getting the maximum amount of fiber and nutrients. In the grocery store, look for the 100 percent whole grain stamp on the front of the box or bag. Also check to make sure that the word "whole" sits in front of every grain or flour ingredient listed on the package. Brown rice is always a whole grain.
  • When cooking proteins and veggies, try to avoid frying them in oil or butter. Proteins are most healthy when baked, broiled, grilled, or seared. Veggies can be steamed, baked, or grilled. To add bladder-friendly flavor to main dishes, add a sprinkle of some non-irritating spices such as: basil, chives, dill, fennel, garlic, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, salt, tarragon, and thyme.
  • Go fresh and all-natural as often as possible. This will not only reduce the amount of chemicals that could potentially irritate your loved one's bladder, but also optimize the nutrients, vitamins and minerals they get from their food.
  • Avoid sauces and dressings that are spicy or tomato-based as these can aggravate the bladder. Instead, seek out lighter sauces made from oils, and bladder-safe herbs (see list above). Sauces that contain cheese can be dodgy—some people may tolerate them well, while others may not. Mozzarella, feta, mild cheddar, and ricotta are generally pretty safe cheeses for most people's bladders.
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